John Rolph discusses how important the leadership content of the Frontline programme has been in his social work career so far, despite initially thinking that it was too early to learn about leadership. 

Frontline has always encouraged me to stay focussed on good outcomes for vulnerable children above all else. This started from my training on the Frontline programme, which gave me a very good grounding in social work theory, practice and intervention and has served as a good foundation for my subsequent career. The leadership content of the programme, particularly the training on tackling complex problems and designing effective, tailored solutions, is so valuable. While I was training on the programme, I initially thought it was a bit early for us to think about leadership within the social work sector, when we’d just started practicing. On reflection, though, the leadership skills we gained can be applied as equally to working with families as they can to affecting change within the social work system and progressing to more senior roles.

Systemic training in particular has been foundational for my practice. I’m currently employed in a specialist team working with children at the edge of care; practitioners have small caseloads, which enables them to work in a child-focussed, family-focussed way, and which helps keep families together. From my time on the Frontline programme, I developed a passion for ensuring there’s an evidence base to our work with families – being clear that we understand what’s happening with families, and how to respond as a result. Not just throwing any old intervention at families, but being analytical and seeing what works. The leadership skills I’ve gained have also helped me develop practice across other teams, and I’ve really enjoyed developing learners (particularly newly qualified social workers), who’ve gone into a wide range of roles. It’s really rewarding as a manager to see how you’re having an impact on a wide range of practitioners. I, and other members of my team, have recently developed one particular social worker, who has then gone on to work in a safeguarding team – she’s received great feedback on her confidence, and we’ve witnessed first-hand the positive impact this has had on the families she works with.

The leadership training also really helped me when I later came to interview for a team manager position. I see my role as mostly supporting practitioners to do impactful work, supporting them to develop emotional resilience and emotional literacy and encouraging them to assess how the work impacts them and their practice. The Frontline programme encouraged me to consider a distinction between leadership and management, so my leadership skills haven’t just help me to consider effective strategies for managing a team, they’ve enabled me to develop each of the team as individuals, investing in their skills, development opportunities and careers.

When we feel exhausted and stressed we don’t practice as effectively as we do when we feel safe and we have headspace. It’s becoming more and more apparent how important it is to be reflexive in our thinking around prejudice and discrimination, understanding the impact that our involvement has on families. I’m also working to improve awareness around the way in which we all make judgements, and thinking about how we can facilitate discussions about that in leadership positions. In the broadest sense, leadership is about facilitating practice rather than being directive – drawing out the best in other people. I learnt on the Frontline programme the importance of taking a strengths-based approach, and of building resilience in others. I was reluctant to leave front-line practice, but I still feel able to influence direct practice even not carrying out visits every day.