Submitted by Dawn E. Shedrick
When I first submitted my contribution to the Network for Social Work Management’s (NSWM) “Monday Morning Manager” (MMM) blog series in September 2015, I was keenly aware that I was among a pantheon of exemplary social service managers. Since its launch a year earlier, the weekly MMM feature had been the only reason I looked forward to checking my emails every Monday morning (and still is to this day). With each new week I am introduced to new colleagues and learn about the fullness of their often circuitous, yet purposeful, journey to and within social administration. I am often inspired by these stories, which is a wonderful way to start my week!
So, in March 2017, I was delighted to receive an invitation to participate in the survey of MMM’s developed by Linda Helm, PhD, and Richard Boettcher, PhD, of the Ohio State University’s School of Social Work. An examination of the survey results presented in the last issue of this journal left with left me in deep reflection with new questions about three specific points. I believe the answers to these questions can forward us all as innovative social service leaders.
Social service leaders best create change by prioritizing the people they serve AND productivity within their organizations
Many of us can take this for granted. It makes sense in theory, but due to extrinsic factors such as funding constraints, bureaucratic influences, limited human capital, and burnout, it can be challenging to adopt an approach that combines an emphasis on client need, staff proficiency, and creating programmatic outcomes. As I reflect on my own 22-year career in social service management, it is clear that my success in staff supervision, program development, and overall executive leadership is grounded in this team-style leadership approach. But I also recognize that this was possible because of access to exemplary supervision and mentoring and my lifelong commitment to personal and professional development. What new models for supervision, training and mentoring could support all current and future social service managers in adopting a team-centered style of leadership?
Successful social service leaders embrace the value of networking
I am clear that networking is a central factor in the growth of my own career and business. But I’m also clear that much of what I know about networking came from my undergraduate education in business and my entrepreneurial training. MMM Survey respondents report that networking is critical to navigating organizational challenges, securing employment, and receiving emotional support. Yet anecdotally, I often encounter social workers and human services professionals who don’t believe they possess the confidence and aptitude for successful networking. Many believe it’s a skill only necessary in the business sector. How do we incorporate networking skill development into graduate social service education, supervision and continuing education? How can we leverage social media (beyond profiles that remain stagnant or passive, unmoderated chat rooms and forums) and other technologies (web-conferencing platforms, learning management systems, mobile chat apps) to create and nurture professional networks?
Mentorship is vital to professional development and advancement
A preponderance of respondents noted that mentoring from “work-related superiors” and “colleagues” is a significant factor in their professional growth. I wonder if this happens by default due to ease of access, since one is already working with their supervisor and immediate colleagues? Either way, what new models of mentorship, beyond traditional supervisor-subordinate praxis, can we create that are culturally inclusive (race, ethnicity, gender identity, primary language, economic status, to name a few) and leverage technology?
I agree with Helm and Boettcher that observing the activities of current social service leaders can produce deeper insights into what’s currently working. I also encourage the exploration of the new questions I’ve offered as a launchpad to further innovation and invention in social services administration.
The Monday Morning Manager is a blog series where leaders share their path to management- successes, challenges and lessons learned as they climbed up the ladder.
Managers of all experience levels are welcome!