What social workers want from supervision

Community Care research highlights how managers can get supervision right for social workers in their team

Social worker in supervision w ith manager
Photo: fizkes/Adobe Stock

When moving from frontline social work to managing social workers, few tasks are as daunting as supervision.

Yet, Community Care research into the retention of social workers found supervision one of the key areas to get right.

An analysis of survey responses, as part of further research with individual councils, found those who felt they had had effective supervision were more likely to be positive about the overall impact of their managers.

Below are some top tips, distilled from social worker responses about the effectiveness of their current supervision with direct line managers. The social workers came from a range of local authorities, including those children’s services departments rated both outstanding and inadequate.

Top tips:

  1. Prioritise supervision. One of the clearest themes from this research was the negative impact of consistently missed, interrupted or rushed supervision sessions.
  2. Understand individual needs and preferred approaches. Some social workers loved having a pre-prepared agenda to work to while others found it burdensome. However, all commented on the importance of supervision feeling valuable and helpful rather than a ‘tick-boxing’ exercise or tailored to an organisation’s requirements. Many social workers felt deeply frustrated when organisational requirements were prioritised over their needs.
  3. Focus on positives as well as negatives. This was a strong theme among social workers who regarded their supervision as effective. It applied to both individual and group supervision.
  4. Include time to check on the health, wellbeing and the professional development of the social worker. Social workers who said their supervision was about more than just the progress of cases were more likely to judge it as effective.
  5. Provide both ad-hoc and formal supervision. Many social workers felt the availability of immediate, informal chats or sessions with their manager helped overcome the negative impact of any cancelled or postponed sessions.

Positive social worker views on supervision

“Even though she’s busy it feels like she has all the time in the world for me.”

“My manager is clear there is never a wrong response, just other ideas to be considered and discussed.”

“My manager listens to my views and makes positive suggestions. They are open and honest with a realistic understanding of the challenges and a genuine interest in helping families.”

Negative social worker views on supervision

“My manager sets the agenda and talks about matters they want to bring up – I am never given any space to raise my concerns.”

“Supervision often feels like a chance to point out the weaknesses of my practices and not celebrate any successes.”

“I often come out of supervision feeling more overwhelmed.”

For more tips on getting it right when managing social workers download our helpful free guide.

More from Community Care

2 Responses to What social workers want from supervision

  1. James Greer January 8, 2020 at 7:48 am #

    Can you explain what type of research this was and who undertook it? Was it a survey or piece of academic research?

    • Mithran Samuel
      Mithran Samuel January 8, 2020 at 8:54 pm #

      Thanks James, the research was done as part of the retention risk tool, which involves working with individual councils to identify how they fare in relation to the major drivers of social worker wellbeing and (by extention) retention. This involves surveys of the council’s social workers, alongside an organisational self-assessment. Hope that helps but do email me (mithran.samuel@markallengroup.com) if you need further information.
      Many thanks,