Leadership in Social Work
People-Centered Leadership: The Social Work Manager
The social work profession provides an environment where people-centered leaders can thrive. Elements of trust, understanding, and personal responsibility are already common themes within social work. These concepts, which we apply in service to our clients, are just as relevant when it comes to developing and leading a team of social workers. Taking a people-centered approach as a social work manager can result in greater productivity, personal satisfaction, and career growth for everyone. Guidance from professional organizations such as The Network for Social Work Management and The Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care show us that the basic principles include:
- Relinquishing control and giving greater autonomy to individuals and teams.
- Delegating responsibilities based on team member competency.
- Influencing behaviors through positive examples and role modeling.
- Encouraging independent thinking and decision-making.
- Trusting the knowledge and experience of others to have good judgment.
- Facilitating learning through formal and informal training opportunities.
- Promoting self-evaluation of individual skills, strengths, and areas for improvement.
People-centered leaders achieve success when they are able to find rewards in the development and accomplishments of their team members. It takes a confident professional who is comfortable in his or her own abilities to be able to lead in such a fashion. This is particularly true in stressful situations where it would be easier to simply tell team members exactly what to do, as well as when team members challenge your guidance and advice.
Of course, succeeding in a leadership role requires an ongoing commitment to your own growth and professional development. This means going beyond the continuing education required of all social workers to include an MSW degree program, formal leadership training, and specialized study in key practice areas. A high level of personal initiative is essential for career advancement. The best social work managers also look for opportunities to learn from others who are employed in a similar capacity. Professional organizations can provide valuable networking opportunities, access to the latest research, and admission into industry conferences and events.
You may also find CEU opportunities, along with webinars on topics of special interest to social work managers. Just remember that you don’t necessarily need the job title of “manager” to act as a leader in the workplace. Leverage your knowledge and abilities with confidence, help to mentor others in areas where you excel, and present a positive example for the social work profession. Others will take notice and begin to view you through the leadership lens.