Blog Post: Transition from social worker to manager
By Gemma Blunt, Corporate Head of Safeguarding, Social Work and Hospitals, Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames
As a qualified social worker, the opportunity to learn how to do and complete research is essential to strengthen skills in analysing information, reflection and reflexivity as well as the opportunity to enrich the social work profession – to help us all to understand the profession better.
I have been working through the Masters in Professional Education and Training for some time with Kingston University and had reached the final module – the capstone project. To be honest, I had been putting this off for a while as ‘life’ got in the way, however, I took the plunge and what an enriching experience it was!
The research was about a social worker’s transition to management, and specifically, what are the key challenges for social work practitioners transitioning to a social work manager role?
The research was a small scale qualitative study supported by Developing Together which involved semi structured interviews with social workers that are in a manager role. The research was approved by the ethics committee and my aim of this research was to help organisations plan and develop manager support as well as learning and development pathways for this cohort of social workers.
So what did the research find? Here are some headlines…..
- Support – informal and formal. Peer support was invaluable in providing soft support to managers. It built resilience. Mentoring and regular supervision was not frequent or regular for the majority of managers interviewed, which left new managers feeling unsure of their decision making and ability to plan their time.
- Learning and development. New managers felt there was lots of development opportunities just by being in the role, but not a consistent learning programme to consolidate and embed technical skills needed to be a manager. There seems to be a disconnect between the two which needs more joined up thinking for a new manager pathway.
- Stress. All managers interviewed spoke about feeling stressed at some point. At times it felt like stress became unmanageable. Peer support eased this as well as building resilience and learning key management skills such as being able to delegate and find quiet time to think and reflect.
- Letting go. New managers found it hard to let go of front line practice. This meant learning to delegate took time and quite often, managers had to come to their own realisation that they cannot be a social worker for all of the teams cases, as well as be a manager. Developing professional boundaries not only helped them to manage this but helped to create a positive team culture and credibility as a manger.
This area is gaining more attention following the published KSS for supervisors and PCF new levels. Lyn Romeo has also blogged about the importance of leadership within the social work with adults government blog. It was enlightening to see this area gaining interest in other spaces such as the recently published Community Care article, ‘From care assistant to CEO: Sefton council’s new chief executive’.
So with all this in mind, there is room for development in how we support new social work managers. If you are a new social work manager and you need help, please speak to someone whether a peer, supervisor or PSW. If you are a social worker considering this in your career pathway, speak to your supervisor in the first instance to see what your organisation can offer you to support, invest and craft your social work skills to become an effective manager and leader in this important profession!
My thanks to Sue Lansley and the team at Developing Together, Kingston University and my research supervisor, and to all the brilliant managers I interviewed. Thank you for your openness and willingness to contribute to the development of new managers.