The Role of Social Work Professional Supervision in Conditions of Uncertainty

By D. Bourn and Trish Hafford-Letchfield.

Published by The Organization Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper reports the findings of a small-scale qualitative study that explored the role of social work managers in mediating organisational culture in social care settings in the context of conditions of uncertainty and change and in promoting effective and reflective practice. In the UK, a number of serious case reviews within social work and social care highlighted systemic failures within care organisations, resulting in wholesale structural reforms aimed at improving services. These have combined with increased inspection and surveillance of professional practice alongside calls for more staff training and supervision. Less attention has been given to examining the cultural aspects of social care organisations that may have contributed to such failures and the potential roles that front line managers play in promoting or mediating organisational culture within their individual relationships with front line staff. Professional supervision is cited within the social work literature as one of the most effective tools for facilitating and supporting individuals to contain and work with the anxiety that naturally arises within social work. Through its different functions, supervision provides an opportunity for managers to engage staff with the vision of the organisation and its standards. This paper explores how some of these opportunities are actually utilised by front-line supervisors, and reports on the findings from analysis of digital visual recordings of management supervision and the managers’ own reflective commentaries about the effectiveness of their supervision practice. Closer analysis of this data gave a glimpse into the different roles that managers perform within the supervision context and the strategies they use to communicate or mediate aspects of organisational culture to individual staff and support them in their stressful jobs. These strategies may allow the tacit or taken-for-granted assumptions and beliefs in every-day practice to surface and also to increase the participation and engagement of staff in delivering quality services. Some tentative recommendations are made regarding the importance of prioritising particular functions of supervision and for managers to provide space for staff to reflect critically on the context in which they work.

Keywords: Social Work Management, Professional Supervision, Organisational Culture, Critical Reflection, Social Care, Small-scale Qualitative Study

International Journal of Knowledge, Culture and Change Management, Volume 10, Issue 9, pp.41-56. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 669.720KB).

D. Bourn

Lecturer, School of Social Work, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK

Diana teaches on a post graduate social work programme and a post graduate programme in professional leadership and management. Her current research interests include professional supervisory practice and family support services to children in need and their families.

Trish Hafford-Letchfield

Senior Lecturer, Mental Health, Social Work & Inter-professional Studies Department, Middlesex University, London, London, UK

Trish teaches post graduate social work and specialises in leadership and management in social care. Following several years experience in managing public sector services and workforce development intiatives, Trish also has a number of publications within the area of social work management and organisations, widening participation and ageing. Trish is also an active management mentor.


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