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Summary: Gives sound, basic guidance to beginning supervisors and helps experienced supervisors work more effectively. Presents real-life strategies that identify and explain management skills needed in the preliminary, initial, middle, and ending phases of supervisory work.Edition/Copyright: 93
Supervision is a key process in social work. Skilled supervisors are responsible for the protection of clients, for the advancement of social work practice, and for the professional development of the individual worker. In the complex environments in which social workers function, the supervisor must work effectively on many different levels, often simultaneously. Making assignments, resolving disputes, implementing an unpopular administrative policy, taking disciplinary action, finding funds for important continuing education, and establishing priorities are just some of the activities a supervisor may carry out in a day's work. All of these actions require skill.
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) places such importance on supervision that it is a criterion for all NASW credentials. Two years' postgraduate supervision is a requirement for the bachelor's-level credential--the Academy of Certified Baccalaureate Social Workers--as well as for the master's-level credentials--the School Social Work Specialist Credential and the Academy of Certified Social Workers. Two years' supervision also is required for listing in the NASW Register of Clinical Social Workers. NASW does not view supervision as a requirement only for beginning professionals. On the contrary, our clinical standards (NASW, 1989) and our guidelines for private practice (NASW, 1991) both call for periodic consultation for practitioners with all levels of experience. Each of us needs supervision to ensure quality assurance for our clients or constituents and our own personal growth and development.
As an association devoted to advancing the practice of social work and assuring the quality of service delivery, NASW clearly has an interest in helping supervisors enhance their skills. Lawrence Shulman's Interactional Supervision is a superb tool for doing so. The techniques Shulman outlines, although they are carefully grounded in theory, are not so esoteric or amorphous. Instead, they are directly related to the circumstances and the situations that frontline supervisors face. Shulman writes about what happens in the real world, and he offers solid skills-building material for helping the supervisor deal with those realities. Furthermore, he understands that all professionals must work on dual tracks--within the formal systems that surround them and in the informal systems where they may accomplish most of their important work. Because Shulman has tested all of the techniques and processes he outlines in practice situations as well as in empirical research, the reader can feel assured that the techniques can be effective.
I am very pleased that the NASW Press is publishing Interactional Supervision. Having watched Lawrence Shulman teach supervision in workshops and seminars, I recommend this book highly to all supervisors and would-be supervisors.
Sheldon R. Goldstein, ACSW, LISW
Executive Director, NASW
Schulman, Lawrence : Boston University
Lawrence Shulman, MSW, EdD, is Professor and Chair of the group work sequence at the Boston University School of Social Work. He is a practitioner-researcher who has developed the ''interactional'' model of practice and supervision building on the original work of William Schwartz.
Shulman is widely used as a trainer and consultant on direct practice with individuals, families and groups, supervision and administration, field instruction, child welfare, and teaching. His research has focused on operationalizing and testing skills for helping professionals at all levels of an organization or agency. More recently, he has explored the impact of contextual factors such as agency policy, cost containment efforts, and traumatic events on the caseload to develop a grounded, holistic model.
Shulman has written or edited 13 books and monographs including books on supervision and management and a widely used social work practice text, The Skills of Helping Individuals, Families and Groups, now in its third edition. His most recent research results are reported in Interactional Social Work Practice: Toward an Empirical Theory. He was the author of the consultation section in the 18th edition of the
Encyclopedia of Social Work and has been a contributor to The Social Work Dictionary. Shulman is on the editorial boards of four major journals including The Clinical Supervisor and has published often in professional journals.
Chapter 1: Introduction, Overview, and Basic Assumptions
After six years of front-line work with a large child welfare agency, a worker was promoted on the retirement of the previous supervisor. On the first Monday morning in her new role, she walked into the common room for coffee and suddenly her former peers became quiet. Two of them had also applied for the supervisory job. She knew they were talking about her because she used to talk about the former supervisor with them. She wondered if this meant the end of her friendship with them.
A new supervisor was brought into an agency from the outside. The administrator warned her that her department had experienced poor supervision and needed some shaking up. A male front-line worker, with more experience than she, who had been turned down by the administrator when he applied for the supervisor's job, told her in their first conference that he had not been supervised by a woman before and that the previous supervisor had generally left him alone to do his work. The supervisor felt a gut-tightening sensation as she wondered what she had gotten herself into.
