Do you need to be a qualifed social worker to be a good social work manager?

Hilton Dawson and Blair McPherson debate management qualifications in social work


Hilton Dawson, chief executive, British Association of Social Workers

You do need to be a qualified social worker to be a good manager. However, possession of the most basic qualification is a necessity rather than a sufficient requirement to ensure someone will make a successful manager.

Consider those who have undertaken social work training but are selling out the public and the profession as they fail vital services by driving out skilled social workers.

On the other hand, in Northern Ireland, where they generally do things better, we have seen the management of integrated services undertaken by social workers who have not cast off their professional identity or integrity as they have risen in their careers.

The public, and indeed other professions, have benefited from management by those with a clear understanding of holistic services.

Whatever the state of public finances this remains a very wealthy country and everyone is entitled to the highest standards of services. Not only does this require that integrated provision should often be led by what is, when done well, the best profession in the world but that social work skills should be given the respect they deserve.

While it is reasonable that other professions take on the management of integrated services there are unfortunately far too many examples of colleagues from medicine, nursing, teaching and elsewhere who apparently lack the understanding of humanity which would truly appreciate the subtleties and skills of social work.

As we battle for our profession today the least we must insist is that good social workers are managed by good social worker managers.


Blair McPherson is a former director of community services at a local authority and writer on management issues

Management is about hiring and firing, making efficiency savings, negotiating changes in working practice. It’s about influencing policies and shaping strategies, it’s about hitting performance targets, tackling absenteeism and dealing with complaints. It is also about ensuring staff have the tools to do the job, know what’s expected of them and ensuring their contribution is recognised and valued.

These tasks require skills that are transferable from one client group and service area to another. So you don’t need to be a qualified librarian to manage a library service. You don’t need to be a qualified social worker to manage a social work service. But do you need to be a qualified social worker to successfully manage a team of social workers?

Social work is about assessing individual’s circumstances, identifying needs, arranging support and balancing rights against risks.

Management is very different to professional supervision which does need to be delivered by someone from the same or close professional background but who has more experience. This is why many councils have introduced senior practitioner posts, which allow people to use their professional expertise without having to go into management.

You don’t have to be a qualified social worker to manage social workers provided you separate managerial responsibility from profession responsibility. In the NHS the consultant is a highly paid professional but the hospital Trust is managed by the chief executive; the senior management team have management skills but they are not qualified doctors.

Your views on social worker managers

Trixie: Controversial view here… You don’t need to be a QSW to effectively manage social workers (but clearly need knowledge and experience of the sector). Support, empowerment, trust, delegation & organisation is what will make the difference. I’m not a social worker, but work alongside social work teams and know I could do a far better job of managing and supporting them than the current managers Ð many of whom were social workers and have been promoted into management positions because of their knowledge of social work, not management.

Joanne: I have been blown away by the knowledge, expertise and skills of those working in the independent and charity sector who do not hold social work qualifications. Their managers too are expert in their field and are able to effectively support and guides teams working under extreme pressure in 24-hour environments. I cannot help but compare some of these individuals with some of my local authority social worker colleagues and their managers.

RP: I have worked in two places so far where senior managers have not come from a social work background and it has been a complete and utter disaster… My colleagues and I actually consider our team manager an excellent role model and the team survives in very difficult circumstances because they trust her expertise and leadership. None of us would still be around if she came from a different background.

What do you think? Join the debate on CareSpace

Keep up to date with the latest developments in social care Sign up to our daily and weekly emails

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.