On the up

Predicting how staff skills can benefit an organisation is a
challenge in ever-changing social services departments. So it is
incumbent upon managers to nurture employees’ capabilities – and a
staff development framework can hold the key.

One social services department found it difficult to recruit
front-line managers. The applications from internal staff were not
meeting the criteria, despite their experience. By drawing
attention to this and profiling existing managers, evidence of a
“glass ceiling” emerged. This metaphorical barrier can lead to
potential biases in opportunities for particular groups of staff
wanting to progress to management posts.(1) By championing the case
for diversity in the management structure, the department developed
an initiative to improve the situation.
The department, like many at other councils, was struggling to meet
demands from its staff development budget and training resources.
To justify investment in developing staff, it capitalised on
several opportunities:

  • The implementation of a staff development strategy and
    performance review system emphasising the motivation of individuals
    towards self-development.
  • Shifting roles for some staff in the department towards greater
    responsibilities for management type functions such as delegated
    budgets, supervising and coaching others.
  • A clear strategic equality programme. National research,
    combined with local knowledge, confirmed the potential exclusion of
    certain staff groups from management.(2)
  • The drive to support staff in achieving qualifications in
    social care.(3) Positive action initiatives aimed at staff from
    minority and disadvantaged groups to consider their management
    potential was important within the overall objectives.
  • The beginning of a more sophisticated approach to workforce
    planning and a joint review that emphasised the need to achieve and
    maintain a strategic fit of employees with local service

A three-pronged approach was adopted. After promoting the
programme through a series of workshops, staff from
under-represented groups were targeted and recruited. The aspiring
managers programme was based on an existing in-house management
certificate in health and social care delivered on site by a local
university. A modular approach combined formal teaching,
self-directed study and work-based learning, assessed by

Participants were supported to carry out practical management
work-based learning activities, including shadowing and
observation. This helped them transfer theory to practice. All were
provided with an in-house experienced manager mentor, recruited and
trained specifically to meet the programme’s objectives.

Fourteen staff completed the programme: 70 per cent were from
ethnic minorities, 60 per cent were women, and lesbian and gay
staff were also included. Within six months of completion, eight
were in management posts, including deputy and acting up

Participants spoke highly of the opportunity to share new
experiences with “like” colleagues in the workplace. What they
valued most was a reported increase in professional confidence
linked to an increased responsibility. This enriched their
relationships with line managers, peer groups and service users.
Mentoring relationships were particularly useful and helped to
develop appreciation and respect for managers and the work they do.
Participants were less enthusiastic about their increased workload
during the course.

Mentors found the experience rewarding on both personal and
professional levels. They became more aware of their own practice
and experiences. Some mentors reported minor conflicts between the
vision and aims of the organisation and the day-to-day issues
arising for staff on the programme.

Development of management staff often takes place by sponsoring
staff on external programmes with set performance targets allowing
senior managers to get on with other priorities. This aspiring
managers programme challenged these practices as the department had
to sign up to it and deal with the
cultural issues that inevitably arise with positive action training
initiatives. Strategic ownership did not always permeate down
through the organisation. Changes in culture do not happen

Outcomes from such initiatives can be difficult to evaluate. As
well as numbers of staff completing, we were interested in the
added benefits, such as organisational learning and career
opportunities for those involved – to mention just a few. This
points to the need for a longer-term evaluation. The aspiring
managers programme had a positive effect on most participants who
realised the importance of continuous learning and personal

It is always risky doing something different while having to
justify returns and value for money. Employees on the aspiring
managers programme reported psychological rewards; they felt more
valued by the organisation and were encouraged to undertake more
interesting and challenging work within it. This is important in
working towards a “learning organisation” and motivating staff
through change.(5)

The organisation wanted to create a win-win scenario with a
shared understanding of the skills, knowledge and competences
desirable in managers. This was an experimental approach to
developing management using traditional methods of management
development, tailored to a group of potentially disadvantaged
staff. It is important to use current resources and build on the
potential and aspirations of people already working in the
organisation. The success of this project highlights the usefulness
of initiatives towards effective workforce development.


Developing staff for managerial roles is a challenge. This
article describes a strategic equality initiative assisting a local
authority social services department with planning and developing
its aspiring managers. Evaluation of this initiative contributes to
our understanding of management development practices in social


  1. C Baxter, Managing Diversity and Inequality in Health Care,
    Bailliere Tindall Press, 2001
  2. IDeA and LRDL, Perceptions and Prospects, IDeA publications,
    2004. Obtainable from www.idea.gov.uk/publications
    or ec logistics, PO Box 364, Hayes, Middlesex UB3 1US, tel: 020
    8867 3298
  3. Topss England, Modernising the Social Care Workforce, 2000
    available from www.topss.org.uk
  4. A Rowe, Should I Stay or Should I Go, Topss England, 2003
  5. A Clarke, Learning Organisations: What They Are and How to
    Become One, National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, 2001,
    from www.niace.org.uk

Further Information

  • Equal Opportunities Commission, Managing Successful Positive
    Action, 2004. www.eoc.org.ukcseng/advice.
    The EOC also has an equality exchange network for employers,
    trainers and consultants in England. E-mail to equex@eoc.org.uk
  • Social Care Institute for Excellence, Management Best Practice
    Book in Social Care, 2002, from www.scie.org.uk

Contact the Author

E-mail: hafforpj@lsbu.ac.uk

Trish Hafford-Letchfield is a senior lecturer in social
work at South Bank University, London. She has an interest in human
resource and management development and has several years’
experience managing adult services in social services.


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