How to give supervision

The importance of quality supervision for social workers is vital
for good practice, writes Nathalie
. A supervision is an opportunity to discuss
workload but also an essential part of developing a social worker’s

Who is involved?
Supervision is generally between a line manager and a member of
staff. “It’s a way of helping them manage their work and for me to
monitor their cases and help with developmental needs,” says Carole
Tennant, practice supervisor, learning disability team in Boston at
Lincolnshire Council. She is a supervisor for two members of staff
and has monthly meetings with them. “If a person doesn’t feel
supported this will impinge on their work.”

What is discussed?
A range of topics should be covered in supervision. Mary
Dykes, team manager for the social work department at the
University Hospital of Wales supervises seven senior social
workers. “We go over caseload management, ongoing referrals, how
they are balancing admin and development issues and the general
management of workload,” she explains. “I need to find out about
their general workload management, because if they are constantly
overstretched their health will suffer.” The time should also be
used to discuss further training and any other issues affecting
work. “I’ll also touch upon any support needs and personal issues
to see how they are managing their work-life balance.”

Be prepared
Both supervisor and the person under supervision will need to do
some preparation to get the most out of the meeting. “I will look
back at previous supervisions to pick up on any action points and I
will also bring up any procedural changes that are happening in the
department,” says Tennant. “I will expect them to come with the
details of their cases and any issues they want to raise.” Tennant
adds that staff being supervised respond better if involved and
part of the process, rather than being told what to do. “It’s also
good to start and end with positives.”

Information gathering
This is an ideal opportunity for supervisors to pick up on
any problems. “We do an invidious job, there are no right answers
but we can put our heads together and come up with a solution,”
says Dykes. Certain information gathered during supervision will
also need to be fed up to senior managers, so they are aware of
issues at the coalface. “It’s important that management doesn’t
miss out on the useful experiences of people on the front-line and
learn how services are performing.”

Time and space to talk
Not all supervision will be formal. Many supervisors will see their
team members most days and will be able to go through pressing
issues when they occur. However, these ad-hoc chats will never
replace the need for formal supervision. Tennant says it’s
important to have time away from the day-to-day work. “Supervision
gives people space where they are likely to discuss personal issues
and go through anything they are not comfortable with,” she says.

Getting the best out of people
Supervision is not just for social workers starting out in their
careers. Dykes says it is healthy for social workers to keep
evaluating their practice. “A good authority will have a well
thought out supervision policy in place on both an informal and
formal basis,” she says. “There should be an open-door policy to
the supervisor. It’s important to work in a culture of sharing and
being able to talk things through.”

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