Get some good professional supervision

In over a decade of my career I have had over a dozen supervisors throughout half a dozen or so youth work specialties. Some of these supervisors were Youth Workers, some Social Workers, some Pastors and some drug and alcohol workers. Their qualifications had ranged from Diploma level to Masters degrees and one had no formal welfare qualifications at all. Not an unknown factor to those of us who have chosen a career in the youth sector.

In Australia there is currently no requirement for a supervisor to have a professional qualifications. As a Degree qualified Youth Worker and soon to be Masters qualified Social Worker I have never attended a class on supervision, I have never heard a lecture on what constitutes good supervision practice and I have never had a supervisor who had either. At best my supervisors had attended a 2 day course in supervision and at worst my supervisors had less than a year more experience in the field than I had. So if there are only a few courses for supervisors and most of these less than a week long, how do you become a good supervisor???

The best supervisors I have had came from both ends of the spectrum. One was a qualified Social Worker with over a decade of experience who regularly attended courses on supervision. The other was a Youth Worker who had no qualifications but was an avid reader of supervision texts and attended every professional development opportunity focused on supervision. The skill set that both of these supervisors had in common was an eager appetite to better their own practice as supervisors and a great ability to listen and reflect. The styles they used were different, the theoretical focus wide and varied and the outcomes specific to the needs of myself and my clients.

Maidment & Beddoe (2012) believe that supervision must be placed at the core of professional development for staff, “We want to place supervision at the heart of professional development, which is career-long and where, via diverse learning activities, practitioners refine and augment their knowledge, develop skills, and undertake supervision to enhance critically reflective practice“.

Do your supervisors support your development? If not you might be in the market for an external supervisor! What ever your situation if you want longevity in the sector studies show that you need a good supervisor.


About Aaron Garth

An Australian company, Ultimate Youth Worker provides high quality professional development for youth workers to build and maintain longevity in the field. This blog is a cumulative view of our thoughts and ideas on professional youth work and ideas on how youth workers can better themselves and the field
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3 Responses to Get some good professional supervision

  1. Aaron – in the States we seem to have a perplexing problem. We take the “best” youth workers and within 3-6 months we throw them into supervisory roles with no training on how to supervise. Now, not only do we lose our best front-line staff, we have created an untrained and rather lost middle management. I wish that all the energy people put on the credentialing of frontline staff would shift to the managerial level who after all are often the only full-time paid positions in the organization. Is the case in your end of the world?

    • Hi Professor Fusco – your experience in the States exactly mirrors one we have here in England. For years we have promoted great practitioners into leadership and managerial roles and then left them to ‘sink or swim’. Without training and on-going support [mentoring or coaching] some excel, some sink and most survive or cope, one way or another.

      The problem with that approach is that people learn their leadership skills, knowledge and approaches by symbiosis. It’s then down to the quality of available role models! If they are poor, then there is an almost certain consequence in my direct experience … poor begets poor. I have led, with colleagues from FPM, some significant national, regional and local leadership development for front-line, middle and senior managers in statutory and third sector services for young people.

      These have had some impact, often at a local and individual level, but their continuance has not been sustained by on-going investment. Their ultimate impact for the broader sector therefore has consequentially been minimal. I have always found it ironic that, in times of austerity, investment in training and development is usually one of the first things to be cut! Yet panic inevitably sets in on the economic upswing when staff are caught unprepared and unready for the new opportunities and challenges then presented. Humanity has this irritating knack of not always learning from its mistakes!

      If we truly see our people as our greatest resource within our organisations, then investment is necessary at all levels. I respect the choice to focus that investment where the greatest good might apply initially, given scarce finances. Ultimately however, we need to invest in the development of all our staff, including volunteers. That investment can be made in any number of ways – not just through training programmes. Whatever is done will secure the goodwill and well-being of our staff and ensure their strong commitment to achieving the best outcomes for the young people they work with and for.

      Kind regards


  2. Aaron – I enjoyed your post and recognized similarities to practice here in England. I have long held the view that proper supervision has been replaced, especially in our public sector delivery, by ‘business meetings’. They are called ‘supervision’ or ‘1:1’s but are generally an opportunity for your line manager to chase you for tasks, deadlines and targets. They are not about the development of your critical reflective practice, nor are they about the line manager sharing what they can in the development of you and your role. This is what I believe proper supervision is an should be. By all means have ‘business meetings’, but please … don’t call them supervision.

    Interestingly, I was about to post next month on my business website a blog about supervision, which I will now post here, as I think this is a subject many will be interested in. Your thoughts and comments would be appreciated. Thanks for sharing.

    Kind regards


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