Social Work Management Week: A Day In The Life of a Social Work Manager

Short Bio.

Thenera Bailey is the President/CEO of the SISGI Group, a consulting and research organization dedicated to providing strategic resources to mission driven work led by individuals, groups and organizations. Thenera has an accomplished career as a consultant, trainer and technical assistance provider to programs, organizations, government agencies, nonprofits, corporations, schools and school districts. Her clients have included AARP, The Corporation for National and Community Service, American Heart Association and the Kettering Foundation. She is a social entrepreneur and has worked to develop several new social change organizations and initiatives throughout her career. She has a Masters in Social Work, a Master of Arts and she is currently completing a Doctorate of Business Administration with a focus on Strategy and Innovation.

What was your first job as a manger?

Manager of the Maryland State Mentoring Resource Center overseeing the training and technical assistance for mentoring programs across the state of Maryland. I oversaw a team of training consultants that trained mentors, mentees and program staff on best practices in mentoring and developed resources to support youth development related to mentoring, for programs across the state. As an initiative funded by the state, I worked to assure that resources and trainings occurred across the state.

We often hear that the transition from frontline staff to manager can be challenging. What was the transition like for you? Are there any tips or words of advice you can give those who may either be experiencing the transition now or will do so in the near future?

I had a great supervisor who mentored me into the role before she left the organization. If you don’t have access to a strong manager as a role model, it is hard to know how to be a good manager early in your career or when you transition into a management role. My first suggestion is to seek out a mentor to assist you in better understanding your strengths and weaknesses as a leader. Figuring that out before you are supervising a team or program, will help you be more successful in your leadership. Also always be open to learning from every experience and seek out training and conferences that will expose you to current information and new skills. If you have been out of school for awhile, your staff that are recent graduates may have more knowledge about new methods or innovative ways to create social change. Remain open to learn from those you supervise, as expertise comes in all forms. Finally, use conferences and training events to stay connected to peers in similar roles or working on similar issues. No manager has all the answers and sometimes your peer network of other managers will be essential to helping you find a solution or to address a management problem. I stay in contact with several executive directors and program leaders from throughout my career, as it can be lonely at the head of an organization and it is great to bounce strategies off someone who understands your perspective of the work.

Did you have prior training in management and administration before you stepped into that position?

My MSW concentration was in Management and Community Organizing through the University of Maryland so I had a basic foundation of best practices for good program management and administration. However, no theory or textbook can prepare you fully for the role. Assisting my supervisor in managing tasks and seeking out opportunities to lead projects independently, were the best way to improve my skills prior to taking my first management role.

Tell us a little bit about what you do in your current role? What's the most challenging aspect? What's the most rewarding aspect?

As President/CEO of the SISGI Group, I lead a global organization that provides consulting, training, awareness and research services to mission driven organizations. I work directly with clients providing consulting services and serve as a trainer/facilitator on a variety of topics across the country. We also have a nonprofit division that has several programs to increase the capacity of the sector and I oversee the core programming. As the founder, I have been intimately involved in all of our program design, major staff hires and strategy decisions since we launched. As a location independent organization with staff working around the country and several programs operating simultaneously, it is challenging to make sure we maintain a company culture that utilizes innovation to stay at the forefront of client projects. I have to trust my team and constantly adjust my leadership to match the changing environment. As a consulting group that supports the social sector, we are impacted by changes that nonprofits and government agencies experience due to changes in the federal administration, funding and societal pressures. It is important that we stay connected to our mission and on top of how we can support these organizations through the constant change in the sector. The most rewarding part of my current role is to see something you imagined turn into something tangible that produces real results from your efforts. For example, I have always been passionate about the need for there to be more macro field placements for graduate Social Work students. We have had an internship in our nonprofit division since our founding and created the program to address a need expressed by our clients, for strong managers with practical experience and the limited leadership pipeline for preparing managers for the social sector. Though we accept students from all disciplines, the majority of our over 100 program alums were MSW students when they were placed with our organization. It is incredibly rewarding to have the opportunity to help increase the number of strong managers in the social sector and to pass on the mentoring I received to future leaders. Many of our alums are now social work managers and I encourage them to serve as field instructors when possible to continue to spread the opportunity for macro field experiences and mentoring.

How does your organization find time to celebrate social work managers?

We do a “Where are they now” social media campaign to highlight the next career step for our former interns and the management work they are leading in the sector. We also lead a social change career series, that highlights the professional journey of individuals working in leadership roles for social good, many of which are social worker managers. We also use our social media and research blog to celebrate the profession.