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As a profession, recent years have resulted in social workers facing unprecedented challenges and pressures. The years of austerity, rising caseloads and continued restrictions placed on the profession, have meant that strong and effective leaders are more important than ever. Repeatedly, serious case reviews have highlighted failures in leadership, and it remains that the cost of failure is high.
But what does a good leader look like and how can we make sure that we are constantly developing our leadership skills? Read on for a breakdown of what it means to be a leader in social work, and an in-depth look at the Leadership Qualities Framework and how this applies to practice.
Supporting Successful Leaders in Social Work
With regard to the official documents that underpin social work, the importance of strong and effective leadership is reiterated in both the Professional Capabilities Framework and the Knowledge and Skills Statement for Adult Social Work. As social workers, we utilise leadership skills every day and a robust approach is essential when it comes to meeting professional standards, the implementation of procedure and promoting the values and principles that guide our actions.
There are several different types of leaders, but in social work, we often refer to the model of transformational leadership. A transformational leader is one who looks to the future, focuses on acknowledging our strengths and weaknesses, leads the way forward as a team member and most importantly encourages those around them. This is a form of leadership in which the leader can identify the need for change, with leaders often working in close collaboration with team members to motivate and inspire.
Implementing the Leadership Qualities Framework
The Leadership Qualities Framework (LQF) sets out what good leadership looks like across the social care sector. It was created by the National Skills Academy for Social Care and commissioned by the Department of Health. The LQF highlights the importance of:
The first dimension in the LQF is Personal Qualities and this is broken down into four main elements, including developing self-awareness, managing yourself, continuing personal development, and acting with integrity. Ultimately, the personal qualities category focuses predominantly on the individual and the actions that they need to undertake. This involves the importance of the leader recognising their strengths and weaknesses as well as identifying their own emotions, as well as recognising any misconceptions or prejudice that they themselves may hold. Moreover, this refers to individual accountability and responsibility, especially with regard to the leader having the ability to take appropriate action when needed. However, this is not just applicable to management and leadership teams, as professionals, we are all accountable and as part of this, we have the duty to hold each other to the highest standards.
Working with Others
Teamwork is at the heart of social work practice, and a good leader is one that recognises the importance of working with others positively and productively. The LQF states that good leaders are those that provide encouragement and opportunity for others, as well as managing conflict and ensuring that focus is maintained. As well as working with your team, this also refers to the way in which we work with others from across the sector. Whether you refer to it as a multi-agency working, partnership working, or a joined-up approach to practice, working in collaboration is part of the mandate.
There are many differences between a leader and a manager, but both are responsible for managing services. This dimension includes how leaders manage the delivery of care, including ensuring that all members are given the opportunity to develop their roles and responsibilities. Moreover, leaders must be accountable for service outcomes and are ultimately responsible for tackling the difficult issues that team members may face. Furthermore, this also refers to ensuring that clear and strong values are implemented from the top down. It is considered that this helps to promote a positive workplace culture, which is essential for success.
As a profession, we are constantly reflecting on our practice and evaluating procedure, and the LQF highlights the importance of improving services as a leader. However, it is not just about maintaining standards, but also in working to improve them. It refers to the need to consistently evaluate, make sure that staff members are given the opportunity for professional development, accountability and protecting outcomes.
The LQF dimension of setting direction refers to the leader’s duty to identify the context for change, apply knowledge and evidence, make a decision, and evaluate impact. Predominantly setting the direction of the future, where we are heading as a profession and the role of leaders within this.
Creating the Vision
The LQF states that good leaders are responsible for creating, communicating and embodying the vision. It also notes that social workers are responsible for influencing the vision on a wider scale in the sector. Fundamentally, it refers to how we, as professionals, are responsible for moulding and shaping discussion and debate regarding the wider issues in society.
Delivering the Strategy
This dimension refers to the way in which leaders should aim to frame, develop, and implement their strategic plans. It indicates how we deliver care, and how we work to overcome the barriers that we often face.
Throughout the framework, it states that we are all responsible for leadership and it is important to note that just because someone does not have a managerial position does not mean that they are not successful leaders. Alternatively, although an individual may have excelled to a position of power, they may not necessarily have the skills required to lead. We all have a duty to speak up, step forward and develop our leadership skills as it is this which is essential in maintaining the integrity of the profession.