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Leadership and management development for social workers – what’s the problem?

23rd June 2012

Dr Steve Keen from the Centre for Post-Qualifying Social Work at Bournemouth University asks; “What is the problem with Leadership and Management development for Social Workers?”

That leadership and management development is crucial for the future of social work is NOT in doubt. Laming told us in 2009 how serious case reviews cite the significance of effective leadership and management. In the same year, the Social Work Task Force recommended the creation of dedicated programmes of training and support for frontline social work managers. In 2011, Eileen Munro’s review of child protection recommended the appointment of a principal, local authority, child and family social worker who is both a senior manager and yet remains involved in frontline practice. And in 2012, ‘professional leadership’ has been confirmed as one of nine capabilities in the new Professional Capabilities Framework – not to mention the fact that the quality of leadership and management is now one of three key judgements that Ofsted inspectors will now make.

So, why then, according to the GSCC, have only about 360 social workers (out of a probable population of about 12,000 social work managers) enrolled in the revised post-qualifying leadership and management specialism since 2007? Clearly, the nature and potential impact of leadership and management development for social workers IS in doubt.

For the last 18 months at Bournemouth University’s Centre for Post-Qualifying Social Work, we have been piloting an introductory, undergraduate level unit, called ‘Improving Personal and Organisational Performance’, or IPOP for short. IPOP comes at the beginning of a progressive pathway of leadership and management development that can be found in a Learn to Care strategy document called ‘Leadership and management development in social work and social care: creating leadership pathways of progression’, authored by Jane Holroyd MBE and Professor Keith Brown- itself taking two years to develop, pilot and evaluate. Designed for managers or aspiring managers with little or no formal leadership or management development experience, IPOP focuses on three key areas of development in order to achieve a Graduate Certificate in Leadership and Management:

  • Self-leadership
  • Written, verbal and non-verbal communication
  • Resilience.

So far, 98 managers from 5 local authorities and three IVP sector organisations from around the country have taken IPOP – many of them consented to take part in a three stage evaluation of IPOP’s impact on their practice, including the use of ‘before and after’ questionnaires (n=75), follow up telephone interviews (n=24) and an analysis of their assignments (n=32).

IPOP has evaluated positively. Highly significant increases in perceived levels of general self-awareness, confidence at work and in managers’ perceived ability to communicate non-verbally, lead change through people and create strong learning climates are apparent at the end of IPOP. These changes represent an impressive relative impact shift of between 7-12%, over a short ~6 week period and after just 4 days of teaching. These perceived changes have been confirmed by actual examples of IPOP related impact from both telephone interviews and assignments i.e. that IPOP has enabled improvements in managers’ self-awareness, confidence and communicative ability –and that these changes have led to numerous examples of organisational impact, including impact on users of services.

But why does this appear to be the only known recent evaluation of leadership and management development for social workers? Professional leadership is for all social workers – surely, if it’s the key to ensuring appropriate professional behaviour and therefore preventing abuse, we should be doing more of it – and evaluating its impact.

What do you think the problem is?

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