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09th March 2018

First-line Managers and the Dilemmas they Face


Tony Hunter, Chief Executive, the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE)

‘I want to see your supervisor!’ When someone demands action from a shop worker in a consumer setting, they expect to be passed onto the occupant of the next step up the greasy pole. The worker is, after all, following procedures and might be uncertain of what they have in terms of flexibility. Or alternatively, they might be a jobs-worth, especially when reacting to someone who might be rude and angry. And then what does the supervisor do when they pick up the reigns? They might have more flexibility but they also won’t want to undermine a staff member.

Translate this to a care services environment, where, for instance, the social worker knows that the most important thing to do that day is to visit someone where safeguarding concerns have been raised by a health or housing professional. But it might be the last day for a review to be completed, to reach a team target; and the manager will want to see that review done and written up.

Dilemma time

This gives the manager a dilemma. They will want to maintain the credibility of their staff but they will also want to achieve their own manager’s expectations. They don’t want to see the reputation of the team suffer if they don’t meet the senior manager’s requirements.

These are the sorts of issues that first-line managers are dealing with every day when supporting those on the front-line of care and support. So it’s first-line managers who arguably have the toughest jobs. These managers have to interpret senior managers’ priorities and constraints, and make management messages coherent, diplomatic and uplifting for a busy workforce who themselves are addressing day-to-day challenges and ‘must do’s'. My hat goes off to them.

There are no easy solutions, but let’s at least recognise the skill needed to make those difficult decisions and judgement calls that, actually, front-line staff and senior managers might not be fully aware have to be taken. If management is ‘doing things right’ and leadership is ‘doing the right things’, then, in a care and support context but also probably in a consumer environment, the first-line manager performs a really skilled set of tasks.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing

Topics: SCIE

Tony Hunter

Chief Executive, SCIE

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