What can senior managers do to lead social care staff through cuts to jobs and services? Brian Walsh, director of community services at Coventry council and joint chair of the Adass workforce development network, gives his view.
We are living through unprecedented and tough times. All managers and leaders are trying to guide their employees through a landscape of contracting resources, growing demand and changing expectations.
Being able to live with a level of uncertainty is a prerequisite for successful management in social care. Although we may know the direction services are going in, we are still unlikely to be able to describe the detail. This can be unsettling for employees, who will want to understand the impact on their jobs and on the people they support. The only real certainty is that change is coming.
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If we are to deliver changes to services, a motivated and skilled workforce is required. People who recognise the challenges and show up at work ready to tackle them. Motivation isn’t just about money; it’s about honesty and integrity, not shying away from the tough messages, but being open to dialogue.
A key part of motivating the workforce is ensuring individuals have the tools to do the job you’ve asked of them. While training budgets are undoubtedly tight, there are many cost-effective ways to develop the workforce. Job swaps, action learning sets and mentoring can all be used to good effect and have the added benefit of improving communication between parts of the business.
The social work manager’s toolkit
As the pace and intensity of work increases, managers need to take care of themselves too. No-one is indispensable, so take your annual leave and watch the hours you work. Build in time for your own reflection and development; not only is that good role modelling, but it’s crucial to developing as a manager and leader.
An unrelenting focus on the need for quality services, the nature of vulnerability and how best to challenge practice is a key part of the social work manager’s toolkit. Creativity in meeting need and using all the assets at our disposal are key. Strong partnerships with the voluntary and third sectors and statutory partners enable us to utilise the collective resources at our disposal more effectively.
There is a special place for social workers in these interesting times; the values and beliefs of the profession equip them well for navigating the challenges ahead. An ability to balance multiple perspectives means it is possible to understand that delivering the best for someone isn’t always about getting as much resource as possible. Skills in mobilising resources and communities to deliver good outcomes for people and a deeply-rooted belief in promoting independence can help the financial bottom line.
With the challenges we face come opportunities. Opportunities to have new conversations with service users about what are reasonable expectations, chances for communities to mobilise assets and occasions where employees can utilise entrepreneurial skills.
Sign up to Community Care’s Supporting Managers conference on 13 March, which will look at how managers can successfully drive outcomes from staff.