How do you manage the reflective supervision juggling act?

A lecturer and a principal social worker will discuss the barriers to delivering effective supervision and how to overcome them at Community Care Live

supervision session
Photo: Burger/Phanie/Rex

By Sharon Jennings, Goldsmiths University

Supervision in social work has always been a juggling act that attempts to fulfil developmental, supportive and administrate/managerial functions. When these functions are integrated, supervision provides a holistic approach to meeting the needs of the profession, the organisation and the individual social worker.  However for managers, this can be a difficult balance to achieve and for many social workers, the main focus of supervision is case management.

This approach is not without merit. For example, in a recent study, NQSWs commented that supervision that is focused on case management helped them manage their caseload and plan more effectively and confidently.

However, this type of supervision often overlooks the person behind the practice, their developmental needs, particularly with regard to critical reflection, managing stress or the emotional aspects of the work.

Is reflective supervision the answer?

Reflective supervision, either one to one or in groups, provides a space for practitioners to go beneath the surface of their work, to consider the emotional impact of the work, the unquestioned assumptions and biases they bring, varying perspectives (including theoretical perspectives) and ethical dilemmas inherent in social work practice. By adopting a ‘not knowing’ stance, both supervisor and supervisee explore practice situations with curiosity rather than fixed solutions.

This approach enables social workers to develop self-awareness, critical thinking and sound decision making.

Supervisor/supervisee relationship

Whatever the approach to supervision, the importance of the relationship between the supervisor and supervisee cannot be underplayed. Social workers value supervision where there is a positive and open working relationship with the supervisor, where there is trust and the supervisor is non-judgmental. Social workers are more likely to discuss their concerns about their practice or the ethical dilemmas they are grappling with when supervision feels ‘safe’.

What about supervisors?

Supervision is complex and requires supervisors to embody a set of skills similar to those required in social work practice. At the same time, supervisors often have managerial responsibilities which they cannot easily cast off during supervision. How do supervisors create a safe environment whilst carrying out their role as managers? How are these skills learned and developed?

Sharon Jennings and Tricia Periera, principal social worker (adults) at Greenwich will be running a workshop about delivering effective supervision at Community Care Live London, which takes place on 26-27 September.
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or register for your free place.

In this interactive workshop, we will explore the opportunities as well as the constraints of providing effective supervision, taking a realistic approach to overcoming challenges that many supervisors and managers face. We will focus specifically on ways of adopting a more reflective approach in supervision and the skills and attitudes that can be implemented.

We hope that delegates will share their experiences particularly of the ways they have addressed the managerial  and developmental functions of supervision, and where they have used or would like to use a more reflective approach. There will also be information on related resources and current research into models of supervision that delegates may wish to follow up after the workshop.

Sharon and Tricia are among a number of expert trainers, practitioners and leaders speaking at Community Care Live London on 26-27 September. Register now for your free place

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One Response to How do you manage the reflective supervision juggling act?

  1. Blair McPherson September 11, 2017 at 12:39 pm #

    As a senior managed I managed people who were responsible for services I had no professional back ground in and no direct experience of. I still provided one to one monthly supervision. So supervision isn’t just about over seeing someone’s work based having done their job and thus being able to advise and guide them through any difficulties. It is however about supporting ,challenging and developing.