Let social workers sack their boss


That’s what they do at Oxford, not the county council but the university*.Keeps them on their toes. I assume that the bosses are the senior managers not line managers since it’s usually senior managers that social workers have so little faith in. I don’t know how it works within the colleges but I can imagine the idea would be popular with most social workers. 

Rather than simply dismissing the idea because it doesn’t fit with the accepted way of doing things ask would social workers be more effective if they had confidence in their boss? The criticism most often levelled at senior managers is they are out of touch with the reality of front line social work. There are two reasons for this one is the increasingly common practise of appointing people who have no background or experience in social work. The second is the length of time since they were a practitioner social worker, the big changes that have happened in the intervening years and the fact that if they have spent a day shadowing a social worker in the last five years they are in the minority. An other criticism often levelled at senior managers is that they don’t listen. Either because they don’t want to hear why a proposal won’t work/isn’t working or because they think given the opportunity social workers will simply find things to moan about. All this would change if social workers could pass a vote of no confidence which the cabinet would be expected to act upon. Alternatively the boss could be appointed on a fix term contract, say for three years, at the end of which social workers would be asked to vote as to whether the contract should be extended.


The aim is not to force senior managers out but to give them a strong incentive to keep in touch with the front line. 


Would any senior manager be prepared to accept a post under these Conditions? The average tenure for a chief executive in the NHS is 18 months . So a 3 year contract for social service senior managers would have attractions. I believe as a former director that senior managers are confident enough in their decision making and ability to explain the rational/need for unpopular decisions to open up the discussion.

Could social workers be trusted to act responsibly? Being the boss is not a popularity contest and decisions would have to be made about budgets or ways of working that would be unpopular with some groups. In my experience social workers are not all hopeless idealists or hard bitten cynics they recognise the realities of a budget that will not stretch to meet increasing demand and they are open to changes in the way things are done if it will improve the experience of the people they are working to help. 

So building on this common ground could social workers have a say in in whether the boss stays or goes? 

If this idea was coming from a social worker then no doubt it would be dismissed as at best naive or typically anti management but it’s coming from a former director. 

Blair Mcpherson ex social worker and former director of community services www.blairmcpherson.co.uk


*Dandy Dorling  professor of human geography Oxford University Guardian 4/9/18

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