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Social work managers are the engines of transformational practice in social work. Developing the leadership skill of this essential group can have a profound effect on social work practice for the benefit of vulnerable children and their families. The Firstline programme develops good social work managers into outstanding leaders, who are better able to support their teams and influence the wider social work system.


The Firstline programme is an innovative leadership development programme. It enables first line social work managers to develop their own leadership identity and skills which fit within their unique personal and professional context, and supports participants to lead change in social work and broader society. Two ten-month cohorts run each year: the first starting in the spring, the second in autumn. The programme includes a number of residential leadership modules, workshops and extensive coaching.

What does the programme involve?

Firstline leaders take part in a range of activities designed to achieve maximum impact, whilst not taking managers away from their day-to-day work for extended periods. During the programme, one-to-one and small group development sessions are supported by systemically-informed teaching and skills modelling at three residentials. These also provide an opportunity for sharing best practice and building leadership networks across different local authorities around the country.

The programme comprises a number of elements and takes place over 10 months, with the majority of the sessions occurring within local authorities.

Leadership development sessions (LDSs)

Firstline leaders have six two-hour, one-to-one development sessions with their leadership development advisors (LDAs). LDAs support, challenge and guide Firstline leaders to achieve their goals for the programme. Firstline leaders have a choice of LDA and are matched on the basis of the areas for development they have identified. Our LDAs are either specialists in systemic practice, coaching and/or social work leadership. These sessions have proven to be incredibly valuable to Firstline leaders’ development.


Practice development sessions (PDSs)

Four two-hour PDSs take place across the programme and are designed to act as practice forums. They provide opportunities to practise conversations, gain ideas from colleagues about how to develop relationships and embed learning from other sections of the curriculum. The sessions take place within the Firstline leaders’ local authority and are facilitated by an LDA. The content and pace of the conversations are driven by Firstline leaders.


Development focus

The development focus spans the duration of the programme and gives Firstline leaders an opportunity to apply learning from the programme in a tangible way, choosing (and working in) a particular way to do something differently. This is measured throughout the duration of the programme. The leaders will be asked to show and share how and where changes have occurred in their practice, management or relationships at the end of the programme.

Residential modules

All of the above sessions are supported by three, two-day residential modules. These take place over two weekdays away from local authorities and include at least one overnight stay. These sessions are engaging and interactive, and provide a chance for managers to connect with individuals from other local authorities.


The programme is based on extensive research into what constitutes excellent first line leadership in a children’s social work setting. It has been designed to help first line managers develop the skills they need to create change at a personal, relational and cultural level. Our findings within this report evidence the importance of high-quality first line leadership. They also highlight the need for leaders to demonstrate a high level of confidence, skill and judgement in order to make considered decisions, hold their staff and partners to account, and empower social workers to transform the lives of children and families.

Firstline Capabilities

Through our research, we have created eight leadership capabilities. We believe these are essential for outstanding social work leadership, and they underpin the Firstline programme.

Find out more.


To be eligible to join the programme, you must work as a first line manager within one of our current partner local authorities. If you aren’t sure whether this is the case please get in touch with us or speak to your service manager.

If you are a senior manager in a local authority, please see our partner with us page for further information.


Read the latest research into the Firstline programme, and find out more about the impact the programme is having across the country. Find out more.


We hope Firstline leaders will stay engaged with our mission, and once you have completed the programme, you will automatically become part of the Frontline Fellowship. Find out more.


After we have held an introduction meeting in your local authority and you have expressed an interest in joining the programme, you will be invited to take part in a number of exercises in order to ensure Firstline is right for your current development needs. These take place within your local authority and we ensure these cause as little disruption to your work as possible.

The exercises, like the programme itself, are based on the Firstline leadership capabilities and will include both a group and individual discussion as well as a short online case study. All exercises have been specifically designed in order to help you, as managers, show your leadership skills and also give you a sense of what to expect from the programme.

More information about these exercises will be provided once you have expressed your interest in the programme, but do get in touch if you have any questions.