What are examples of leadership skills in social work? After my experience working in Peru, China and Singapore, combined with the student placements I had in the UK, I share how you examples of how you might exhibit leadership skills in social work.
Leadership is often seen as a key strength in good social workers. However, the hard-charging executive does not seem to cohere well with the idea of a kind, gentle social worker. Can we really lead, and love, at the same time?
Thought leadership in meetings
I started speaking up in the first meeting I was at. I shared about the stages of grief that one might go through and how this might be relevant for this particular client, even though she might have an intellectual disability.
Later, my practice educator praised me for being brave enough to share my thoughts. It was usually hard for her to get her students to speak up during meetings. Most of them were afraid of getting things wrong.
But this also resulted in me getting into trouble, and facing my first concerns meeting (with the possibility of failing my placement). This was because I had spoken up during a multiagency meeting, and presented an erroneous image of what the local authority could do.
As a social worker, an example of leadership would be the opinions you give during team meetings. Many people stay silent, hoping that they wouldn’t be called upon. But if you are keen to exhibit leadership skills in social work, try speaking up next time in your team meeting!
To make it easier, try writing yourself a permission slip: Permission to speak up. Introduced by Brené Brown in her book, Rising Strong, she shared how it gave her the courage to do things that she didn’t usually do. I’ve tried it myself and found it very helpful.
In multiagency meetings, the social worker is often the lead partner. This is a great way for you to direct the flow of the meeting. In my experience, great chairs do these things:
- Starts with a brief round of introductions to ensure that everyone knows each other
- Has regular 5 minute breaks at allocated intervals
- Keep to the time allocated
- Ensure that everyone has a chance to speak
- Ensure that everyone knows what they are supposed to do after the meeting
Growing the expertise of colleagues
Few of my colleagues knew where Singapore was, let alone what its welfare policies looked like. As I explained what social work was like in Singapore, they were interested to find out more. They shared about how it looked like what social work was in the UK in the late 70 and 80s.
From my sharing, they learnt about how important it was to return to the heart of social work – relationships.
A great example of leadership skills in social work is when you can make the people around you even better. Volunteer to share with your team about lessons you gleaned from training. Alternatively, volunteer to teach them about a theory you love. Make those around you better!
As I stood on the train platform, I looked at the girl opposite me. She was doing something strange. She was dancing her ballet moves in front of other strangers. As she did her pirouettes, it made me wonder: how can we build a community where children are free to express themselves confidently? That inspiration led me to use dance as a programme for children in Singapore.
Depending on where you are from, programme development plays a big role in social work. Developing programmes for the local community is key to helping the community to grow and become stronger. You can exhibit leadership by planning programmes that can improve the community.
I hit the ‘send’ button. I had just written a letter to Singapore’s most widely-read broadsheet, The Straits Times. In it, I had argued about how we needed to ensure that soldiers suffering with mental distress shouldn’t be stigmatised (see letter here). Subsequently, there was a conversation about how we could do better for our national servicemen.
Social work is about social change. When we keep to ourselves about the sufferings that we see daily, we reduce the possibility of change in society. Sometimes, social work can feel like we are only dealing with the symptoms, rather than the root of the issue. Advocacy allows us to change things at a more macro level by raising awareness, offering solutions, and generating debate on how our society should progress.
Advocacy is a great example of leadership skills in social work. To start small, you could start writing to your local forum. During town halls, you can stand up to discuss your concerns about what the consequences of the local council’s actions might be.
Don’t stay silent. Ultimately, you need to ask yourself, why are you here in social work? What matters to you?
Bad things happen because good people choose to stay silent about the things that matter.
We need to speak up about the things that matter.
In conclusion, examples of leadership skills in social work often take place when a social worker cares less about how he or she will look in front of others, and tries their very best to build a better society. Too often, our biggest concern is that we will arrogant and assertive in seizing the bull by its horns, and moving work forward. Confidence is a great quality of good social workers.
More importantly, it’s also about moving from the minutiae of daily social work to looking at the policies that might engender the problems you see daily.