Professional Leadership In Social Care Presentation on power point:    • The project should be carried out in a collaborative manner. All participants sho

Professional Leadership In Social Care Presentation on power point:   

• The project should be carried out in a collaborative manner. All participants should have opportunities to contribute, all voices should be heard

• Discussion should identify key themes in case studies related to social locations and addressing oppressions; linking practice and personal experience to theory

•  The group should give an appropriate visual form to this discussion, attempting to synthesise main points of the discussion

•  The group should present the work to the lecturer, explaining the process and the outcome of their work together


The purpose of this assignment is to enable you to develop your own thinking about managing and leading in the broad social care sector and share your insights with each other as students on this module. 


· Each of you is required to prepare and facilitate one 40min online class period to your fellow students on a topic from the list below on a designated date. 237

Chapter 13

Professional Leadership for
Relationship-Based Practice


Other chapters in this book advocate for the central importance of
relationship-based practice in social work. This chapter explores how
we can support the development of these forms and understandings of
practice within organisations and the profession as a whole. It argues
that professional leadership – conceived as something that we all do
throughout our career and not something that is just done by those in
senior management positions – is necessary to do this. It will examine
the personal and professional qualities that we need in order to foster
our own professional leadership and the external conditions and
relationships that best enable us to do this. The chapter takes as a case
study the career development of a social worker, who is acknowledged
as having achieved an exceptional level of skill in systemic-based,
relationship-focused practice and has influenced others to practise
likewise, and examines transformational, distributed and relationship-
based approaches to professional leadership. It argues that to promote
relationship-based practice we need to integrate social work values
both in what we aim to achieve through our professional leadership
and how we choose to exercise it.

Definitions and key concepts
Over past decades the concept of leadership, understood as non-
coercive influence, has been increasingly central in management
studies. Northouse (2013) provides a comprehensive overview of































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238 • Relationship-Based Social Work

leadership theories and demonstrates how these have evolved from
study of the characteristics and behaviours of exceptional individuals
to examination of the organisational environments in which
leadership takes place. Since the beginning of this century, social
work management texts have also taken up the theme of leadership
(Hafford-Letchfield et al. 2008; Gray, Field and Brown 2010). Hafford-
Letchfield et al. (2014) use the idea of ‘inclusive leadership’ to bring
effective relationships between people that use and provide services
to the forefront of leadership practice in social work and social care.
Lawler (2007) provides a useful categorisation of different dimensions
of leadership in social work: promoting the public image of social
work; improving staff effectiveness, social work leadership of inter-
professional activities and social work leadership to counterbalance

However, relatively little has been written specifically for
professional leadership in social work outside of these management
texts. Implicitly linking leadership with management has a number of
disadvantages. It tends to de-couple continuing professional expertise
from professional leadership and it implies that advancement in a
management hierarchy is the sole route to professional leadership. It
also tends to obscure the vital role of collaboration between practice and
the academy in professional leadership. My own work on professional
leadership for social work practitioners and educators (Fairtlough
2017) aimed to contribute to filling this gap and this chapter uses
some ideas developed in more depth there. McKitterick (2015) asserts
a need for ‘self-leadership’ – that is, consciously influencing one’s
thinking, feeling and behaviour to achieve one’s objectives – for social
workers to provide confident and skilful social work practice. Self-
leadership needs to operate both on an individual basis for social
workers, managers and educators, and for the profession as a whole.

The professional capability framework (PCF) introduced in England
in 2011–12 provides a useful counter to the management-focused
conceptualisation of professional leadership mentioned above. In this
framework professional leadership is identified as one of the nine core
domains of social work practice (British Association of Social Workers
n.d.). It is seen as something that is undertaken by social workers at
every stage of their career from novice to expert, though with growing
depth, scope and degree of complexity. Although at advanced and
strategic levels of practice we may specialise more in either direct

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Professional Leadership • 239

practice, education or management, professional leadership is essential
in all three of these areas. At the time of writing the PCF is being
revised. However, the proposed new description of this domain
encapsulates how professional leadership is understood in this chapter
(College of Social Work 2015), so will be outlined here.