After six months on the job, a supervisor decided that the evaluation process would be a good time to level with a long-term staff member about his inadequate performance. The supervisor had left the problem alone, hoping it would just go away. Instead, it had become increasingly worse. He reviewed the staff member's personnel record and discovered that previous supervisors had given the employee consistently positive evaluations. He dreaded the approaching conference with what he knew would be an angry worker. It did not help knowing that the worker was also the local union steward.
A clerical support staff worker stormed into the supervisor's office and insisted that the supervisor had to ''do something'' about a front-line social worker who was always late with his work but still expected her to respond immediately. He was rude to her, and she did not want to tolerate it any more. In addition, the social worker regularly told her to lie to clients on the phone and to tell them that he was not in. As a result, she had to deal with angry people when he would not return their calls. The supervisor indicated that it sounded like a real problem and suggested they meet to discuss and resolve it. The support worker, shocked at the suggestion, insisted that the supervisor not tell the worker she had complained. ''After all, we have to have coffee together.'' The supervisor felt frustrated and angry at both staff members.
An executive director revealed in a management team meeting that agency funding was about to be cut severely. As a result, all salaries would be reduced by 5 percent, and some staff would be let go. Because the agency could not cut intake or reduce the caseloads, supervisors were told that their staff members must take on more cases for less money. The administrator asked the supervisors to ''back her up'' and to let her know if any staff members made trouble. When a memo to staff members announced the cutbacks and new caseload policies, they reacted with anger. At a team meeting, one worker, who appeared to be speaking for the rest, said to the supervisor, ''You are going to be with us on this one, aren't you?'' The supervisor felt caught in the middle and wondered why she had left her front-line worker's position to take the job.
A recently promoted, African American supervisor heard through the grapevine that many members of the largely white staff in the office thought he had obtained the promotion because of the agency's affirmative action program. Although he recognized that affirmative action had been a factor, he believed he was competent for the job and would have had a good chance of getting it regardless of his color. Nothing was said directly; however, he could sense tension in the staff group. He felt angry, hurt, and bitter at the racist element in his reception, and as a result, he maintained a formal and distant relationship with his staff members. He felt increasingly isolated at the agency, and because he was the only person of color on the management team, he did not feel free to raise the issue openly.
These are just a few examples raised by participants in my supervision and management workshops and addressed in this book. What the presenters had in common was that they felt ill-prepared to deal with their problems, and they did not have access to either administrative or peer support for help. If any training was offered, it tended to be theoretical (for example, identify your style of management on a matrix; what is the hierarchy of human needs?) and unrelated to the day-to-day, nitty-gritty issues faced by supervisors and managers. The theory presented in this book is grounded in the realities of life in human services agencies and tested through experience and empirical research. Most human services supervisors eventually learn to cope with, or at least to adapt to, many of the stresses associated with supervision. This can be a painful process because some issues are suppressed and never directly dealt with. The goal of this book is to speed up learning, to provide specific next steps and strategies for supervisors, and to make the process less painful.
FOCUS OF THE BOOK
Although administrators and supervisors have a pivotal impact on the effective provision of services, they receive surprisingly little training in the skills necessary to carry out their function. Training programs often concentrate on the managerial aspects of the job (for example, budgeting, time management, report writing, setting objectives) but give little attention to the interpersonal skills needed for implementing supervisory and administrative functions.
This state of affairs seems to be the result of assuming that professionals who can do their jobs well as social workers, nurses, psychologists, child care workers, and so on should be able to make the transition to supervisory positions on their own. There is some truth to the idea that direct practice experience with clients, patients, and others can be useful (as will be illustrated in this text); however, it is a fallacy to assume that this parallel between practice and supervision will be apparent to the neophyte. New supervisors need clear, simple models of supervision practice that will help them learn how to implement their complex human relations tasks. These models can also help experienced supervisors conceptualize what they already do well so that they can function more efficiently and consistently. In addition, good models can help experienced supervisors adjust to the changing demands in the field. The presentation of such a framework is the task to which this book is directed.
Much of the book's content is drawn from the author's practice experience and from discussions with thousands of human services supervisors and administrators in workshops and consultation sessions. The issues selected for discussion have repeatedly been identified as central problems. This fact enhances the book's practical value and relates it to the daily problems experienced by supervisors. To make it easier to refer to the discussion of particular problems or issues (for example, dealing with defensive staff members, adjusting to the position of supervisor when one is promoted from the ranks, effectively implementing affirmative action hiring programs, helping staff cope with a traumatic incident such as a suicide on a caseload), subjects and illustrations are cross-referenced by topic in the Index.
