Effective supervision in a variety of settings

The foundations of effective supervision practice: Monitoring the quality of supervision


Good practice in employment would indicate the routine use of annual appraisal which could include a review of how the supervision process has worked both structurally and functionally over the period. This might involve comments from both the supervisor and the supervisee, with suggestions about how things could be improved. The purpose of this is not mutual criticism but mutual improvement for the benefit of people who use services.

A feature of a positive culture is having the opportunity to make an evaluative comment at any time in the supervision process. This is desirable because it can have a direct impact on the service being delivered. It is also an essential feature of the employer/employee relationship that gives a worker the right at any time to raise concerns promptly.

While it may not be possible to have high levels of involvement with people who use services, the sharing of information about how their worker is supervised may be appropriate. It may also be possible to bring into supervision the feedback received from people who use services to inform future practice.

Checking with the supervisee at the end of each session that they are happy with the process they have been part of and have left nothing unsaid that they wanted to say is good practice. It is also sensible to share the notes from each session and agree the content and actions soon afterwards.

Most supervision sessions take the form of a one-to-one private meeting, precluding the direct involvement of people who use services. This is because there will be discussion of work undertaken with many people and confidentiality needs to be preserved. However, a key purpose of supervision is to assure the quality of the service being delivered and some means of being aware of how people who use services feel about what they are receiving from the organisation should be in place.

The view of people who use services is dealt with in Section 3, but the importance of including the perspective of people who use services should be promoted as part of the process of monitoring quality and the impact of supervision.

In addition to feedback from people who use services, monitoring the quality of supervision will require the organisation to:

In addition, it is good practice to:

Supporting supervisors

People given the role of supervisor in any organisation should always receive training prior to beginning this role. Some professionals will have had formal training as practice educators, which will include elements of the supervisory role, but this is not adequate preparation for taking on the role of supervisor where there is a need to integrate all the functions of supervision. An additional issue to consider is the experienced supervisor in a new organisation who, in order to continue to be effective, may need additional training to understand the context within which they are supervising and the expectations set out in local policy.

Davys and Beddoe [26] have developed a useful framework for understanding the phases of supervisor development. These phases take the supervisor from ambivalence about taking authority and using a limited range of interventions within supervision, through to a more consistent approach to the use of power and authority and the use of a greater range of interventions within supervision. Finally, the supervisor moves to a point where they are able to critically reflect on their own practice and promote deeper learning.

Thinking about supervisor development over time is crucial, since supervisors need more than a one-off training event in order to develop their skills. Training needs to be followed by ongoing opportunities for critical reflection on supervisory practice. Factors that need to be considered are the quality of supervision that supervisors receive themselves, and the opportunities for peer learning and discussion, including receiving feedback from direct observation of supervisory practice.

Moving beyond training to an organisational strategy for sustaining and supporting supervisors over time must therefore be a key task for any social care organisation. Consider the following questions.

Examples were given in the research [2] of supervisor groups meeting to review practice and methods, and the use of action learning models, for example, may be appropriate among supervisory peer groups. Skills for Care and the National Skills Academy have developed a framework for supporting and developing front-line managers, which is a useful resource.

Cost, benefits and effectiveness

Knowing how much it costs to provide supervision to staff is an integral part of budget-setting, although this cost is rarely shown independent of other staff costs. The research [2] produced two examples where an estimate of the cost of supervision had been developed. This was calculated using the salary costs of each, although additional costs for staff cover in some cases, as well as the cost of rooms and other necessary resources, might reasonably be included.

Spending on supervision should have demonstrable benefits to the work of the organisation, the quality of its services and the morale of the workforce. Commissioners who expect supervision to be part of a high quality service should consider this in the fair estimation of costs for service provision. To assess the benefit of the outlay, data on staff turnover, user satisfaction and public image, along with the demand for the service as a result, would all contribute to better use of resources and/or increased income against the costs outlaid.

Ultimately, the effectiveness of the whole process can only be judged from the impact it has on successful outcomes for people using services. Organisationally, the judgement about how effective the supervision process is will take into consideration the cost/benefit equation and other data – for example, user satisfaction based on survey data and the overall success of the service in fulfilling its business objectives.


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Available downloads:

  • Effective supervision in a variety of settings
  • Service user and carer involvement in the supervision of health and social care workers: seminar report
  • Practice enquiry into supervision in a variety of adult care settings where there are health and social care practitioners working together
  • Narrative summary of the evidence review on supervision of social workers and social care workers in a range of settings including integrated settings