Take responsibility for development of professional leadership
appropriate to own role and status. Be proactive in selecting oppor-
tunities to model, promote or use professional leadership. Incorporate
professional leadership into improving practice standards, influencing
inside and outside the profession. Provide and model professional
challenge of own and other’s practice. Facilitate the professional
learning and development of others through supervision, mentoring,
assessing, research, teaching, and management.

Outside the UK context, other definitions have been developed within
professional education; the University of North Carolina’s definition1 is
highlighted as it adds two other important components of professional
leadership: the need for ‘self-knowledge’ and ‘moral courage’. I will
return to these two aspects of leadership later in the chapter.

Two sets of concepts from the generic literature on leadership
are particularly valuable in illuminating this understanding of social
work professional leadership. The first draws from Burns’ (1978)
distinction between traditional understandings of management,
which saw the management role as being to control the behaviour
of subordinates with rewards, punishments and corrective criticism,
which he described as ‘transactional leadership’, and ‘transformational
leadership’. Transformational leadership is involved with emotions,
values and long-term change in people and organisations. Bass (1985)
developed a well-known model of transformational leadership and
identified four key components: idealised influence that models high
ethical standards, inspirational motivation to promote commitment
to best practice, intellectual stimulation encouraging creativity and
innovation, and individualised consideration for others’ individual
abilities and needs.

The second body of ideas relates to what is often known as
distributed leadership, but also as dispersed or shared leadership,
which conceptualises leadership as something that can potentially arise

1 See

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240 • Relationship-Based Social Work

in any professional interaction (Bolden 2011). Spillane (2006, p.11)
understands distributed leadership to include any ‘activities tied to
the core work of the organisation that are designed by organizational
members to influence the motivation, knowledge, affect or practices of
other organizational members’. Clearly, this can be provided by anybody
at any level of the profession: it arises from someone’s actions, not his
or her position. Definitions of distributed leadership remain contested
but Bennett et al. (2003) identify the following common characteristics:

• emerges within groups of interacting individuals

• exercised by the many not just the few

• openness to the situations and contexts in which leadership
can be exercised.

Fairtlough (2005) asserts that hierarchical structures and relationships
are often our default position for imagining how to get things done.
However, there are alternative ways of getting things done that we can
use to exercise distributed professional leadership. One approach that
has been identified is ‘heterarchy’. Heterarchy distributes decision-
making amongst participants and allows power to be exercised in
different directions, laterally and from the bottom up, not just through
a pre-determined top-down hierarchy. Multiple forms of knowledge
and experience are valued within this framework. Working through
inter-professional forums, creating horizontal relationships between
people within and across organisations to develop new practices, co-
production with service users and carers, and various steering and
‘task and finish’ groups are all examples of heterarchical practices in
social work and social work education. In order to exercise distributed
leadership we also need to take – and be allowed to take – some degree
of ‘responsible autonomy’. Responsible autonomy delegates authority
for aspects of decision-making and action-taking to individuals,
groups or teams within a transparent framework for accountability.
It is similar to the notion of self-leadership discussed above. In any
organisation or practice system all three ways of getting things done
(hierarchy, heterarchy and responsible autonomy) are likely to be
needed, although their precise constellation will be dependent on
context and situation.

Whole systems work brings an ecological dimension to thinking
about how practice systems can respond to complex problems that

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Professional Leadership • 241

are not amenable to simple single-agency fixes, such as child sexual
exploitation (Pratt, Gordon and Plampling 1999). It provides a useful
set of principles and practices for enabling distributed leadership,
heterarchy and responsible autonomy. Attwood et al. (2003) identify
five keys to this way of working: strategic leadership, public learning,
the significance of difference and diversity, different meetings and
follow-through actions. Strategic leaders, rather than being the sole
initiators of responses to complex practice issues, provide ‘holding
frameworks’ that enable others throughout the system to ‘be free
to make sense and take action’ (p.61). Public learning signals the
importance of genuine collaboration between professionals and
service users, carers and the wider public in sense-making and action-
taking. Difference and diversity are significant not only in promoting
equitable socio-economic and cultural representation but also in terms
of incorporating the ideas and perspectives of people from every part
of the system. In contrast to traditional conferences or top-down led
presentations, whole systems meetings actively engage all participants,
taking them out of ‘audience mode’. Pratt et al. (1999, pp.126–132)
describe a range of tools that can be used for this purpose. ‘System
mapping’ involves participants honestly exploring what would really
happen in an archetypal situation. ‘Future search’ invites participants
to imagine an aspirational but realistic future and to plan concrete steps
together to achieve this. ‘Real time strategic change’ enables policies
or practice frameworks to be shaped through conversations between
people representing the whole system. People are encouraged to agree
to take specific action steps following the meetings. In the turbulent
environments in which we work, follow-through actions are often hard
to sustain, but engaging people in creating change is the best way to
foster their continuing support.

