Monday, 11 January 2016

Baroness Sally Morgan: developing social work leaders for the future

Ahead of the launch of our report ‘Developing outstanding social workers’, we spoke to Baroness Sally Morgan, Chair of the Firstline Subcommittee, member of the Frontline Board, and a former Chair of Ofsted.

How did you get involved with Firstline?

I have always been involved in education, and have seen it as the greatest potential changer of people’s lives. But I was also acutely aware that there were a group of children in any school who had a set of other issues that presented serious problems for their education. The schools just weren’t able to support these students sufficiently, and in many cases the social care provision wasn’t either. So when Josh came forward with the Frontline proposition it seemed both sensible and timely.

As we were developing Frontline we realised there is a real gap in the system for people who are leading teams in the frontline of social work. For what, in essence, Firstline has developed: a programme to support people at that first level of key leadership in the organisation. There’s such a need in the system to develop people to be great frontline leaders, and I think the reception from local authorities shows that they recognise too that there’s the gap in the system for this.

Why did you think Firstline is an exceptional idea?

First line social work managers are the people who absolutely make the difference, because they nurture the people in their team, they develop them, and in many cases persuade them to stay in in the profession. They are vital in keeping and developing the new generation of social workers, and they probably make the most fundamental difference to kids’ lives in care. They are absolutely the pivotal people that we have to build for the future.

How did you come to Chair the Firstline subcommittee?

In a sense, our overriding mission is part of the same family as Frontline’s. We therefore thought it best to initially draw people from the Frontline Board who understood the journey, and had learnt from its development. On the Board, I was one of the people who was quite vociferous about Firstline.

As a development committee, we’re supporting the Firstline team and providing necessary challenge. It’s interesting because it allows you to be part of helping shape a really good programme.

What impact do you hope Firstline will have on social work?

I hope it will provide support and challenge for good people in the system to recognise the level of difference they can make, and keep these really great social workers in the profession. I want it to be a fundamental beacon for developing excellent leaders. But I also want it to provide a great next step of personal development for very good frontline social workers.

What do you think are the most important qualities for leadership?

Firstly, clarity and the ability to focus on the things that really matter. The ability to think strategically, explain what you think needs to be done, bringing people with you in that thinking is also key. You also need to be open to new ideas, to take the best ones, and ultimately be prepared to make decisions – even tough ones. Those are the essential qualities for good leadership.

What impact do you want the report to have?

The report highlights the importance of quality first line leadership within social work. It is one way of engaging local authorities to work with us and undertake the level of reform that is needed to develop, empower, and support leaders working in this critical tier of the system.

What are the most powerful messages from the report?

The first line social work manager role is both vitally important and extremely challenging. The report demonstrates the degree to which social work managers play a critical role in enabling high quality social work, by improving the climate for the social workers they lead. Outstanding first line leaders create an energising climate for their teams that enables high performance, even when broader system conditions are challenging.

The report distinguishes the difference between good and outstanding leaders. It is apparent that good social worker managers require a high level of intellect, emotional intelligence and strong leadership capabilities. Outstanding leaders go beyond this by embracing the leadership role by: being proficient at influencing others, astute and considered in decision-making, effective in utilising their professional authority, and are reflective and understand how to translate this reflection into action. Finally and probably most importantly they need to have a strong, clear, moral purpose.

What response do you think the following groups would give to that question?

A)    Those in first line management positions?

Many of those in first line management positions may have not encountered this level of recognition before. I’d hope that first line managers reading the report will feel empowered to know that support is out there for them to develop, lead and make significant change within their role.

B)   Senior managers at local authorities?

The report is not only key in identifying what great leadership looks like within children’s social work. It looks at what, in the local authority context, helps or hinders first line leaders, and what organisations can do to improve effective first line leadership. Food for thought for senior managers whom aspire for positive change within their organisation.

How has the report been received in the sector?

There is a gap in the development of first line managers, which is what this report identifies. These findings resonate strongly with those working in the sector, and they are clear that an innovative approach to promoting and developing outstanding social work leadership is welcomed.

Click here to access the report, and here for the report appendices.


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