Social care leadership receives boost with initiatives to improve managers’ skills

Does social care lack good leadership? Until Lord Laming’s
inquiry last year the question had rarely been asked. But now the
sector is scurrying to catch up with the various leadership
initiatives already flourishing in health and education.

Next month, the Social Care Institute for Excellence is due to
announce a leadership in social care programme, trailing the NHS
Leadership Centre set up in 2001 and the National College for
School Leadership founded in 2000.

Meanwhile, the training body Topss England has identified
leadership, management, assessment and mentoring as skills gaps to
be addressed in the proposed five-year workforce development
strategy published last week.

“There’s been very little attention and aid given to leadership
in social care,” says Trish Kearney, director of practice
development at Scie. “We haven’t had any career progression offered
to staff. The sector has lacked guidance and resources for too long
around developing the workforce.”

This has changed since a series of inquiries into social care
failings, culminating in Lord Laming’s report into the death of
Victoria Climbie.

Laming reserved his harshest criticisms for senior managers who,
he said, had “not kept pace with the demands of the job”. Lisa
Arthurworrey, Victoria’s social worker, blamed a lack of good
supervision for her own failings.

But upholding the appeal by Arthurworrey’s manager, Angella
Mairs, against her inclusion on the Protection of Children Act
List, a care standards tribunal acknowledged the impact of time
pressures on the ability to supervise effectively. It said that,
with only 90 minutes to look at 16 case files in a supervision
session, Mairs’ meeting with Arthurworrey was “doomed to fail”.

Much of the leadership work that is now being developed is
targeted at team managers such as Mairs. Topss is working on a
national occupational standard for supervision – something that has
never existed before.

Scie has also produced a leadership training pack for first-line
managers. “Team managers are the keystones of the operation because
they look both ways in the organisation,” Kearney says. “It’s about
recognising team managers as arbiters of standards, with
responsibility for the whole team’s activity.”

Nigel Druce, strategic adviser for social services at the
Improvement and Development Agency, blames the performance
management culture for recent failures in people management.

“The lesson we ought to learn is that we have overloaded our
managers with process issues – feeding the beast of inspections,
health and safety, things which are nothing about the services we
can deliver to individuals,” he says.

“Middle managers’ time has been squeezed and contact with
front-line staff has reduced. We need to take away that burden of

Druce argues that middle managers should be given the power to
engage “natural community leaders”, then give them the resources to
effect change.

He cites his own experience as director of social services in
Cornwall, where two health visitors were given the freedom and
support to transform a deprived estate in Falmouth, in the process
reducing the number of children on the town’s child protection
register from 28 to eight.

Most first-line managers would welcome more training in leading
their teams. But care should be taken that it is not used an excuse
for more time-consuming performance management, which may also give
senior management new excuses to pass the buck.

As Lord Laming said last year: “There must be no hiding place
for managers.” 


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