The role of social work professional supervision in conditions of uncertainty


Bourn, D. and Hafford-Letchfield, T. 2011. The role of social work professional supervision in conditions of uncertainty. The international journal of knowledge, culture and change management.. 10 (9), pp. 41-56.
TitleThe role of social work professional supervision in conditions of uncertainty
AuthorsBourn, D. and Hafford-Letchfield, T.

In the UK, a number of serious case reviews within social work and social care highlighted systemic failures within care organisations, resulting in wholesale structural reforms aimed at improving services. These have combined with increased inspection and surveillance of professional practice alongside calls for more staff training and supervision. Less attention has been given to examining the cultural aspects of social care organisations that may have contributed to such failures and the potential roles that front line managers play in promoting or mediating organisational culture within their individual relationships with front line staff. Professional supervision is cited within the social work literature as one of the most effective tools for facilitating and supporting individuals to contain and work with the anxiety that naturally arises within social work. Through its different functions, supervision provides an opportunity for managers to engage staff with the vision of the organisation and its standards. This paper explores how some of these opportunities are actually utilised and reports on the findings of a small scale qualitative study which captured data of digital visual recordings of management supervision and the managers’ own reflective accounts about the effectiveness of their supervision skills. Closer analysis of this data gave a glimpse into the different roles that managers perform within the supervision context and this paper discusses some of the strategies the managers used to communicate or mediate aspects of organisational culture to individual staff and support them in their stressful jobs. Some tentative recommendations are made regarding the importance of prioritising particular functions of supervision and for managers in providing space for staff to reflect critically on the context in which they work. These strategies may allow the tacit or taken-for-granted assumptions and beliefs in every-day practice to surface and also to increase the participation and engagement of staff in delivering quality services.

PublisherCommon Ground.
JournalThe international journal of knowledge, culture and change management.
Publication dates
Publication process dates
Deposited21 Feb 2011
Output statusPublished
Accepted author manuscript
Copyright Statement

Post refereed version as permitted by publisher.

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