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Case Study: Leadership In Supervision

Assignment #2: Case Study

A week in the life of a social work leader in a human services organization

Karen Mason

University of Calgary
Maximizing Staff Performance Through Clinical Supervision
Prof: Dr. Jane Matheson
SOWK 679.10 S01

Effective supervision is elemental to leading a successful organization. Supervision
imbues leaders beliefs and values into the actions of front line staff. I believe transformational
leadership where a person engages with others and creates a connection that raises the level of
motivation and morality in both the leader and the follower is required in human services
organizations (Northouse, 2010, p. 172). I also believe this is most effectively achieved through
values based leadership. Organizations that are clear at their core work from congruence, not
coercion leaders have to be prepared to support diversity, to welcome surprise, to expect
invention, to rely on highly contributing employees (Wheatley, 2007, p. 69). Supervisees need
to be empowered to identify challenges and create solutions. I require resonant leadership,
where leaders demonstrate a high level of emotional intelligence, defined as the capacities of
self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management to achieve
this shared values base (McKee & Massimilian, 2006, p. 45). As a leader and a supervisor I
must be aware of my own emotion, manage it effectively, and lead my team through challenges
to achieve the vision of the organization.
Purposeful management of relationship, where support and limits are provided to staff, is
central to implementing my model of supervision. Relationships with supervisees need to
include safety, trust, honesty, risk, openness, respect, psychological contact, and boundaries
(Henderson, 2009, p. 30). Within this relationship it is essential to be able to speak about fear,
about vulnerability, as a practitioner, while also noticing ones resources, capabilities and
potential (Henderson, 2009, P. 51). Unconditional positive regard and a learning environment
where mistakes and conflict are accepted as natural learning opportunities, needs to be created.
As well, a positive rewards and recognition is required as a lack of social reward, as when
ones hard work is ignored and not appreciated by others devalues both the work and the

workers (Maslach, Shaufeli, & Leiter, 2001, p. 414). Recognizing effort and building on
strengths is required and central to building a strong team. I would use a model of supervision
that includes administrative, educative and supportive functions (Davys & Beddoe, 2010, p.
25). These three factors, I believe, provide the structure and supports required to achieve the
needs of the organization and supervisee and are adaptable to all levels of supervisee expertise.
As a new leader this supervisor appears to lack awareness of her organizational context.
The nature of the climate in any given workplace has a major impact on the effectiveness of
supervision and learning in that workplace (Davys & Beddoe, 2010, p. 69). A number of
factors present appear to contribute to a chaotic environment. The population served has
complex needs and a tendency toward chaotic lives, there is diversity in programs delivered,
dependency on short term funding, she is managing an additional program without long term
plans for the program in place, and she is supervising an interdisciplinary team composed of
professionals and volunteers. As well, the recent media reports indicate that there may be
challenges with the quality of services being provided. Lastly, isomorphism a tendency for
patterns to repeat at all levels of a system (Matheson, 2015, p. 5) is evident in tattling
behaviors. Clients tattle on the staff, staff tattles to the board, the supervisor tattles to the media.
This is a destructive pattern reflective on a lack of boundaries and conflict management skills.
Were this supervisor aware of her context she could better manage these influence on her
The first issue of note is the supervisors lack of lack of conflict management skills and
her avoidance of conflict. The supervisor avoids speaking the parent and does not address the
concerning fact that no one answered the telephone at the program. Moreover she does not

recognize her feelings of frustration with her funders, and instead of risking having a direct
discussion with funders to address the issues of contention, she expresses the emotion during the
interview. Nelson, Barnes, Evans, and Triggiano (2008) note that the more confident a
practitioner is in their skill the more likely he or she will be to approach, rather than avoid, a
risky situation (p. 182). Approaching conflict requires us to recognize and manage our own
emotional reactions, accept conflict as natural, healthy, and as a learning opportunity. While her
lack of conflict management skills is of concern, these are learnable skills and as such I rated
them as less worrisome.
More concerning is that as a new supervisor she is not meeting her responsibilities to
organization, her staff members, or her clients. Firstly, as a supervisor she has responsibility to
protect the organization, yet she allows a situation to develop where a negative media report
may be made. She also places funding at risk through mismanaging an interview. As well, she
appears disorganized and reactive. She attends a research meeting unprepared to actively
participate, and is emotionally reactive throughout the meeting. She does not ensure her phone is
charged and does not take steps to correct this mistake. More worrying, she does not meet her
responsibilities to her staff. The complaint is left unresolved and staff may be left coping with a
potentially dangerous or challenging situation, and as she is out of contact she is unavailable to
support or direct her supervisees. Of most concern, this supervisor does not ensure the safety of
a child in her program. The child may be in an unsafe or potentially damaging situation and
current and future risk has not been mitigated. This is, in my opinion of the most concern as it
indicates a lack of commitment to client care.
As a resonant leader I would approach to conflict openly and efficiently. I would begin
by speaking with my staff and learning, from their perspective what had occurred. Supervisors

