Making best use of supervision

Quality in practice

Proper supervision is crucial to effective practice in social work. Here, social worker and consultant Mary Mustoe puts forward steps staff and managers can take to ensure the process is successful

Plan ahead

Supervision needs to be pre-booked, prioritised and planned, by both the supervisor and supervisee. Practical considerations such as a private space, no interruptions and adequate time allocated are crucial. Both parties need to understand what they are going to be focusing on for that session. Have you an agreed supervision contract, setting out expectations and responsibilities?

Managers’ responsibility

Employers are required to have supervision policies in place which lay out requirements and expectations for supervision. If you are a manager, are you following these guidelines and are you getting the supervision you need yourself? Have you received training on how to give supervision and to ensure appropriate records are available in the format agreed by your agency? What balance is there in supervision sessions between the regulatory nature of supervision and the development and growth of the individual worker or team?

Practitioner responsibility

Staff are also required to understand and follow supervision guidelines. What is the balance between random sampling of your cases for discussion and proactive analysis of cases which may be causing you some anxiety or concern? Is the relationship with your supervisor challenging and supportive? It is important to ensure that any decisions in casework that deviate from internal guidelines are recorded by both the practitioner and manager. This is particularly important in high-risk cases.


A key role of supervision should be the identification with staff of any training or development needs. The post-qualifying framework for social workers and ongoing continuing professional development should be addressed within supervision sessions and particularly in any appraisal sessions. Staff need to be given opportunities to develop their practice and skills and this will contribute to retention and continuity of service delivery.

Difficult issues

Best practice is that performance management issues should be addressed and hopefully resolved in routine supervision sessions. Notes should make it clear what issues are identified, what action or support is needed and, most importantly, how and when it will be followed up.

Further information

For a range of social workers’ feedback on supervision, see the British Association of Social Workers’ online blog for chief executive Hilton Dawson‘s listening tour of social work departments in 2009

Mary Mustoe works as an independent social worker, trainer and consultant. For further information visit:

This article is published in the 21 January issue of Community Care magazine under the heading Making best use of supervision

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