Q: Our senior managers appear to have no understanding of what it is like to be a frontline practitioner. I want to let them know what it’s like, but what can I do?
A: We know from old joint reviews that the best performing and best led social services departments are those where senior managers are close to frontline colleagues and know what is happening in frontline teams. The Victoria Climbié case, meanwhile, clearly showed what happens when senior managers become too remote from frontline staff.
Hopefully senior managers are spending time with teams on the ground. But if this isn’t happening, don’t be reluctant to invite senior managers to meet with you and your colleagues. Many managers will welcome the invitation.
Prepare well for the meeting. Bombarding a senior manager with doom and gloom can provoke a defensive response. So make sure they hear what is going well and what you are proud about as well as what is bad so that they are more likely to listen to and reflect upon those elements that need to change.
You might also want to suggest that senior managers spend some time shadowing frontline staff. But plan this well too. I can recall shadowing practitioners when most of the time was spent driving in the countryside, whereas with better planning I could have fitted in meetings with several more clients or interagency contacts.
Senior managers could also read a sample of your team’s case files. This should help bring home the weight of the procedural bureaucracy, as well as flagging up the tensions in some casework.
And why not set up a branch of the British Association of Social Workers or the Social Care Association and ask senior managers and councillors or trustees to attend meetings when appropriate?
Ray Jones is a University of Bath visiting professor and former social services director and BASW chair
13 March question
Q: I’m a third year student currently looking for jobs. Is it better to work for a local authority first, or join a private organisation? With salaries not being kept in line with inflation, and pensions not as they used to be, I am confused about what’s best. We will answer this question in the 13 March issue of Community Care. We want to publish your advice too: please send it to email@example.com by Monday 3 March.
Do you have your own career dilemma? Send your comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org