can ameliorate the impact of shame, first by offering constant support then create a climate of
safety (Henderson, 2009, p. 81). I would approach staff by indicating I want to understand
what has happened and to learn what we, as an organization, may need to improve. Experiential
learning would occur as I role modeled effective conflict management. I would review any
documentation and gather all information available. When the staff did not answer the
telephone, I would have driven over to the location. I would have corrected this behavior
immediately. Issues to be addressed in future supervision would be noted. Following a brief
period of critical reflection I would speak with the parent. During this conversation I would
focus on learning what had happened that was upsetting to her, and listen for mistakes our
agency may have made as well as identifying what the staff did well. I would deescalate the
situation through ensuring client safety, and listening for mistakes and reasons for the parents
concern. If necessary I would correct expectations of our program. It is likely that this approach
may have resolved the situation and it would not continue to be a challenge in the remainder of
the week.
As well, I would work to be more prepared and less reactive. I would have prepared for
the interview, if even for a few minutes, and plan how to profile my program and its needs. If I
were frustrated about the relationship with my funder I would have scheduled a meeting to
discuss the challenges. Similarly, I would prepare for the research meeting by creating a list of
questions about how this project relates to my program. As a result would have felt proud of my
work as opposed too anxious. I would have managed my emotion and not personalized my past
coworkers negative behaviors. I would have been proud of my work during the day, as opposed
to drained and shameful.

To begin recovering the situation I would need to take ownership of my mistakes and
begin to build a team approach. As Getzel and Salmon assert the supervisor will inevitably be
confronted with the negative aspects of his or her style of relating to supervisees. Such insights
may be quite painful (Getzel and Salmon, 1985, p. 41). As a supervisor I will not be perfect and
will continue to make mistakes and grow. As such, I would call a second group meeting and role
model taking responsibility for my mistake in managing the discussion. However, the focus
needs to shift from individual blame to team ownership for the challenges in program. The
supervisees and supervisor need to work cooperatively to address concerns. I would invite
another discussion of the issues, and set the expectation that the focus of the discussion be on
finding solutions to our challenges, and recognize that I may need to adapt my practice to meet
these solutions. I would explicitly demonstrate teamwork, respect, and collective problem
solving. I would share my concerns and fears about funding and ask that we begin to work
collectively to seek out resources and secure funding and would establish a working group. The
creatively and resourcefulness of the team needs to be utilized, and I could not take sole
I would then book another supervisory meeting with the new staff member where
rapport building would be achieved through contracting. A subtle dance of relationship
building is progressing in the process of the negotiation, and that element is as important as the
pragmatics for creating a safe learning and reflecting environment (Henderson, 2008, p. 4). I
would introduce my model of supervision and share documentation and evaluation processes.
As the one in charge, the supervisor is responsible for setting appropriate limits and boundaries
with regard to such issues as the structure of the supervisory hour, the parameters of acceptable
professional behavior, and a focus on the supervisees rather than the supervisors needs

(Kaiser, 1992, p. 287). Setting appropriate boundaries not only establishes the basis of a
professional relationship, it is an ethical duty. As the National Association of Social Workers in
Section (NASW) Code of Ethics states social workers who provide supervision or consultation
are responsible for setting clear, appropriate, and culturally sensitive boundaries (1999). To be
able to achieve this, discussion of worldviews and cultural influences must be discussed with
this new staff member as an initial step to culturally competent supervision.
I would not confront others as the result of my discussion with my long time friend and
now supervisee. Allowing myself to use supervision to meet my own needs for support placed
my staff member in a precarious position. If the conflict Im experiencing goes awry this may
place the supervisee in a compromising position. The NASW Code of Ethics states social
workers should not engage in any dual or multiple relationships with supervisees in which there
is a risk of exploitation or of potential harm to the supervisee (1999). To address this unethical
situation, I would meet with the supervisee and explain the errors in my behavior and apologize.
I would set new boundaries and explain that this type of discussion where my needs were met,
and supervision did not occur, would not be repeated.
However, I do believe I need to increase my supports and begin resolving challenges I
am experiencing. Firstly, I need to build relationships, both internal and external to the
organization, where I can gain support from other leaders. I also need to begin working to gain
supervision from my own supervisor. Isomorphism may again be at play and I may be
replicating my own lack of supervision by not providing supervision to my supervisees. I need
to begin communicating my concerns and asking for direction in problem solving from my
supervisor and when necessary from my Executive Director. I would build relationships and
demonstrate my commitment to the organization by attending the wine and cheese party. I have

