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Developing Leadership in Social Work and Social Care – Opinion piece by Ermitrude2


The interplay between management and leadership is one that has been milling around in my mind for a while but in the light of the next ‘Twitter Debate’ by SWSCmedia on 1st November (8pm GMT) and the opinion piece written on that same site about Leadership in Social Work I thought it would be a good opportunity to crystallise some of my thoughts on the topic as sometimes 140 characters just isn’t enough.

As an introduction, the piece above is fantastic. I will state very clearly that I am neither a manager nor a leader and am not desperately keen to identify myself as either.

I asked on Twitter for responses to the question about the differences between Management and Leadership in Social Care because I had been concerned that all too often the two have been intertwined in unhelpful ways.

The responses tended along the lines of ‘Managers Do and Leaders See’.

Some of the responses were are follows

@bonklesoul Managers do things right. Leaders do the right thing.
@OTSharon L’s aren’t always managers but managers SHOULD be gd leaders not always case. Change shd come bottom up not always top down!

@444blackcat managers tell u what must b done leaders help u to see what’s possible to do
@fluffosaur managers seek to control, leaders are responsible for their actions

@Theresauno Managers manage others -leaders empower others – Leaders lead by example n understanding not by rules n policies

For me, the important point is that both are necessary and they aren’t necessarily the same people who need to do both. I think sometimes it’s a bit harsh judgement on management which is a very definite skill but perhaps many of us in this field have been burnt by poor managers who have been put into their position because they say the right things to the right people.

But back to leadership –

Social Work in general has suffered from a lack of leadership and ‘backbone’ over the last few decades. Perhaps the College of Social Work will step into the gap or perhaps BASW (British Association of Social Workers) will. There are other bodies equally willing to ‘step up’ to the mark but the problem is that so many of these organisations are full of self-defined leaders. Saying you are a leader isn’t the same as being a leader!

A leader, to me, works from within rather than from without and those who run private consultancies or run large departments aren’t necessarily the people that front line practitioners look to for leadership.

One of the most powerful determinants of leadership is the ability to command respect and unfortunately I feel a lack of respect for many self-defined leaders in the social care sphere.

‘Do as I do rather than do as I say’ would be a prime maxim which would demand respect – unfortunately so many of the debates seem to take place around and about frontline practice without including it. There’s a similar comparison to those who practice in social care and don’t involve users of services in their own internal consultations.

How about looking towards university departments? Perhaps that would be a way to define leadership if we encompass purpose – however as a practitioner I increasingly see local departments drifting away from practitioners and the research that I can uncover doesn’t always seem to be relevant to me in my day to day work. I can’t look to academics for professional leadership if the world in which they inhabit is one that doesn’t actually include or speak to current practitioners.

We are moving towards having a Chief Social Worker in England. My concern is that the person appointed will be another manager rather than a leader but I live in hope.

I don’t mean to undermine management either. One of the reasons I have never sought a management position is that I know my own boundaries and what I am capable of and don’t, honestly, think I would be good at managing people. I could not possibly admire good management more than I do. It is a rare and special gift. I just know I don’t have it!

I enjoy my job and enjoy modelling my work practices. I enjoy teaching and particularly practice teaching – but I don’t enjoy managing in a bigger sense.

I currently work with some excellent managers, some social workers, some not. I don’t think that having a specific background necessarily makes a better manager. Indeed, I think management is a completely different skill set (some of which can be taught).

I wonder if management is a skill where leadership is a talent?

My hope for whomsoever emerges as a ‘leader’ in both social work and social care is that they talk, engage and learn from those whom they seek to lead. Ideally, leadership is curious and must, particularly in social work which has been poorly served by leaders in the past, involve advocacy.

Indeed, many of the basic social work skills we learn may be transferable into leadership skills if interpreted well. Our profession has been backward compared to some others in terms of those who are able to speak out and challenge the government with authority – I am particularly thinking about the RCN vote of no confidence in Lansley and Dr Clare Gerada (Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners) speech to her College’s conference recently which is truly inspiring.

Where are the social workers who are banging on the government’s door in a similar way and forcing policy makers to take notice? That’s the kind of leadership we need.

Our profession has been tied up in too many managerial processes which has left us with some scepticism of managerialism. I share some of that scepticism. Sometimes I want to be inspired. Our world and means of networking and managing change is fluid and we need leaders who engage and understand.

I think there is a lot to be hopeful about for social workers in the future and I think there are going to be more fragmented ways of quantifying what leadership is as the role itself changes.

As for me, I’m very much hoping I’ll be able to be a part of the SWSCmedia debate on 1st November but if I can’t make it, I’ll read up the transcript with interest.

Any more views on leadership and management? Good or bad examples of both? I’d be interested to hear as I think fascinating determining how we are both managed and led.

@Ermitrude2 is an AMHP social worker and has her own blog “Not so big society” here.

Join our debate on “Developing Leadership in Social Work and Social Care“, 1 November 2011 at 8:00 PM (London) 3:00 PM (New York) @SWSCmedia.

Discussion

3 thoughts on “Developing Leadership in Social Work and Social Care – Opinion piece by Ermitrude2

  1. I find it interesting how leadership and management are spoken of as if they are one and the same thing. I completely agree with you that they require different skills and often different people.

    I believe that leadership needs to come from within the profession – practitioners who can speak with conviction and from experience. Vision is important for effective leadership, but so is the commitment to see the vision through (and not to move on to something different or ‘easier’). Social work leadership needs to be a collective enterprise and we should avoid rely on individuals – we will only end up disappointed and they will end up vilified or burnt out. I’m optimistic that the new College, when it gets started and resolves the ‘issues’ with BASW, will provide what we are after. But I don’t think we should rely solely on it. A plurality of leaders – if they are not all pulling in different directions – would be ideal.

    I also agree about the role of universities. I strongly believe that our research must be relevant for practitioners and answer their research questions. I’ve been wondering if the HEI/employer agreements that are currently being negotiated to shore up practice learning could incorporate a clause about research. I would welcome closer ties with local authorities working with the social work team at the Institute of Psychiatry and to discuss research collaborations. Of course we don’t need formal agreements for this, but it may facilitate closer connections. But I’m straying from the point. University departments can only provide leadership if they include practitioners, engage with practice issues and have something meaningful to offer.

    Posted by mgoat73 | October 31, 2011, 10:34 pm
  2. I’m surprising myself by my optimism currently to be honest.I’m so used to being defeatist but I’m beginning to see different pushes not least by different communication means opening up that makes me think the profession is in a good position to grow and develop further. Good research and links between unis and practice are vital though.

    Posted by ermintrude2 | November 1, 2011, 7:19 am

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