Heather

Letting go of fear and introducing coaching techniques to improve social work practice: Heather Jenkins, Frontline fellow

Heather Jenkins is a practice supervisor in Gateshead Local Authority and one of our Frontline fellows. The Firstline programme has been instrumental in allowing Heather to reflect on her approach as a social work manager, to overcome fear, embrace her authentic self and fully step into her leadership role.

We had the opportunity to catch up with Heather about experiences of Firstline programme and how valuable it has been for her personal and her professional development.


Heather came into the programme as a very experienced leader. It quickly became apparent to her how impactful the ‘imposter syndrome’ she felt was; underpinning most of her daily work was a pervading stream of thought about not being good enough.

“In the coaching sessions, the spotlight was on me, and there was no escaping that. It was uncomfortable and I really embraced the opportunity to focus on me. What I recognised was, if I want families and the people I supervise to go to uncomfortable places as part of the change process, then, I have to be willing to go there myself.

“I hadn’t fully acknowledged that I really have had, for a long time, a continuous nag of anxiety. I have lots of knowledge and experience. Children and their families are always at the centre of my work. I am so passionate about what we do. What I learned from the coaching sessions and just having the time to reflect, was how powerful my fear was – both in terms of my practice and the supervision and leadership I gave my team. I called this the “the unintended consequences,” which once very visible needed to be addressed.

“I saw that my fear provided distraction, took up energy and time. I saw that my fear influenced a need to control and direct – the very opposite to the collaborative and open approach I wanted. My fears and self-doubt undermined the command of authority I needed to have.”

Letting go of this fear has enabled Heather to align herself and her practice, and step into a greater authenticity.

“I have held myself to account. I embraced my authentic self. The trigger for change was definitely the Firstline programme. The first day addresses imposter syndrome by very much saying, ‘You deserve to be here. You are worth it.’ I heard that, and it resonated.”

Coaching has been most impactful for Heather in terms of creating sustainable positive change for her team and for the families and children she works with.

“The whole coaching approach has the potential to be so effective for everyone because if we deal with our uncomfortable stuff, we have more competence and confidence. I’ve started doing it a lot more with the people I supervise. I will hold them in the uncomfortable moments and let them work it out themselves with my support. We have so much more positive energy between us and are creative. I think they are much more confident in me because they’re not picking up on any of my needs and doubts. The egocentric stuff is gone and I’m focused on them.

“It’s the same approach for children and families, I know I am so much more curious and collaborative. I can see that I am much more competent at avoiding placing people in shame and keeping them involved even in really difficult child protection conferences. The outcome is better, more effective planning for children.

“What I want for my local authority is for this coaching culture to continue to develop. The advantages are so clear. I am very happy to be a part of promoting this and I know my Firstline fellows are keen to make it happen.”

Read more about the positive change and impact our Frontline fellows are implementing in their communities: