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Leadership in social work: part one

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Education and training, Knowledge and skills, Our profession

Before Christmas, I was very pleased to post a guest blog from Ali Gardiner, senior lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, on a fascinating methodology of interest to our social work profession: social pedagogy.

If you haven’t read it, I urge you to click here first as it serves as a useful primer to this two-part follow up. Here, Alison continues to explore social pedagogy’s merits in the context of practice leadership and the powerful professional and client based relationships that can result from its application.

Defining terms

When we hear the word leader or leadership, we tend to associate it with words such as power, manager, vision, strategy, responsibility, authority and being in-charge.

This can make it difficult to understand how as an individual social worker, practicing at the front line within tightly managed standardised systems, informed by policy and legal mandates, the word leadership has real relevance in our day to day work.

Yet social workers are called upon to be leaders and to demonstrate good leadership skills as stated in the Professional Capabilities Framework and the Knowledge and Skills Statement for Adult Social Work. It is worth therefore exploring what good leadership might look like for front line practitioners and how this might be achieved using a social pedagogical approach.

Within a social work context, both the PCF and the Knowledge & Skills Statement call for social workers to demonstrate leadership skills individually and collectively through promoting social work’s purpose, practices and impact.

This requires both an intellectual and emotional connectivity to the work and to use a social pedagogical concept, the application of the head, heart and hand.

The head represents the knowledge and understanding we have of the role, the ability to connect knowledge and to use it to inform our practice. It may call upon legal literacy and the ability to draw upon relevant theories in shaping our input.

Ali Gardner portrait
Ali Gardner is a senior lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN). She teaches on the social work and newly developed social pedagogy programmes

Knowledge alone is not enough however.

We know that social work is fundamentally driven by a code of ethics based on humanistic principles. The ability to adopt and apply these principles is more than a technical task and requires a deep and genuine engagement with these values. This is the heart element of our practice. It is only with a passion and compassion, that real ethical literacy can begin to support our work positively.

Even the most detailed and explicit legal requirements will ultimately depend on a professional judgment taken by an individual. In many cases such decisions will not be straight forward and may well require a balancing of competing priorities.

Finally, the hand represents the practical application of our work. The head and the heart guide the direction of our work, whilst the hand puts it into place. Social work should not represent a one size fits all approach to working with unique individuals but instead requires practitioners to be creative, purposeful and collaborative in their approach to ensure good outcomes for individuals.

It is worth spending some time to revisit the uniqueness of social work and explore the reasons for individuals entering the profession in the first place.

Social workers pride themselves in their ability to support others, promote social justice, respect individual dignity and recognise the importance of relationships and integrity in their practice. The challenge for social workers however is the ability to honour, promote and commit to these values particularly at a time when demand for social care is increasing and resources are decreasing.

Social workers intervene in crisis, mediate conflict, advocate challenge, identify resources, support people at their most vulnerable times in the face of adversity, articulate goals, motivate teams and look to the future.

To achieve the above they display the characteristics of those described as visionaries, influencers and executors of plans. It is fair to say therefore that social workers make very good everyday leaders.

Click here for Part Two: Pedagogy in practice

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