You Got the Promotion!
Developing Leaders for Residential Care and
Other Human Service Organizations
By Larry Wenger, MSW
For one year you have been a reliable worker in a group home for troubled youth. You always come to work on time. You are considerate yet firm with the youth. You are known as a "team player" who gets along with co-workers. Today something is different.
There's a note in your mail box from the Director of Residential Services.he wants to see you right away. Quickly, your mind spins through the last few days, trying to remember what you did wrong. Nothing clicks. You must have done something.why else would he want to talk. Nervous you make your way down the hall to his office hoping he's not there. "Come in." There's a smile on his face.
Now you are really confused! "As you know Jim, we've been trying to fill a vacant supervisor position for a month. After interviewing outsiders, we have come to the conclusion that you are the best one for the job. Congratulations! You begin your duties tomorrow and your next paycheck will reflect a $5000 raise! "
You don't know what to say but you crank out a timid "Thank you" pleased that your hard work was recognized. You can certainly use the extra money. But you are unsure what it means to be a supervisor or if you want to be someone's boss... especially those guys. Some good friendships have developed.now you're they're boss!
Across the nation, this dilemma happens daily: youth workers, senior care aides, child care workers, persons working with the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled. Workers with grave responsibilities are suddenly promoted and given raises. With the money comes additional problems and little help or support. What are they expected to do.how are they expected to succeed? What about direct care workers who are now her subordinates? How will the workers cope with the challenges under the guidance of an uncertain supervisor tenuous about his role?
It's no surprise that the turnover rate among direct care workers is high and that new workers often abandon positions after a few hours on the job. It's no surprise that direct care workers often give their supervisors low grades when evaluating their bosses.
What would you do to help new supervisors? And in turn help the entire organization? The literature is filled with ideas for upper level and executive staff to improve their leadership skills. But there is very little to addresses the needs of front line, newly appointed supervisors. Here are some suggestions:
1. Recognize the problem and evaluate the consequence. Until you identify the cost of the problem in financial and non-financial terms, any solution will seem too expensive.
2. Require middle managers to provide formal supervision. Supervision is not saying hello as you pass in the hall. It is not exchanging emails. It is a process of meeting one on one uninterrupted to discuss needs, goals, problems, and celebrate success. Recognize that good supervision starts with the one on one meeting.
3. New supervisors need regular on-the-job coaching. Work with them shoulder to shoulder for several months until they reach a comfort zone in this new role.
4. Establish a culture of learning and development, where everyone is involved in a process of skill improvement. Develop a culture where staff can acknowledge, grow and learn from mistakes.
5. Offer new supervisors the opportunity to be involved in a formal leadership development program. This process, usually reserved for executives, is equally helpful for lower level supervisors.
6. Provide new supervisors with the opportunity to develop positive, success oriented attitudes.
7. Use a goal setting and implementation process;
8. Improve the effectiveness of supervisor's communication with subordinates.
9. Help staff achieve balance between their work and personal life. They can't come to work with their personal lives in turmoil.
10. Deepen understanding of what motivates human behavior.
The move from direct care worker to the supervisor of direct care workers involves a new skill set. Now people skills must be added to the technical, logistical skills of running the group home. This process will be most effective if it can be integrated into the day-to-day experience of the employee. Most of all make certain that front line supervisors understand delegation. Coach them through this process until you are comfortable that they are using delegation skills consistently. Too many entry level supervisors continue to carry out the responsibilities of a direct care worker when that is no longer their job. "It's faster and easier to do it myself,"
Refusing to delegate will burn-out any supervisor. Further it inhibits the development of direct care workers who must learn new skills if the residence is to function effectively.
Since the mid 1990's, running a residential care organization has been a special challenge. Today, purchasers of service reserve beds for the neediest and most problematic situations. They demand efficient treatment and remedial care. Clients/consumers in less desperate situation receive care and support at home in their own communities.
This shift, driven by philosophical and economic rationales, requires agencies to employ laser-like precision to review and improve every area of operations. Too often this process neglects front line workers and their supervisors, focusing exclusively on developing and credentialing the clinical and typically thought of "professional" staff. Those agencies that recognize the impact of the direct care worker on their outcomes willing to invest in the new supervisor's leadership and development will be the successful in the long haul.