made a promise to attend and represent our agency. As such, I would contact a family member
and have them deliver a set of clothing that would be appropriate. I would do what ever was
necessary to keep the appointment and represent the agency well.
At this point it is essential that the complaint be addressed as quickly as possible. As I
have allowed time to lapse, it will be impossible to wait to speak with the supervisee. As such I
would proceed to speak with the parent after speaking with staff that were present and checking
documentation. This would be done immediately. I would, however, wait to discuss practice
issues with other supervisees until after I spoke with the supervisee directly involved.
My supervisory style includes a focus on relationships and distribution of power to build
teamwork. According to Getzel and Salmon the aim of the group is to encourage openness and
honesty (1985, p. 39). I would begin by focusing the discussion on problems they, not their coworkers, are experiencing. I would need to role model taking responsibility for mistakes. The
structure we would use is to (1) specify the problems they are addressing; (2) ascertain the
willingness of members to contribute; (3) determine the media by which to solve problems
(Getzel and Salmon, 1985, p. 40). In this group process power would be shared and the group
would be trusted to be responsible for generating a process of problem solving.
As well, at the next large group meeting I would utilize story-telling techniques followed
by purposeful questioning to build teamwork. A story with a teamwork theme would be told. I
would ask supervisees to share what parts of the story spoke to them. After a discussion was
facilitated, I would ask how they could better demonstrate teamwork in their practice. I am
hopeful this would result in individuals identifying their strengths and taking ownership of their
practice. I would continue to build on this teamwork approach while managing the volunteers

concerns. I would manage my own fears and insecurities and frame their vocalizing their
concerns as their being passionate about meeting client needs. Given their engagement I would
request they join the working group to address funding.
I would begin by going to the office of the demonstratively upset staff member to speak
face to face. Prior to the discussion I would take a moment to manage my feelings of guilt and
fear. I would begin by appearing calm, but concerned, and ascertain if the staff member
understands the request for data, and if she understands how to obtain it. I would listen for
indicators of misunderstanding and if necessary provide further direction. If a mistake has been
made I would reassure the employee that I recognize it is not intentional, and if the employee
has been a strong contributor in the past I would highlight these occasions. The focus would be
on finding a solution. This may involved working additional hours to input data or solicit
testimonials. Alternately perhaps another source of data, such as a previous years report, may be
accessed. If I were unable to find a solution I would contact my supervisor for direction.


the crisis had passed I would ensure that all staff understand the necessity and processes of data
collection during the administrative portion of supervision.
Being confronted by a board member and called to an in camera board meeting is a
challenging situation as a number of power dynamics are involved. I would begin by thanking
the board member for contacting me directly to share her concerns and question her to gain
clarity of the issues. I would explain that I would require consent and direction from my
Director and Executive Director before I could agree to any future actions. I do not believe it is
appropriate to participate in this process, but I would welcome the opportunity to speak with the
board about my program. My strategy would be to meet with my Director and Executive

Director and work cooperatively with them to determine how we will profile the challenges in
my program along with developing talking points to utilizes at the board meeting. This is an
opportunity to gain financial and political support for my program and to demonstrate my
leadership skills. Additionally, I would suggest that the volunteer coordinator, as opposed to
myself, speak with the volunteer about boundaries and the appropriate process to use to address
I believe the instance of the face book account results from a lack of values driving
actions and not setting appropriate boundaries. I would propose in the meeting that values of
respect for clients, confidentiality, treating clients with compassion has been violated. As such, I
would suggest an agency wide discussion of these values and how they relate to social media.
This would ideally preface the introduction of a policy about the use of social media. The
educative, supportive, and administrative elements of supervision could be used to implement
the policy and continue to coach staff in its use.
More About The Complaint
There are additional elements of the handling of the complaint that indicated challenges
and opportunities to strengthen the organization. The voice of the client, in the form of a
complaint, is being ignored. This indicates a lack of connection to the vision and purpose of the
organization, and a chaotic environment has developed. Simon Sinek, in an revolutionary Ted
Talks described vision as the why by why I mean whats your organizations purpose? What
is your cause? Whats your belief? Why should anyone care? (2009). As such, I would gain
support to lead my program through a goal setting exercise where client centered care would

become central to achieving our vision. This central structure needs to be in place to improve
functioning of the program.
This realignment of values and practices may prove challenging, but is achievable with
effective supervisory relationships. To make the deepest changes the relationship between
supervisee and supervisor needs to be based on a high level of mutual trust and confidence.
There is a need to work through things that at first can appear most threatening (Owen, 2007, p.
56). Coaching techniques and identification of strengths would be used to support integration.
Utilizing group supervision would create shared ownership of the values and vision and create a
base for teamwork. Supervisee strengths such as the written word, drawings, conceptual
models, or stories could be used to strengthen this vision. Leadership must be provided through
supervision, and developing a vision as opposed to reacting to problems is essential.
This Supervisor
This supervisor is a new supervisor and struggling with issues common to all beginning
supervisors. I am aware that as a new supervisor I am likely to make similar mistakes and I will
need supports, supervision, mentorship, and relationships to help me learn and grow. I initially
felt frustration with this supervisor, but as I continued to evaluate the complexities involved I
felt compassion. Sadly, in this example both the supervisor and supervisees lacked supervisory
support leaving her and her supervisees at risk of burnout. While support from co-workers,
spouse, or friends and relatives were not significantly related to burnout, support from
supervisor made a distinct negative contribution to predicting both emotional exhaustion and
depersonalization, and a distinct positive contribution to personal accomplishment (Leiter &
Harvie, p. 95). My fear it that without support, burnout could be a very real possibility for this
new leader and her supervisees.

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