Skip to main content

Managers must know about life in practice, principal social workers say at BASW England conference

The importance of senior managers being connected to practice was underlined at BASW England’s Annual Student and Newly Qualified Social Worker Conference.

Delegates at the event in Birmingham were told how the new role of principal social worker in English local authorities is helping to bridge the divide between management and the front line.

Creation of the post in children and adults services followed recommendations by Eileen Munro in her 2011 review into child protection. It is typically held by a senior manager who also carries caseloads to ensure the authentic voice of practice is heard at decision-making tables.

Marion Russell, Chair of the Principal Social Workers for Children and Families Network, said: “Research shows where leadership has a good connection to the front line it leads to positive outcomes.

“You only know what it is like to practice if you are out there doing it and have that voice to influence senior management.”

David Godfrey, Chair of the Principal Social Workers for Adults Network, added: “It is about being involved and understanding what it is like to be a social worker on the front line. It is really important that the principal social worker gets that view from people across the authority and has a circle of influence across a range of people.”

Ms Russell, who was the first principal social worker employed in England, said a top-down managerial culture still hampered good social work and needed to be tackled.

“Nobody can deny the continued dominance of managerialism and bureaucratisation. It still feels there is a compliance culture.

“The more detached we are from practice the more we are likely to conform to this type of practice.

“We go back to what is familiar and what is safe which is the managerial way of doing things. We need to break down that barrier.”

Mr Godrey, who is also Deputy Director for Adult Social Care at Coventry City Council, said more work was needed to improve the public image of social work.

“It is about promoting the positives. People come into social work because they want to make a difference. They want to help improve the lives of people. It is about constantly getting out that message.

“The role of the principal social worker is to visit teams and identify good practice and get that message out so people can see what it is.”