Learning to become a professional leader in
relationship-based practice: Nana’s story
These ideas are now explored further through the professional social
work journey of Nana Bonsu. I first got to know Nana when she was
newly in post as a lecturer in the university where Nana was training
to be a social worker. I then met her again some 15 years later when
Nana returned to the same university to facilitate reflective practice
groups with students. Nana’s expertise in relationship-based practice

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242 • Relationship-Based Social Work

was immediately apparent to me and my colleagues and in feedback
from students. The following is taken from an in-depth interview
with Nana. It makes use of her actual words (in quotation marks)
combined with my summaries, reflection and analysis. It covers the
stages of Nana’s career from being a student and a newly qualified
social worker through to becoming an advanced practitioner who is
also supporting the professional development of others. Although
Nana has had supervisory responsibilities, her passion is practice and
teaching others. The interview used an appreciative enquiry approach,
which investigates the circumstances that allow things to work well
(Bellinger and Elliott 2011), as Anna’s intention was to find out
what had helped Nana to develop her expertise in relationship-based
practice and professional leadership. The case study is used to explore
the internal and external conditions that best facilitate development of
professional leadership for relationship-based practice by educators,
practitioners and managers.

‘Being pulled apart and put back together’
Nana’s story begins with her experience of professional training and

‘We had to do a lot of peer-directed group-based learning. We had
to decide what we were going to do in our project and who would
do it. Looking back, it was so clever because it enabled you to work
in a multi-disciplinary way early on without realising it. You had
to think about how to work with difference. Some people were
challenging…and you had to find a way through and come up with
a solution. We were there to learn from each other.

Paying attention to issues around race and class and power
was very important. There was a real strong sense of involving
service users…I became aware of the experiences of marginalised
communities. Whose needs get considered? Who gets the

The teaching staff were genuine…I felt we were able to
challenge, to say no we don’t want to do it like that. While there
was a sense of being assessed there was also a sense of being able
to influence things…That’s what made it a safe space. A permission
to challenge hierarchy and each other. Sometimes it was difficult

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Professional Leadership • 243

but I grew from it. I think of myself as having been pulled apart
and put back together again. And I wasn’t the same person when I
was put back together.’

Nana’s account identifies the following as crucial to this stage of her
professional development:

• opportunities to make sense of her learning with peers in self-
directed groups

• respect for the expertise of service users

• awakening to issues of power, diversity and justice

• non-hierarchical atmosphere where students’ own experiences
and knowledge are valued and students are able to challenge
others and staff without fear

• relationships with teaching staff who were genuinely interested
in understanding her.

Social work education requires both instrumental learning, which
involves abilities to appraise the accuracy and logical coherency
of information, and communicative learning, which necessitates
participating freely and fully with others in continuing dialogue
(Mezirow 2009). Learning involves cognitive, emotional and social
dimensions (Illeris 2009). The ‘enquiry and action learning group
work model’ (Burgess and Taylor 1996) adopted by the social
work programme Nana was undertaking enables students to bring
together these different dimensions of learning to actively construct
joint learning. Although not all students experience this approach to
learning so positively, from Nana’s perspective it provided her with
a foundation for lifelong self-directed learning, critical thinking and
teamwork skills.