In attempting to understand the dynamics of the problems, as well as to develop an approach for dealing with the issues, a practice theory developed by William Schwartz (1961) has been applied. Schwartz first developed the theory for the social work practitioner. He suggested that this powerful practice theory could have applications to other helping relationships, such as supervision, administration, and teaching (Schwartz, 1968). Although the approach described in this book is rooted in the work of Schwartz and draws on his written and verbally communicated ideas, the content reflects this author's elaboration.
Three assumptions underlie the approach used in this book. First is the belief that a number of common dynamics and core skills are central to all supervision processes. Although the examples draw on a range of settings (for example, social welfare agencies, hospitals, residential treatment centers) and include the work of many different professionals (social work supervisors, hospital administrators, nursing supervisors, consultants, child care supervisors), the common elements of the practice are stressed. It is recognized that there are also variant elements to supervision practice that may be specific to the particular setting and actors involved.
A second assumption is that many of these dynamics and skills are universal to the various modes of interaction within which supervisors operate. For example, some key skills are equally relevant to working with staff members individually or in groups. There are, of course, important differences between individual and group sessions, and these differences are identified. There are also similar dynamics when working with staff members during a formal conference or when providing informal supervision in short, focused discussions on specific issues.
In addition to being responsible for formal group meetings (for example, staff or team conferences), supervisors are also responsible for coordinating the work of staff members in the informal system. This part of their task is often the most frustrating and difficult because interpersonal and professional conflicts can lead to a lack of cooperation. These same skills and dynamics can also be applied to the work of supervisors as they represent staff concerns to the administration, deal with other supervisors (for example, department heads) on issues of conflict between units, or relate to outside agencies. Examples will illustrate the skills involved in working with individual staff members, the staff as a group, and the system as a whole, and they will deal with both the formal and informal contexts of this work.
The third assumption is that there are parallels between the dynamics of supervision and any other helping relationship. Therefore, the skills that are important in direct practice with clients or patients are also important to the supervisory relationship. These similarities have been identified by a number of authors (Arlow, 1963; Doehrman, 1972; Schwartz, 1968). It is not suggested, however, that supervision should become a therapeutic relationship. The staff member is not a client of the supervisor. Indeed, it is absolutely essential that this relationship does not happen and that the work of supervision remains focused on helping staff members carry out their work-related tasks. Nevertheless, much of what is known about effective communication and relationship skills can be useful in implementing diverse aspects of the supervisory function, such as coordination, education, and evaluation.
In addition, the way the supervisor demonstrates the helping relationship with workers will influence the manner in which staff members relate to clients. For example, when supervisors attempt to help staff members develop a greater capacity for empathy with difficult clients, they ought also to simultaneously demonstrate their own empathy for their staff members. Examples in later chapters will illustrate the importance of ''being with'' a worker at exactly the moment the supervisor is asking the worker to ''be with'' the client. Supervisees learn what a supervisor really feels about helping by observing the supervisor in action. More is ''caught'' by staff than ''taught'' by the supervisor. This will be referred to as the parallel process in which a supervisor models a view of helping relationships through his or her interaction with staff.
This assumption of the parallel process suggests that even a new supervisor who has recently been promoted from the practitioner role already knows more than he or she realizes about the skills needed for effective supervision. This text will demonstrate how one can harness to the supervisory role one's understanding and skills developed in direct practice.
ORGANIZATION OF THE BOOK
The book is organized into four parts. Part I includes this chapter, as well as a chapter that describes the conceptual groundwork for the interactional approach to supervision. Part II includes three chapters that use time as an organizing principle; it borrows the framework of the phases of work from Schwartz's (1976) practice theory. Skills needed for the preparatory and beginning phases of supervisory work are examined in chapter 3, starting with the skill of tuning in, or developing preliminary sensitivity to staff members' potential concerns and issues about the new relationship. An underlying assumption of the beginning phase model is the importance of developing a clear working contract at the start. Both the problems of beginning as a new supervisor from outside the system and those of the new supervisor who is promoted from within are examined. Issues associated with the introduction of affirmative action hiring and promotion policies are also examined.
Chapter 3 also explores the skills of recontracting. Many experienced supervisors, who have held their position for years, find that they may still be struggling with unfinished business from the beginning phase. Finally, another section describes the contracting and preparatory work needed to incorporate a new staff member into the working unit.
