Strengths-based supervision: top tips for practice supervisors

Practical advice from a Community Care Inform guide on building high quality relationships with the practitioners you supervise

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This article presents practice tips from Community Care Inform Adults’ guide on supervision: building high quality relationships. The full guide explores best practice in supervision through the provision of high quality supervision relationships, providing advice and tips for practice throughout. It considers key messages that emerge from research on the importance of good relationships within supervision and discusses these in the context of the government’s Post-qualifying Standards for Social Work Practice Supervisors in Adult Social Care. Inform Adults subscribers can access the full content here.

The guide is written by Lee-Ann Fenge, a registered social worker and professor of social care at Bournemouth University.

Social work practice is a relationship-based activity which pivots around interactions that occur between social workers, people who receive support, carers and other professionals. Social work supervision is itself a relationship-based activity that should reflect the kind of trusting, supportive and empathic relationship that practitioners are expected to build with the individuals they support.

This supervisory relationship should be strengths-based; the supervisor focusing on the strengths of the social worker just as the social worker uses strengths-based approaches with the people they support. Strengths-based supervision aims to draw on the knowledge and expertise of both parties. It supports a collaborative relationship between supervisor and supervisee, one built on shared responsibility and shared learning.

A strengths-based approach should be empowering while enabling the supervisee to grow and develop their professional practice.

Practice tips for strengths-based supervision

  • Discuss what the supervision relationship means to both parties and how the wider context of the organisational supervision policy influences expectations within this relationship. Does supervision encompass both a management and professional development aspect, and how will this be balanced?
  • Supervisors should develop an ability to “strike a balance between employing a managerial, task-focused approach and a reflective, enabling, leadership style to achieve efficient day to day functioning” (DHSC, 2018).
  • Supervisors may experience problems when reconciling different elements of supervision. It is generally impossible to review all cases in the allotted time, so supervisees should be encouraged to take ownership and prioritise issues for a discussion of selected cases.
  • Supervisors need to adapt their approach to meet the needs of the supervisee alongside organisational demands, and this is particularly important if the supervisee is showing signs of stress.
  • Supervisors need to hear the worker ‘think aloud’ about their cases (Rankine, 2019), so that they are aware of how the practitioner thinks and what factors underpin their professional judgment. This is important to enable the supervisor to provide different perspectives.
  • Clarify the collaborative nature of supervision and expectations in terms of preparation for supervision and supervisees being active participants in the process, and in their own learning and development.
  • Think how the emotional impact of the work will be considered within the supervisory relationship. This includes both a duty of care aspect alongside the opportunity for the supervisee to feel “safe” to explore the stress and emotional demands of frontline practice. For supervisors, this means “being attuned to the effect of high emotion and stress and respond in empathic, compassionate, calm, measured and pragmatic ways” (DHSC, 2018). This is particularly important since the impact of Covid-19 and should also include consideration of how working from home and hot desking may negatively impact on the emotional supports available to practitioners.
  • Explore how good supervision can provide an atmosphere of challenge to the supervisee and “promote the development of critically reflective practice” (DHSC, 2018).
  • Explore how to highlight and incorporate the supervisee’s own strengths in supervision sessions (DHSC, 2019).
  • Consider how issues of anti-oppressive practice are to be considered in supervision. At a micro level, this concerns awareness of issues of power within the supervisory relationship. It should also include a wider focus on issues related to social justice, relationships with people who receive support and carers, and how key social work values underpin the supervisee’s professional practice.
  • A safe supervision environment should enable practitioners to reflect on social work ethical principles and values underpinned by principles of social justice, “human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities” (DHSC, 2018).

Strengths-based approaches are indispensable in modern social work. By providing a forum to think critically about and model strengths-based relationships, supervision makes its own vital contribution.


Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) (2018)
Post-qualifying Standards for Social Work Practice Supervisors in Adult Social Care

Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) (2019)
Strengths-based approach: Practice Framework and Practice Handbook

Rankine, M (2019)
‘The “thinking aloud” process: a way forward in social work supervision’
Reflective Practice; International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, Volume 20, Issue 1, p97-110

If you have a Community Care Inform Adults licence, log in to access the full guide. You can access more supervision guidance on the practice education knowledge and practice hub.

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