Social work diary: ‘Why I introduce myself as a social worker, not a manager’

    A team manager explains why she refers to herself as a social worker - to advocate for better respect for frontline practitioners

    Social worker manager
    Photo: Adobe Stock/Vitalii Vodolazskyi

    Have you ever sat in a meeting where everyone is asked to go around the table (albeit virtual) and state who they are? Everyone gives their name and their job title, but is that who they really are? At what stage does someone stop being seen as a social worker and only seen as a manager?

    I have noticed that if I introduce myself by name and state my profession is social work but I am also a manager, people will look at me strangely.

    One person said to me afterwards, “You do know you are a team manager?”. Indeed I do, I replied, but firstly I am a social worker.

    It got me thinking about how often I use the title ‘manager’, and have concluded it is rarely. The inquisitive sort might ask why this is. Am I not proud to be a team manager? Well, yes, I am very proud. I have the privilege of working with a phenomenal team, who are extremely hard working and committed to social work values, and demonstrate exceptional quality of work daily.

    Being treated differently as a manager

    But I hesitate to state my job title because I have found other professionals, organisations and clients treat me differently if they know I am a manager.

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    Recently, I was on the receiving end of an abrupt, disgruntled professional, who wasn’t happy that a service couldn’t be provided as quickly as they wanted. The social worker dealing with the situation had tried everything within their power to move things along, but resources would simply not be available for another two days.

    This professional called back and I happened to pick up the phone as I was supporting the team that day with calls due to high demand. I introduced myself by name and team. After a detailed conversation, the professional, who had been very animated throughout the phone call,  explained to me that the team manager needed to be informed that we could not provide a service until two days later. When I replied that I was fully aware and everything humanly possible was being done, the line went silent for a little while. Then the voice said, “I’m sorry for the way I spoke, I didn’t know you were the manager”.

    ”Why do you think it’s ok to speak to a member of my team differently to how you speak to me?” I asked. A muffled apology came through from the other end and the person said they had another urgent call coming through.

    The unacceptable abuse of frontline staff

    I have observed a huge difference between how others speak to me as a manager and how they speak to my team. Irate family members suddenly become very passive when the call is transferred to me. What they think I can do differently to everything the practitioner has already tried is beyond me. There is a time and a place for me to be involved, but I do not possess a magic wand.

    I would like others to speak to my team in the same way they feel it is appropriate to speak to me. Frontline staff suffer daily passive abuse; it is not acceptable and should not be tolerated. I continue to challenge people on how they come across, because, while the attitude may not be directed to the person, it does affect them.

    We are all busy and have competing demands, but respect and kindness go a very long way. Yes, I am a team manager, but I am also a registered social worker committed to upholding our values.

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    3 Responses to Social work diary: ‘Why I introduce myself as a social worker, not a manager’

    1. Jane January 23, 2023 at 2:37 pm #

      Kudos to you!!

    2. Janet January 23, 2023 at 8:01 pm #

      Well yes – but we live in a world where it’s assumed the manager knows best. Maybe social work employers need to think about respecting the opinions and professional judgements of their frontline staff.

    3. Blair Mcpherson January 27, 2023 at 9:45 pm #

      In my experience it’s managers and management that gets the blame for lack of resources. Being a manager means not only supporting your social workers professionalism it means explaining the organisation’s rationing process and budget issues in the most sensitive and appropriate way.