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?
Over the 10-month programme, Firstline leaders participate in a range of activities that challenge and develop their leadership skills. Firstline leaders take part in small group practice sessions and individual mentoring sessions. These are supported by systemically-informed teaching and skills-modelling, delivered at three residential modules.
We have designed the programme specifically for social work managers, taking into consideration the demands of the role. Most sessions take place within local authorities to limit the amount of time managers are away from their day-to-day work.
Firstline leaders have six one-to-one leadership sessions with their leadership development advisors (LDAs), each lasting two hours. LDAs support, challenge and guide Firstline leaders, helping them to decide on areas for development and working with them to achieve their goals. Our LDAs are specialists in systemic practice, coaching and/or social work leadership. Firstline leaders have a choice of LDA and can decide whether they would prefer to work with someone from a social work background or would benefit more from the advice of someone outside the system. These sessions have proven to be incredibly valuable to Firstline leaders’ development.
Four two-hour practice sessions take place across the programme, acting 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. An LDA facilitates the sessions, which take place within the Firstline leaders’ local authority. The Firstline leaders themselves drive the content and pace of the conversations.
The development focus spans the duration of the programme and gives Firstline leaders the opportunity to apply their learning from the programme in a tangible way. Working with their LDA, Firstline leaders choose an area for development, linked to our leadership capabilities, that is ambitious but achievable and measurable. At the end of the programme, Firstline leaders present on their focus and share where changes have occurred in their practice, management or relationships.
Three two-day residential modules support all of the above sessions. 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 an opportunity for Firstline leaders to share best practice and build networks across different local authorities around the country.
At the beginning and end of the programme, Firstline leaders complete a self-assessment and invite feedback from their teams, peers and managers. Colleagues fill in a survey with questions based on our eight leadership capabilities. We create a report from this feedback which LDAs share with their Firstline leaders. The report helps inform their development focus, as well as providing Firstline leaders with a sense of how their leadership skills have developed during the programme and how this has impacted on their colleagues.
ORIGINS OF FIRSTLINE
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.
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.
Read the latest research into the Firstline programme, and find out more about the impact it 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.
WHO CAN APPLY
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.
HOW TO APPLY
After holding an introduction meeting in the local authority, we invite managers to apply for the programme. We then run a selection day to make sure that the Firstline programme is right for them and their current development needs. These will take place online and in the local authority to minimise the time commitment for managers.
The exercises, like the programme itself, are based on the Firstline leadership capabilities and include both a group and individual discussion, as well as a short online case study.
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.
Want to find out more about the Firstline programme? Hear from some of our Firstline leaders and local authority partners.
The Firstline programme has challenged my views of social work management entirely, and I am now enjoying my role much more.
I joined the Firstline programme because I was looking for something that would challenge me both professionally and personally.
By far the biggest insight Firstline has given me is into my own behaviour and the way that I lead others and support the team.
Firstline has helped me look at how I manage my staff. It’s helped me identify that whilst I’m good at managing performance I’m not great at interacting with extreme levels of emotions.
I got involved with the Fellowship because I got so much out of my experience with Firstline. I can confidently say I don’t think I would be a service manager today had it not been for the Firstline programme.
Northumberland County Council
The Firstline programme has really improved the motivation of participants who now have the confidence to try different approaches to difficult situations.