The tell-tale signs of a good social work manager

What should you look for in your next social work manager? Community Care analysed 1,700 comments from more than 300 social workers about their current jobs to find out

Team manager leading meeting
Photo: fizkes/Adobe Stock

Good managers can be hard to find. When they are, they can make a huge difference to enjoyment of a job and influence decisions to stay or leave a team.

However, if you have only ever had poor managers, how do you know what you should be looking for in your next manager?

Community Care analysed the responses from over 300 social workers, in a range of local authorities, who had submitted anonymous survey responses as part of our retention work with their employers.

Key manager qualities

Those who felt their manager was effective more often cited the following qualities were present:

  1. Always being fair and transparent, particularly around managing workload.
  2. Listening and empathising, both in supervision and meetings.
  3. Taking action where needed such as when social workers felt fearful or upset.
  4. Praising good work whenever they saw it and encouraging team members to praise each other.
  5. Knowing each member of their team and their strengths, weaknesses and career aspirations.

Those who felt their manager was ineffective and had contributed to their unhappiness at work often cited the following reasons for this:

  1. Micro-managing.
  2. Prioritising the needs of the organisation over the needs of their team.
  3. Criticising staff in public.
  4. Dismissing fears and emotional distress as ‘part of the job’ or by saying that ‘everyone has to deal with it’.
  5. Frequently postponing or cancelling supervision sessions.

More insights from this research can be found in Community Care’s free downloadable guide: How to be a better manager.

If you’re looking to make a change from your current manager check out Community Care Jobs or use Community Care’s Employer Zone articles to find those organisations prioritising the support they give to managers. Check out open days and ‘meet the team’ opportunities to assess the quality of your next manager.

More from Community Care

8 Responses to The tell-tale signs of a good social work manager

  1. R.S January 13, 2020 at 11:19 pm #

    I wonder whether the managers read articles in this journal.

    Managers in some local authorities I worked in epitomised all the factors that should not be in an effective manager.

    Criticising in front of other professionals, singling out in team meetings and supervision though being religiously offered on time was the opportunity to overload and cover themselves by recording they have done their task by giving workers task, and those managers are seen to climb the progression ladder so quickly it makes you wonder if these are the skills needed for promotions.

    • Errin January 14, 2020 at 8:18 pm #

      I agree. Saying you feel overwhelmed and are struggling with the caseload is a red flag to managers who have great joy reporting to service managers that you are not coping or resilient enough and your card is marked. I have seen social workers micro-managed, undermined and demeaned. In my LA the best social workers moved on and the worst got promoted to managers.

  2. Opal Lady January 15, 2020 at 1:03 am #

    I agree with both of these comments.. Bizarre how some make ‘rapid progress: despite being incompetent, lacking empathy and being ‘professionally disliked’..mind boggling. Far too many of these people contribute towards the demise of Social Workers and in turn the service (s) – they just move around the UK!

  3. J January 15, 2020 at 1:35 am #

    What makes a good service manager and executive. What makes a bad and good social work leader. I feel this is a more important question.

  4. Xavier January 15, 2020 at 6:49 am #

    Well, being a TM I find value in regularly reading and using articles from CC. So I measure myself against the 2 lists above and what do I find? I feel fulfilment supporting individuals, listening to them to work out a solution, being kind, fair and following up on agreed actions…Ain’t the finished article but one can be a TM/SM and a very decent human being at the same time. Our service is so widespread I don’t get to meet everyone regularly. But I am mindful that at the end of each decision there are people, so decisions have to be measured and double checked with well-intentioned people. I love my job and supporting teams and colleagues but boy, I won’t cry when I retire : )

  5. Sall January 15, 2020 at 12:17 pm #

    I left a sw post due to bad management team which included senior pracs. Five others have also left due to similar issues as myself.
    1, micromanaging – cross checking calendars against milage claimed
    2, Phone calls from senior pracs asking whereabouts….even when in another LA building
    3, Supervision not recorded accurately and sent to manager without the amendments or before agreed contents.
    4, Dissing staff in open offices
    5, Creating a favoured group of staff which informed on others….incorrect info was being passed as they were in fear for their own jobs.
    6, Management not accepting the truth when it came to light when staff confessed to fabricating issues.
    7, LA refused to investigate issues and the bullying continues.
    Social management at its best!

  6. Jacqui January 16, 2020 at 5:23 pm #

    I can only speak personally but in my experience of having a few different managers I have been extremely lucky, and feel for the people who have not had that. It makes such a difference when you know your manager realises that we have a life outside of work, that you can go to them whenever you need to about work or personal stuff, who is aware of what is impacting on her staff both at work and home and who takes the time to listen and stick up for them. There are managers here who are not like that but I haven’t worked with any of them thanks goodness! Don’t they realise that if they treat their staff well they will get 100% out of them as they will be happier, more effective and prepared to put in whatever is needed rather than be looking for other jobs?? It is so short sighted to bully people as well as being morally wrong, but they probably do it to make themselves look better….. Good luck to anyone stuck with a horrible manager.

  7. SJ January 30, 2020 at 11:17 am #

    I am a senior manager and qualified social worker in safeguarding for 28 years; i think there are wider questions? – what is the average life of a social worker now? How many social workers go into Agency work from 1 – 2 years qualified? How do we build up a stable practice workforce with a core of experienced social workers and firstline managers who are permanent?
    There are many potential excellent social work managers/leaders who don’t have the time to mature with a depth and breath of knowledge and experience into their role. There are also practitioners who have unrealistic expectations of moving into managerial roles.
    My biggest bug bear is when Agency promote workers as ‘highly experineced senior practitioners’/managers and when you look at their C.V’s they have not been anywhere for more than 3 months – not long enough to do a court proceeding; not long enough to have a full and confident knowledge of the law and are not role modelling the importance of relationships and investment in the service with the many moves they make. I appreciate that there are economic issues for people, but that has always been the case – it would be interesting to know if there was a different emphasis for people coming into social care over the last 20 years.