For those of you who have read my blog before you will know how passionate I am about the importance of management visibility in social care. Sharon Allen, Chief Executive of Skills for Care (the strategic body for workforce development in adult social care in England) agrees. We both want to encourage and champion visible leadership in social care, so here is a special blog from the both of us.
We all know that there are many measures of quality in social care, but some of the most important features, like how staff interact with people we support and whether environments feel homely, can really only be judged by spending time at a service and observing what’s happening. This is the very reason that I make sure I visit at least 10 services every week. Not only that, but staff should know who the leaders are and know that they are approachable. Approachable management results in improved communication from the top-down and bottom-up and is also a great way to gain feedback. The only way to achieve this effectively is by personal contact and developing relationships.
Management also has legal responsibilities for their services. The awful circumstances at Winterbourne View clearly and shockingly demonstrated what happens if leaders do not know what is going on in their services. There are now new legal requirements and duties on senior managers, including legislation that came out in 2015, under which responsible managers can be potentially criminally prosecuted and even imprisoned if they can be held accountable for neglect of vulnerable people in their care. Leaders really need to know what is going on in their services in order to fully discharge their responsibilities and duties.
Sharon Allen, CEO Skills for Care agrees;I couldn’t agree more that good leaders need to be highly visible and approachable because every time I have watched any undercover TV reporting on poor social care I have not only been sickened by the abuse exposed, but shocked at the lack of managers at the sharp end. My own experience as the former CEO of a major provider was that our best managers were leaders who spent as much time on the floor setting the tone as they did in the office. I made it my business to get out as much as possible to listen and learn from those leaders, and it is encouraging that CMG (like many quality providers) has a similar ethos.
It is also a process I have continued at Skills for Care, which although not a large organisation, has to manage the challenge of a country wide dispersed workforce. So every month I have open CEO sessions with people from different teams where they are encouraged to speak their mind, and they do. I know that Peter does a similar thing through his regional staff representative meetings in CMG.
Yes, these sessions can be tough at times but they are worth their weight in gold in getting honest feedback. We would be hypocrites to suggest to social care leaders ‘you need to visible and approachable’ but then didn’t do it ourselves. I also travel the country visiting services and one thing has become crystal clear to me, and that is, it is those organisations that have visible, hands on leaders and managers who provide the best services. This is as true in small organisations, where it is obviously easier to achieve, as it is in larger organisations where it may present more logistical challenges. It is fascinating to visit services with managers with very different styles. But what the exemplars have in common is access to quality learning and development opportunities backed up by a healthy dose of common sense as they create empowering cultures that support staff, the people they work with and their families.
So it might be a manager offering some praise to one of their team, or offering some advice on how they might support someone in a different way, but most of it is making sure that core values like dignity, respect and communication are being used as the basis of outstanding care and support. This is the sort of hands on observation that Peter rightly says is how effective managers operate. But we also know that being a manager is as tough as it has ever been so it is even more critical that senior leaders get away from the tyranny of emails to sit down with their frontline teams to get a sense of what is really going on.
Being a great leader in social care is never easy which is why we have boosted our offer to leaders at every level, and particularly Registered Managers. Skills for Care currently supports 138 networks led by Registered Managers across England and these networks have a reach of over 3,000 managers. It’s a good chance for managers to take time out to share their experiences with their peers and gain new knowledge they can feed back to their teams and senior managers, all with the focus of improving the care and support they offer. All of that support needs to backed up by visible and open support from leaders who like Peter and his team not only talk with, and more importantly listen to the staff they employ, but critically the people who use their services to make sure that they are meeting their needs.