Learning about leadership in social work was my favourite part of the student internship

29th January 2019

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During my internship as part of Frontline’s Fellowship team, I was lucky enough to travel to York to see some of the Firstline programme in action. The Firstline programme is a leadership programme for social work managers, aimed at helping them to develop outstanding leadership skills so that they can best support and influence those around them.

It was a nice escape from London, watching the countryside rolling past. I arrived in time for the workshop before lunch where the social work managers (called Firstline leaders) were looking at alternative styles of leadership. Since the World Cup was still fresh in everyone’s mind, they were discussing Gareth Southgate and how he had unified both a team and a country in a time when things are uncertain for the future of the UK. The message was that everyone has a unique leadership style which works for them and their team.

The afternoon workshop focussed on working in multi-agency settings. It began with a clip of the Three Girls BBC Drama, which documented the Rochdale grooming case. I was really interested to hear the thoughts of the social workers on how hugely complex cases like these can be managed and how social workers can collaborate effectively with other agencies such as the police, sexual health teams and local authorities.

The workshop demonstrated to me the complexity of social work and the need for social workers to have outstanding leadership and interpersonal skills to deal with these kinds of situations. The issue in the clip that we watched was that the sexual health worker could not get her point across to the other agencies about the dangers the girls were in, which sparked discussions on how to change someone’s views when they have already made their mind up about a situation.

Responsibility and remit were two main topics that came up. Within the Three Girls documentary it was clear that that each of the agencies did not want to take responsibility for what was going on and each thought that there was a reason why what was happening lay outside of their remit. One Firstline leader talked about how the duty of candour within the NHS aligns responsibility to each individual across all levels of the organisation and how they were trying to develop a sense of responsibility across the different agencies their team interacts with. The first part of that was changing a culture that says “that’s not in my remit” or “that’s outside my skillset” and asking “what skills do I have that can make a difference here?” Collaboration between agencies could actually be the answer when people feel out of their depth or need advice or action from a different source.

The evening was great. I managed to find an hour before dinner to walk down to the York racecourse, which was absolutely empty. It made for a really nice afternoon walk and the weather was so sunny and warm – I could have convinced myself I was on holiday for that hour rather than at work! At the evening dinner, the Firstline leader’s senior managers came to hear them speak about their experiences in social work and managing teams.

The Firstline residential was one of my favourite parts of the internship. It was great seeing the leadership programme in action and I have taken lots of knowledge and skills away with me that I am excited to use in my future.