What does it mean to be a social work leader? No matter where you are in your Social Work career, defining leadership qualities is a key component of your professional development. I had an opportunity to take a deep dive into this question at The Network For Social Management Conference in New York City. I had the pleasure to both attend and present there. The theme of this years conference was “The Business of Social Work: Mission, Morals, Morale, and Money”. Whether you are in the midst of your beginning of your education or a seasoned manager, questions about crafting a “business case for social work” were thought provoking.
When thinking about leadership, the micro practice and macro practice distinction is often at the forefront. Do the qualities of being a good clinician make you a good manager? We often think of clinician leaders as quality assurance professionals or “Director of Clinical Services”. Is it your your skills as a macro practitioner that make you a good manager? We often think of macro practitioners as community organizers and “Directors of Policy”. The challenge is putting the macro/micro distinction and ask what skills make for good managers and leaders.
One could argue that looking to the business world could help us better define what it means to be a good social worker. This question came up a lot at the conference but especially at three main points.
First was a review of individuals who were featured in The Network’s weekly blog feature the Monday Morning Manager. Sixty one participants who have identified as Social Work managers were asked a series of questions. Researchers at the Ohio State University School of social work analyzed some qualitative data.
This yielded some interesting results but the question portion of the presentation brought an interesting distinction between being a good social services manager and being a good business manager came up. This began a reflection of my education and professional development. This distinction was not talked about enough. We are often taught to evaluate clinical programs but are we taught the fiscal implications?
The second instance was, keynote speaker Susan Dworak-Peck talking about how she used her social work skills to develop her own successful Real estate investment firm. She discussed how doing a good business deal is like doing a good intake. On the clinical side, our ability to analyze and break things down puts us in a good position to think about financial business. Also training in program evaluation is a transferable skill to business. I started to reflect on how assessments, treatment and discharge planning need to create consistent line. When writing a grant there needs to be a solid cohesive argument.
The third moment put it all together for me. The keynote closing address by the director of Harlem Children’s Zone Anne Williams-Isom but together the need to combine the clinical and macro skills to create a business for social work. She is charge of large social services agencies in one of the most vulnerable areas of country. She discussed how she not only creates a case for increasing college attendance and reducing incarceration. She not only has demonstrate to funders but to break this down in terms of other success measures.
That good clinical outcomes or outcomes in general can help us create the business case for social work. That preparing students for college is much less expensive than housing them in jail. She also talked about the to follow through measure the outcome. Not to just rest on this but what factors are coming into play. She talked about how she never stops measuring the impact of the clinical outcomes of this college prep program. You create a business case for social work by not only demonstrating the cost outcomes but the clinical outcomes that make a program like that successful.
When working in foster care prevention we made a similar case. That if you created a solid in-home service for families you can reduce costs and have a good clinically income. That the cost of assigning a bachelor’s level case worker and masters level clinician to do intensive in home visits, his cheaper than a residential stay. We not only measured that but also regularly measured clinical outcomes as well. This before combination of fiscal savings and clinical data created a strong business model for social work.
Fundraising helps keep the lights on but so does ensuring a sustainable business model. No matter where you are in your social work career, challenge yourself to think about how your are creating a business model for social work. Also for more detailed insights from The conference check out both summaries of both day 1 and day 2
Helm, L. and Boettcher, R. (June 2017) Leadership Styles and Personality Qualities of the NSWM’s Monday Morning Managers. Presentation at 28th Annual Conference for The Network For Social Work Management. New York, NY