Practice Conversations With Maggie: Supervision in Child Protection and Juvenile Justice Field Services

Publication Date: 
Saturday, September 15, 2012 - 8:00am

Effective leadership places our organization in a better position to achieve positive outcomes for the children, youth, and families we serve. Our work is complex and we need to take opportunities to reflect on our own practice, to learn new or different ways of doing things, and to maximize the sharing of skills and experience so that we see our individual and collective practice strengthening over time.

Supervisors are coaches, mentors, and evaluators responsible for the quality of services children and families receive. The tone and expectations they set are so important. This means that supervisors have a powerful influence on families and our agency’s ability to be successful.

Having been a supervisor in the field for over 10 years I know first hand the challenges and opportunities of being in that role. I also know how easy it can be to forget the impact or influence a supervisor has or should have. An effective supervisor needs to be a leader with vision and a manager with purpose. It is not always easy to balance those two roles but balance them we must.

The truth is a supervisor is often caught in the middle of conflicting expectations from families and the community, staff, upper management, and peers. While constantly fighting fires a supervisor also manages and responds to office politics or cultures. I am sure there are days that supervisors become discouraged, wondering what, if anything, they can truly influence.

Being a good supervisor is a difficult journey but I believe it is one worth taking. However, that is only if you want to be an effective supervisor, and not one, that just gets by.  That, in the end, only does a disservice to you, your staff and the families we serve.

Supervisors are uniquely positioned to respond to employee needs, problems, and satisfaction. They can be most effective in developing job training, staff attitudes and identifying practice standards. Adopting Supervisory Standards was one way to broadcast and influence the kind of supervisors we want to be. The following  supervisory functions reflect areas where a supervsior can and should impact their office and how their staff view themselves and their work.

Running effective staff meetings:  Designing meetings that balance collective learning and office culture; leading reflective conversation while identifying best practices; and engaging staff in program development. Staff meetings can be a great communication opportunity for all.

Maintain individual supervision meetings: Using a one-on-one meeting to support self-evaluation of strengths and weaknesses is critical for staff to know what they do well and what they need to work on. A supervisor can and should play the multiple roles of teacher, administrator, counselor and mentor.

Using staff evaluations as a means of reflection, teaching, and continuous improvement: Every one deserves to know how they are doing. The use of staff evaluations to support staff development and continuous improvement is key to our overall success. Annual evaluations should be a cumulative review of the individual supervisions where challenges and successes have been discussed all along.

Conducting in-house trainings:  Supervisors should be a great training resource using staff meetings and other opportunities to focus on our staff’s practice needs and professional development.

I have often read that managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing. It would then go without saying that effective supervisors are people who do things right and who do the right thing.

This article reflected on those traits and tactics necessary for supervisors to be the real leaders and managers of their offices and to reflect the professionalism of our organization. In this rapidly changing world it can be a major challenge to present new initiatives and practices to staff without being frustrated or even cynical. The truth is a supervisor must be authentic and yet, set a tone of cooperation and support for these changes.

Supervisors cannot be unsure of their role. Vacillating between being a worker and being a supervisor is not an option. We should not be struggling with wanting to be “liked” or wanting to lead. Being a supervisor means you have chosen to lead and sometimes that means you have to do the unpopular, in an effort to assure improved practices or larger systemic changes. There is a common misconception that being a good supervisor means being a popluar one. A truly good supervisor is a leader who can balance their relationships with staff that can be supportive, yet objective and consistent regarding expectations. A supervisor should never forget that they are a role model and reflect the leadership of our organization. All eyes are on them and if they lose sight of the right thing to do, so will their staff. You cannot command, compel, or coerce good performance. You must model it.

Newsletter Edition: 
Maggie Bishop, Director, The Division for Children, Youth, and Families