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It’s time to stand up for social work middle managers

blair-mcpherson-100.jpgby Blair McPherson

The local government minister Eric Pickles wants everyone to know what council staff on £58,000 or more earn, to ‘help cut middle management waste’. The implication is that they are paid too much for too little. Isn’t it time middle managers were better appreciated? 

It’s uncomfortable being in the middle. You are responsible for ensuring senior managers’ messages are passed to the front line and their expectations carried out. There is a tendency to shoot the messenger. This means dodging the bullets from both directions because senior management don’t want to hear why their initiatives won’t work anymore than frontline managers want to hear yet another initiative or new set of priorities.

Particularly tough

You can’t deflect the antagonism by saying “don’t blame me it’s a senior management decision”. Well you can and some do but if you don’t own the initiative you will never get your staff to commit to it and it won’t do you any good to tell your boss it’s not happening because your staff think it’s stupid and unworkable.

Life for middle managers is particularly tough at the moment. Middle managers have felt the full impact of the public sector management cull. This is the level at which proportionately most posts have been disestablished. It’s also the level at which most of the resulting redistributed work is picked up and it is the level responsible for ensuring senior management strategies get translated into action.

Just a mouthpiece?

Traditionally there is a lot of ambivalence about middle management. First line managers think they are the ones who deliver the service and middle managers are just a mouthpiece for senior management. Senior management blame them if they think their policies have not been properly explained to staff but give them little credit if their polices and strategies work. Both groups question why there are so many of them.

It is in the nature of middle management that your best work will go unseen and unrecognised by all but the most perceptive of observers. This is because your job is largely that of behind-the-scenes fixer. The first line managers who claim not to know what middle managers actually do are the same people who say they need more support in dealing with personality conflicts in their team or complaints from service users. Middle managers don’t just explain polices and strategies they take their experience of the front line and try and use it to influence how strategies will be delivered. That is why they are on so many projects and working groups.

Perhaps it is time to re evaluate the role and value of middle management.

Blair McPherson author of Equipping managers for an uncertain future and People management in a harsh financial climate both published by www.russellhouse.co.uk

About Simeon Brody

Community Care managing web editor

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