The learning conditions described allow students to make use of
heterarchy and responsible autonomy. Learning takes place horizontally
within the student group and between students and service users
rather than only in a traditional hierarchical relationship with an
educator. The students have autonomy to determine aspects of their
own learning and choose topics for research. Nana identifies that her
learning about how power and diversity operated within the learning
groups formed a foundation for her subsequent practice with diverse

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244 • Relationship-Based Social Work

professionals. Her description of being ‘not being the same person
when I was put back together’ evokes the idea of transformational
learning (Mezirow 2009, p.92), which is defined as ‘the process by
which we transform problematic frames of reference (mindsets, habits
of mind, meaning perspectives) – sets of assumption and expectation
– to make them more inclusive, discriminating, open, reflective and
emotionally able to change’.

Nana identifies the role that supportive – genuine, individually
attuned and accepting – relationships with teaching staff played in
enabling her learning. The concept of epistemic trust is of value here.
Fonagy and Allison (2014, p.373) define epistemic trust as ‘trust in
the authenticity and personal relevance of interpersonally transmitted
knowledge’. They suggest that secure attachment is a key pathway
for children to develop epistemic trust, which generates confidence
in one’s own judgements as well as trust in those from whom one is
learning. Similar processes may well be at play when adults learn from
each other in social work education and practice.

‘You will go to court but not yet…’
Nana then moved into her first qualified social worker role. She saw
other newly qualified colleagues taking on complex child protection
court work right at the beginning of their careers. She thought that
she too ought to be able to do this. Her manager, however, judged that
she was not yet ready. Nana recalls:

‘I felt that’s not fair. She’s holding me back. And I also remember
being so nervous about going to someone’s home and talking
to them about their problems and then going to child protection
conferences and having to explain my work to the conference
chair. My manager was right. It was important that I incrementally
developed my skills and exposure to more difficult work. I was also
in a team with very experienced workers so I was blessed with a lot
of knowledge around me. I was able to build my practice on solid
ground, to feel contained and grow in confidence.’

The significance of the transition from student to a newly qualified
social worker (NQSW) is widely recognised (Walker 2014). Social
workers do not always experience the smooth transition that Nana

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Professional Leadership • 245

describes. As one of the participants in Bates et al.’s (2010, p.162)
research put it:

I was supposed to have a slow, gentle introduction, but basically there
were a number of crises, so it was a baptism of fire.

Healy, Meagher and Cullin (2009), in their study of novice child
protection practitioners in England, Australia and Sweden, found a
high proportion of newly qualified social workers were undertaking
complex work and many felt they were not ‘supported or protected
in the emotionally challenging aspects of their work’ (p.306). If Nana
had been allowed – or required – to undertake more challenging
professional tasks than she was ready for at that time it is unlikely
she would have ever have gained that solid grounding she describes.
She might have left within two years as around 50 per cent of child
protection workers in Europe do (Frost et al. 2017). Or she might
have adopted defensive strategies (Whittaker and Havard 2016) such
as being overly risk-averse and reliant on her manager’s judgement,
prioritising completing paperwork over direct contact with families, or
alternatively developing a superficial confidence to deal with anxiety
and insecurity.

NQSWs particularly value managers who recognise the individual
person within the professional (Jack and Donnellan 2010). The key
professional leadership skills that her supervisor exercised were to
accurately identify Nana’s individual level of development, understand
how this related to the professional tasks she was asking her to do,
and put in place strategies to support her development and protect her
case load while she was learning. Nana’s experience, however, may
not be typical: 72 per cent of NQSWs (n = 116) surveyed in a study
by Manthorpe et al. (2015) reported that supervision helped them
improve their professional practice only a little or less. Although this
chapter argues that social workers should be enabled to exercise more
professional leadership, this is of course not to say that people should
be pushed, or push themselves, to act beyond their current level of
expertise. Indeed accurate self-knowledge of one’s own capabilities is
an essential element of distributed leadership. The other key factor that
Nana identifies is having experienced workers around her with whom
she could consult, a point echoed in the literature (Grant, Sheridan
and Webb 2017).

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246 • Relationship-Based Social Work

‘I did an evening class in hairdressing…’
Nana did develop confidence and skills and started to work with
more complex cases, including those that entailed court work, and she
became a senior social worker in another local authority. This was not
a good time in her career, however. She describes it like this:

‘I started to lose my sense of good social work. It felt that I was just
filling in statutory forms. Six years in and I was getting bored. It
was soul destroying. I was knocking on people’s doors, demanding
that they follow through with a child protection plan. Reading the
riot act. These were women who were being abused, and I was
making them feel like they were the problem. So I went off and
did an evening class in hairdressing. I was seriously thinking of
leaving social work.’