Chapter 4 focuses on the work phase in individual supervision. Reviewed are the core interactional and communication skills required in ongoing work with staff regardless of the issue or problem under discussion. The skills of empathy, sharing one's own feelings, providing data, and making a ''demand for work'' are among those described in this context. A number of common situations in the work phase are used to illustrate the theory, such as the problem of how authority affects the supervisory relationship and how to deal with a defensive staff member who mistrusts the supervisor. Resistance is also explored, both active (''Yes, but . . .'') and passive (''You are absolutely right about that, and I am definitely going to do something about it'').
Chapter 5 completes Part II by focusing on the dynamics and skills involved in the ending and transition phase of supervision. It highlights the phenomenon observed in so many human services settings in which staff members tend to have difficulty in dealing with endings (for example, cleaning out an office on a Saturday and not saying good-bye).
Part III deals with supervision of the practice of front-line staff. Chapter 6 examines the educational function of the supervisor in helping staff members develop the skills needed for carrying out their work. Although specific issues connected with student supervision are included in this chapter, the general purpose is to identify core issues involved whenever one person attempts to help another master new skills. Chapter 6 also examines the issues involved in working with staff on matters associated with the growing emphasis on multiculturally sensitive practice. The argument is made that skillful supervision is crucial in these areas because of the norms and taboos that make it difficult to discuss these issues openly. If staff reactions, fears, and concerns are not dealt with, the potential for active and passive resistance, even on the part of generally supportive staff, may increase.
Chapter 7 focuses on one of the most important and difficult aspects of supervision--holding staff members accountable for their work through ongoing feedback and evaluation. Evaluation is presented as a potentially effective tool for helping staff members grow in the work situation.
In Part IV, the focus is on working with the staff group. Chapter 8 explores the skills needed for effective leadership of both formal and informal staff systems. This includes such diverse tasks as leading staff meetings and helping staff members deal with conflicts. In chapter 9, the specific focus is on mobilizing the potential for mutual aid and social support in staff groups in response to traumatic agency events. These may include, for example, the death of a client (for example, child abuse, patient suicide), as well as the impact of the illness or death of a colleague and the impact of cutbacks and cost-containment efforts.
Part V examines the role of the supervisor in the middle position, between the staff group and the external systems that powerfully affect its work. The common phrase used to describe the feelings of middle managers is ''caught in the middle,'' as both staff and administration appear to be asking, ''Which side are you on?'' Chapter 10 explores how a supervisor can avoid the trap of identifying with staff versus the administration or the reverse, siding with the administration versus staff. A ''third-force,'' or ''buffer,'' role is described and illustrated. In chapter 10, examples include how to relate to staff when introducing changes in policy that may generate resistance and how to provide feedback to higher authorities on the feelings and concerns of staff members. The mediation function suggested by Schwartz (1968) provides a framework for discussing this critical and difficult supervisory task. Many of the dynamics and skills described in the preceding chapters are directly relevant to this work, and these connections are stressed. Chapter 10 also addresses the unique aspects of the role of the administrator, who is often one or more levels removed from the work of the staff.
Related research findings are shared in this book in the context of the discussion in each chapter. These include findings from a general review of supervision and management studies in the human services, findings from a study by this author and colleagues (Shulman et al., 1981), and specific findings of a subdesign of a more recent study conducted by this author designed to develop and test a holistic theory of practice (Shulman, 1991). This more recent study served, in part, as a replication of the first study. Instruments developed and tested in the first study were used again in the more recent project.
The first study involved a mailed survey to supervisors and their staff members in social work agencies (child welfare workers), hospitals (nurses), and residential treatment centers (counselors) in three provinces of Canada. A total of 109 supervisors and 671 front-line workers were included in the final sample. The second study was a subdesign of a major, holistic study conducted in a provincial child welfare agency in British Columbia. Five executive directors (responsible for macroareas of the province), 10 managers (responsible for regional offices), 68 supervisors (responsible for district offices), and 168 front-line workers participated in the supervision subdesign of this study.
The reader is referred to the Appendix for a summary of the designs of both studies. In particular, the limitations of each study should be reviewed and kept in mind when evaluating the findings reported in this text.
This book focuses on the interactional supervision and management skills needed to work in the increasingly complex and stressful human services field. It examines what supervisors and managers actually do in interacting with staff, clients, administrators, the community, and other systems important to their work. Three assumptions underlie the approach to this text. The first is that a core set of dynamics and skills forms the constant element of supervision observable in different settings and with different professionals. Variant elements can also be identified. The second is that the supervision process has a number of universals that are common to different modes of supervision--for example, individual and group, formal and informal. The third assumption is of a parallel process between the supervisor-supervisee relationship and the interaction between front-line workers and clients or patients. Supervisors are seen as modeling their views of the helping process through their interaction with staff.
