Five questions to ask in a job interview to determine the quality of social work management

A good manager is often the difference between enjoying your next job and hating it, so it’s worth investigating this at the interview stage

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People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers – so says the old adage.

Frontline social work managers are often performing the most difficult and high-pressured jobs within a department and many don’t get it right, often because they themselves are lacking support and training.

So how can you determine the quality of your next manager at a job interview?

Community Care analysed the responses from over 300 social workers who took part in our anonymous research on social worker retention with a range of local authorities in England.

Based on what social workers themselves told us, we have compiled the following indicators that an organisation is investing enough in their managers to make them effective:

  1. Career development. Social workers said effective managers knew the career aspirations of everyone on their team and were able to help them progress. Managers had themselves been well prepared for their task with helpful training around conducting supervision and conflict resolution. Ask about succession planning and how social workers are prepared when they are promoted to team manager level.
  2. Effective managers were generous with their praise and communicated the good work of individuals to senior managers to ensure it was acknowledged. Effective managers were also conscious of perverse rewards, ie good social workers being loaded up with more cases. Ask how good social work is rewarded and recognised in the organisation.
  3. Good managers were also those who trusted social workers and allowed them autonomy without letting them ‘sink or swim’. This allowed confidence to develop faster. Ask how managers are expected to balance risk and autonomy and how social worker confidence is developed within the organisation.
  4. Social workers who said their manager had been effective said there were clear systems in place to allocate workload that focused on more than just numbers of cases. Ask how cases are allocated and how managers determine if a social worker is overloaded.
  5. Emotional distress. Social workers rated their managers highly if they helped them process the fear and emotional distress that is sometimes part of the job. Successful approaches cited were showing empathy, listening, good-quality reflective supervision and taking actions such as organising joint visits or debriefs after visits. Ask about health and safety policies and which situations would trigger action. Ask what actions are taken when social workers experience the emotional distress that is part of the job.

These tips were sourced from Community Care’s free download: How to be a better social work manager. Search team manager career opportunities or use Community Care’s Employer Zone to research those employers who prioritise support for frontline managers.

4 Responses to Five questions to ask in a job interview to determine the quality of social work management

  1. Edrisa Sawaneh January 28, 2020 at 9:51 am #

    Clearly explicit and worth serious consideration. I am a social worker and have gone through all these issues and many a times frustrating.

  2. Katy January 28, 2020 at 12:24 pm #

    ah, if only these issues had been identified as essential for good management practice, before I left social work due to burn out and work related stress! Unfortunately my negative experiences have led me to strongly beleive that many managers, go into management because they’re frightened of front line work. And, their own lack of confidence, often results in an inability and unwillingness to respect the knowledge and skills of the more experienced social workers in their team.

  3. Lynn January 28, 2020 at 2:36 pm #

    Some idea of how managers react to mistakes or perceived poor practice of the workers, or customer complaints, would be useful. Everyone makes mistakes but if that mistake is going to be dredged up forever no matter what the rest of the practice is like, then it sours the whole experience of social work, like we are not expected to be human?

  4. Tim Barker January 31, 2020 at 1:39 pm #

    I would ask a more basic and practical question. Can you guarantee regular quality supervision which will support good social work, enable professional development and manage caseloads? Secondly how far do line managers prioritise supervision when there are other pressures on their time?

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