Career Clinic

Q: I and my colleagues are anxious about how senior managers would react if something went wrong. As practitioners, we make decisions every day that involve risks. How should we expect managers to behave if, for example, a child or disabled adult gets injured? We know how the tabloids will react, but what about managers?

A: When the going gets tough it’s a tough test for us all. This is when being within a supportive team, in an organisation which is truly a learning organisation, and with confident and competent managers, becomes especially important.

We know what to expect from much of the media. They look to make stories with heroes and villains, and where something has gone wrong the emphasis will be on finding and vilifying someone.

I hope senior managers will quickly recognise the anguish and distress their front-line colleagues are experiencing when a tragedy occurs. And this distress is likely to be greatest for those closest to, and who have had the professional work relationship with, a person who has been injured or has died.

This is a time for senior managers to get beside, not to distance themselves from, the front-line workers. It would be good if the practice was for a senior manager to be in quick contact with the front-line team and workers.

Hopefully, it is also the senior managers who will front up the media contacts, deflecting at least some of the attention away from the immediate workers and their team, and it is senior managers who should also be briefing their politicians or trustees so that they are not contacted cold for comment by the media.

None of which means that senior managers should not review what has happened, seeing what lessons may need to be learned, and considering if there has been any significant weaknesses in practice and policy, taking action to address the weaknesses.

It may be appropriate to secure files so they are available as a contemporary record of what at least was recorded at the time. It may also be apposite to have a management or independent review undertaken. And it may be necessary within national guidelines and regulations to have an inter-agency serious case review.

But reviews and inquiries are always undertaken with all the benefits of hindsight, without the complexities, disruption and turmoil of everything else which was happening at the time in individual and team workloads.

The more senior managers are in regular close contact with the front line the more they are likely to be trusted by front-line colleagues when things go wrong.

Ray Jones is a University of Bath visiting professor and former social services director and BASW chair

Readers’ views:

A: In my experience, most managers take a supportive role when something like this happens. Investigations need to be carried out but blame should not be apportioned until after the investigation is complete. Counselling is crucial as is debriefing where all staff can contribute to the process. This can be a worrying time for staff who feel, rightly or wrongly, they could have prevented it. Other managers take a different approach and I know of cases where the managers immediately went on the defensive and started disciplinary proceedings in an attempt to cover their own incompetencies.

Name and address withheld


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