Effective supervision in a variety of settings
Both research and practice point to the benefits of developing, operating and sustaining good supervision within an organisational culture that values both the people who work there and the people it offers services to. If these conditions are met, best practice is more likely.
Good supervision should result in positive outcomes for people who use services as well as similar outcomes for the worker, the supervisor and the organisation as a whole. An example of a positive outcome would be an improvement in the quality of life for a person, while for the organisation a similar outcome would be an improvement in the quality of the service. It is worth noting here that the following definition of supervision is being used:
Supervision: is a process by which one worker is given responsibility by the organisation to work with another worker in order to meet certain organisational, professional and personal objectives which together promote the best outcomes for service users.
Research suggests that good one-to-one supervision has the following features:
- it occurs regularly in a safe environment
- it is based on a respectful relationship
- the process is understood and valued, and is embedded in the organisation’s culture. 
Moreover, supervisees value emotional support, task assistance and reflection on practice, and supervisors need support and training.
Research into what happens within supervision suggests that effective supervision generates good outcomes for workers  while experience suggests that the consequences of absent, inadequate or negative forms of supervision may pose a threat to workforce stability, capacity, confidence, competence and morale. 
The evidence base in relation to the practice of supervision is limited and mostly correlational, as SCIE Research briefing 43 points out. This means that while there is a strong relationship between supervision and outcomes for people who use services or workers, there is no strong evidence to say that good supervision will cause specific outcomes as there are other factors within the mix.
The practice enquiry  commissioned by SCIE captures a cross-section of current practice in England and is unique in itself because it focuses on adult social care in joint and integrated team settings. Similarly, the narrative summary  that informs the recommendations and the ‘Service user and carer involvement seminar report’  are both unique in their focus and intent.
Among the social care organisations we visited when compiling this guide, there were strong views from senior management about supervision being ‘the spine of a social care organisation’ and it was felt that staff must be supported in their reflective practice. Reflective practice was felt to be important as it increased a worker’s awareness of self in relation to the quality and impact of their practice. It was also felt to be important in building emotional resilience as, for example, caring for people in the last stages of their life can be stressful as well as rewarding.
In another organisation we visited, one support worker spoke of being able to talk about challenging racist behaviour in his supervision session and how this affected his work. He said he felt listened to in supervision and that this was important to him in carrying out his role.
Supervision appropriate to task and role
From what was seen in the practice enquiry , practitioners received different types of supervision. By this they meant supervision that had a particular focus and these were described as:
- professional supervision: focused on the work being carried out with people who use services 
- management supervision: task-orientated to deliver specific organisational outcomes 
- clinical supervision: focused on professional support and learning which enables individual practitioners to develop knowledge and competence and assume responsibility for their own practice. 
Logic would suggest that the type of supervision should suit the role and task and a balance is required to challenge and evaluate practice in an appropriate way. Moreover, if a desired outcome of supervision is improvements in practice, then the focus will have to be on ‘practice’. Whether this is identified as ‘clinical supervision’ will be up to participants in the process to agree. Leadership, organisational culture, frequency of supervision and the foundations of good practice are all covered in this guide as supervision should be seen as part of a complex system of support and governance.
Finally, one of the key strengths of social work and social care is its commitment to social justice. This practice guide sits within that context and invites all practitioners and interested parties to engage with the content.
Who may be interested in this guide?
Supervisees are by definition those who are in receipt of supervision and need to know what good supervision looks like. What should they expect from their organisation in respect of the way that supervision is organised and supported? What should they expect from their supervisor and how can they, in their role as supervisee, contribute towards making the process most effective? All sections of this guide will be of interest to supervisees, however, if you need to choose, we suggest you start by reviewing the recommendations section and then go to the section which sets out the foundations of effective supervision practice.
Supervisors are those people with responsibility for delivering supervision and translating the organisation’s vision into practice. They are also likely to be supervisees themselves. All sections of this guide will be important for supervisors, who should review the recommendations section and consider how they might bring the voice of the service user into the process and the benefits this has. Supervisors will also need to understand the context for effective supervision, and consider how they can influence strategic managers to ensure the best possible organisational context for their practice.
Strategic managers and leaders have responsibility for ensuring that the organisation’s culture and context support the delivery of effective supervision. They will also need to ensure that quality is monitored and any remedial action taken where standards of supervision are not meeting the needs of the supervisee or contributing to good outcomes for people who use services. If supervision is working effectively from the bottom to the top of the organisation, then it is likely that managers and leaders will be supervisors and supervisees themselves. All aspects of this guide will therefore be of interest. Managers/leaders should review the recommendations section and then go to the section on the context for effective supervision.
People who use services and service user organisations may be interested in knowing about what happens in staff supervision. You may be interested in all sections of this guide and in using the Social Care TV videos for training.
Watch what one Chief Executive Officer has to say about supervision (Video on You Tube).
All SCIE resources are free to download, however to access the following downloads you will need a free MySCIE account:
- 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