Through its five-part organization, the book explores the theoretical base, the four phases of supervision practice (preliminary, beginning, middle, and endings and transitions), evaluation, the educational and case consultation functions of supervision, working with staff groups, and the supervisor's third-force role between staff and administration.
The empirical base of supervision practice is explored by reviewing the general supervision and management literature, as well as the results of two major studies conducted by the author. The design of these studies are briefly summarized in the Appendix.
''Social work practitioners promoted to supervisory positions receive insufficient training for the complex administrative-educational roles. In Interactional Supervision, Shulman provides a clearly written, effectively organized, and poignantly illustrated model of supervisory practice. Interactional Supervision explores day-to-day problems confronted by supervisors (for example, helping staff cope with traumatic case incidents, dealing with defensive staff members) and provides creative and skillful methods for dealing with them. Shulman's interactional analysis is informed by a dynamic theoretical perspective, rigorous empirical inquiry, and rich practice experiences and wisdom.''
--Alex Gitterman, Professor, School of Social Work, Columbia University, New York
''This book is notable for its originality, its clarity, and the scores of detailed examples, which readily translate into practical experience for the new or experienced social work practitioner. Dr. Shulman has brilliantly drawn from his consulting background and his command of the interactional framework to provide a readable and interesting text, as well as a truly serviceable approach to social work supervision.''
--Barbara W. White, PhD, ACSW President, National Association of Social Workers
''Interactional Supervision is a wise and practical guide on the how-to-do of supervising in the human services. Dr. Shulman has focused on his considerable practice insight upon the vortex of person and organization with a scholarly yet highly readable treatment of the real world of social work supervision. This book significantly advances our understanding of this complex area of organization practice.''
--Stephen Holloway, Dean, School of Social Work, Barry University, Miami Shores, FL
''In his book on supervision, Professor Shulman has achieved an unusual integration of practice and social science. He is one of the outstanding scholar-practioners in social work. In his book, he draws on a reservoir of rich experience in the field, original research, and theory. Professionals will find this work to be both practically useful in dealing with difficult problems in supervision and intellectually stimulating.''
--Harry Specht, Dean, School of Social Welfare, University of California, Berkeley
National Association of Social Workers Press Web Site, January, 2001
Part I: Interactional Supervision
Chapter 1: Introduction, Overview, and Basic Assumptions
Focus of the Book
Organization of the Book
Chapter 2: An Interactional Approach to Supervision
Obstacles to Worker-System Interaction
Part II: Supervision and the Phases of Work
Chapter 3: Preparatory and Beginning Skills in Supervision
Supervision and the Phases of Work
The New Supervisor: Some Variations on the Theme
Affirmative Action in Promotion and Hiring: Issues for the Supervisor
Supervisory Beginnings with New Workers
Chapter 4: Work-Phase Skills in Supervision
Chapter 5: Supervisory Endings and Transitions
The Worker's Ending Experience
The Supervisor's Ending Experience
Part III: Education and Evaluation Functions
Chapter 6: Educational Function of Supervision
Assumptions about Teaching and Learning
Requirements for Effective Learning
Skills of Professional Performance
Teaching Core Practice Skills
Monitoring Skills Development
Chapter 7: Evaluation Function of Supervision
Obstacles to Effective Evaluations: The Supervisor's Viewpoint
Evaluation Content and Process
Part IV: Working with Staff Groups
Chapter 8: Supervision of Staff Groups
Dynamics of Supervisory Work with Staff Groups
Mutual Aid Processes
Beginning Phase in Groups: The Contracting Process
Work Phase in Groups
Authority Theme: Group-Supervisor Relationships
Ending Phase in Groups
Chapter 9: Helping Staff Cope with Trauma
Death of a Worker's Client
Death of a Staff Member
Physical Attack by a Client on a Worker
Public Questioning of Agency Policies
Service Reductions, Staff Cutbacks, and Reorganization
Impact of a Social Trauma
Part V: Mediating Conflict between Staff and the System
Chapter 10: Working with the System
Supervisor's Role in Mediating Conflict with the System
Helping Staff Negotiate the System
Coda: Recording Procedures and Professional Competence
APPENDIX: Notes on Research Methodology
Instrument Development and Testing
Methodology of the 1981 Study
Methodology of the 1991 Study
Case Example Index
About the Author
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