‘Why social work is leadership’

31st August 2013

Part of our work to develop Frontline over the last 12 months has included spending time with social workers who are doing child protection social work. We’ve seen many inspirational social workers that change lives for the better.  

I went on a visit with one of these social workers earlier this year. It was a case where the child had been on a child protection plan for three months and during that time the social worker had been able effectively protect and promote the child’s best interests. The family home was a mess and unsafe; the child was underperforming at school and was very unhappy; mum was arguing with the son on a regular basis and she felt like she was failing.  The social worker was able to identify that the root of the problem was mum not giving positive praise to her son. In three short months she set out a vision for where the family needed to go, she convinced other agencies such as schools to support and act, and by projecting a purposeful and professional manner with the family she was able to get the job done. Because of that social worker the family were able to stay together and the child’s life is better.  

It’s because of cases like this that Frontline chooses to describe social work as a leadership profession. The ability to inspire others to act in emotional and sometimes hostile circumstances, continually adapting to new challenges, breaking inertia between a number of different agencies to bring about the best outcomes for children vulnerable to abuse or neglect. Social work is without doubt one of Britain’s toughest jobs and it requires people with a special mix of skills and attributes that should be described as leadership potential. 

It’s important that we start to conceive of social work practice as leadership.  Both amongst potential applicants and the wider public, appreciation for the work social workers do is too low. Demanding, prestigious, purposeful, rewarding and leadership are not words people would typically associate with social work. Given the important role social workers play in society and their direct impact on outcomes for abused or neglected children it is essential that we shift the public perception. 

Frontline also aims to create a network of future leaders who use their skills to achieve wider systemic change.  After the two year programme, graduates of Frontline will be expected to continue to address the mission of transforming life chances whether they stay in social work or move into other positions of influence. Using their knowledge from frontline work in one of Britain’s toughest jobs and the leadership qualities that they’ve developed, they will be able to create wider system changes to improve outcomes for children. 

Bringing about dramatic and lasting change for vulnerable children cannot be about government initiates and public spending alone.  It needs to be driven by leaders who are on the frontline. This is why Frontline’s driving mission is to get more great leaders into social work.