Nana’s experience of statutory social child care social work chimes
with many studies published at the time. More generally, many
practitioners in statutory social work (particularly child protection)
settings felt caught up in an overly proceduralised system where
direct work with families was increasingly being pushed to the
margins. For instance, following an enquiry commissioned by the
British government, Munro’s reports into the child protection system
(2010, 2011a, 2011b) concluded that it was over-bureaucratised and
deterred social workers from using their professional judgment and
skills effectively. Priorities had become skewed: there was too much
emphasis on compliance with prescribed processes and completing
paperwork rather than support for thoughtful, relationship-based
practice with children and families.

It is clear that Nana seriously considered leaving social work at this
point, reflecting a concerning trend across the profession which has
significant implications for, amongst other things, the development of
confident and experienced professional leadership. Turnover rates for
experienced child care social workers are high not only in England
but also in the USA, Canada and Australia (Baginsky 2013). Baginsky
highlights the negative effect of poor retention rates on the quality and
safety of practice and on the morale and expertise of those remaining
in post.

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Professional Leadership • 247

‘This bravery in me…’
Nana did not leave social work, however, but made a sideways move
into a principal social worker role at a family centre. Her experience
there was different.

‘My manager there was my secure base who was consistent and
reliable. I modelled myself on her. She would challenge me a lot.
She would ask critical questions. “So why is that a risk? Who is
saying that is a risk?” In the statutory setting it felt like it was “them
and us” whereas in the family centre under her management, even
though we were working with some of the most difficult court-
mandated situations, it was different. She helped me get in contact
with myself as a human being. She helped me transform who I was
in terms of practice and leadership…to find this bravery in me, to
go out and learn about other ways of doing things, to come back
and change my organisation.’

Nana recalls some significant pieces of work that marked her growing
professional satisfaction and expertise. Through these her manager
was helping her to integrate authoritativeness with compassion. In
one situation, Nana was enabled to acknowledge her fear of telling
one father that they were recommending that his children should not
be returned to him and think empathically about his experiences and
feelings. The meeting that she had dreaded ended with him shaking
her hand and apologising for having previously been abusive to staff.

In this environment Nana was able to rapidly expand both her
expertise in relationship-based practice and her professional leadership
capabilities. She was one of the first to bring the ‘signs of safety model’2
into the organisation. The signs of safety approach is a strength-
based risk assessment model for child protection practitioners that
emphasises collaboration with parents in designing safety-orientated
plans. Although more widely known now, at that time this model was
less used in the UK. Using this model, Nana helped a mother, whose
previous four children had been removed from her care, to make
changes in her life so that she could safely care for her new baby. Nana
helped this woman understand better the impact of previous traumatic
experiences, to identify her strengths and to recognise what was now

2 See

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248 • Relationship-Based Social Work

different in her life. A pivotal moment was when she broke down in
tears with Nana for the first time and from then on their work together
became more effective because of the trusting nature of the relationship
they established. The assessment report that Nana and her colleagues
produced was recognised by senior managers as an outstanding piece
of work. After this Nana was allocated another complex assessment
that might otherwise have been given to a (costly) outside expert.
Instead, this expert was employed to give Nana consultation while
Nana herself undertook the work.

Another important influence on Nana’s practice at that time was
undertaking a Masters level family therapy course. Intellectually,
her learning about relationship-based practice and systemic work
transformed her practice and helped her incorporate a growing belief
in herself as a professional leader. As she gained a reputation on the
programme as being the one who would enthuse others about new
ideas she began to realise her capabilities as a teacher. Overcoming her
fears about her practice being observed resulted in her valuing, as never
before, feedback from a reflecting team. This became a cornerstone of
her practice. Inspired by the work of Dr Ann York, a local child and
adolescent psychiatrist, on promoting reflective practice,3 Nana initiated
a visit with her manager to Dr York’s service to learn about how they
were …

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