Leadership and Management in Social Care – Some thoughts

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.

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

  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.

5 thoughts on “Leadership and Management in Social Care – Some thoughts

  1. Another well considered piost about a topic that has been of interest to many for many years. Social work offers some exciting opportunities, it has at it’s core a set of values and beliefs that recognise and celebrate diverstiy. It encourages people who are experience discrimination and oppression to challenge these structures and provides protection got the most vulnerable. As a job it is often counter intuitive, social workers lift rocks and look underneath.
    In a professional climate such as this we would expect leadership to be at the forefront and there are historical examples of that being the case however there has been a rise of the manager recently and the profession does seem to have become booged down in a lot with the idea of management. Certainly policy is a driver in this, times are hard and it is important that local government and services such as this give value for money, services are publicly funded and the public have ar ight to know where their money is being spent and on what. Politically we are seeing a goernment who seem intent not only on challenging the welfare state but on breaking it down in a piecemeal fashion using the rhetoric of “common sense” policies. Quite whose “common sense” it is remains unclear. Suffice to say it’s not mine.
    The profession itself has had long held difficulties with it’s identity, we struggle to nail down who and what we are, what it is we do and the motivation for doing so. Diversity is central and in this diverse and dynamic landscape we have never quite managed to get a balance between the protectionist agenda and a more liberal emancipatory agenda that would see social workers as agents of change.
    It is equally true that social workers are not static in their own profession for many the notion of advancement is powerful, people want to have a career to reach high office and to hold powerful positions. IN this environment it cannot always be the case that the individual does for purely altrusitic reasons.
    It’s a complex and varied field but for me the social workers that have most interested and excited me have been thiose who are prepared to lead as oppossed to manage. The most exciting have been able to stike a balance between the two and offered a willingness to compromise while at the same time refusing to be moved if they felt the issue was worth fighting for.
    Last night I suggested to @Ermintrude2 that social media provides an opportunity to influence this and other debates such as this. I believe that to be the case, howeer I also believe that it perhaps needs to become more organised and better defined, lets hope this encourages greater deabate.

  2. I thought it was interesting that you said nurses and doctors are more assertive in standing up to politicians than social workers. Within the nursing profession we often have a view of ourselves as being too timid in these things. Some of our internal critics have argued that we still see ourselves as “the subervient profession” that fetches and carries and doesn’t speak out.

    Certainly the RCN has had a reputation for avoiding anything that might be seen as militant – they were the union who were famous for refusing to join the TUC for fear of looking a bit stroppy. That’s possibly why the vote of no confidence in Lansley came as a shock to some people – they just didn’t expect that from the RCN.

    Some people within nursing have suggested we’re a bit of a sleeping tiger. We have large numbers and a fair amount of public support, and people would take notice if only we shouted a bit louder. Certainly the no-confidence vote suggests we’re finally starting to do that, albeit not very often.

  3. Pingback: Developing Leadership in Social Work and Social Care – Opinion piece by Ermitrude2 « Social Work/Social Care & Media

  4. Thanks for the comments – and Z, it’s interesting what you say about nurses because I think they/you are in an excellent position to put pressure on the govt and we’ve always looked on with something approaching envy!
    I was thrilled by the no-confidence vote though and think it really did show the possibilities of the ‘sleeping tiger’.
    David – thanks for sharing your thoughts – I agree about the drive towards managerialism although of course, good management is vital to move the profession forward. I think sometimes we have been cursed with the worse of both worlds – few leaders and poor managers. I am hopeful for the future though!

  5. Pingback: Social Work Employment in a Time of Austerity – By Ermintrude2 « Social Work/Social Care & Media

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