Child protection is serious business. Even the most idealistic young candidates can eventually find themselves in a place of hopelessness and futility, without proper self-care and supportive organisational structures. How can senior management instil a sense of hope in staff, of the courage to persevere against all odds, to believe in our children, our families and our services?
“In order to accept someone’s advice, we must first believe that they understand us.”
Inspirational, authentic leadership is a key aspect of motivated, functional child protection teams. A strong leader, with a skilled and knowledgeable management team underneath, is the first step to creating a positive work culture. A leader with a clear, well-articulated vision for the organisation is imperative to all work environments, however the type of vision and how it is articulated is distinctly different in child protection. The leader must have a comprehensive understanding of the work and the personal impact of that work on staff. They must inspire through compassion, through understanding. They must drive staff to want to do better, to see the benefits of trying harder, to take a long-term view of their role in a child’s life. Leaders who focus on minutiae without orienting staff to the importance of that minutiae in the bigger picture run the risk of teams which operate without context – teams which are task oriented and crisis driven. Staff must understand their role in its entirety in order to appreciate the influence they have to make a difference in a child’s life.
The vision must be authentic, personal, and riddled with feeling. The leader’s role is to capture staff’s ‘buy in’ to the organisation’s goal. Once this occurs, the potential for growth is infinite. Staff find themselves wanting to learn more, to improve their practice. They are self-motivated to build the essence of the vision into their own casework. The positive impacts of this are endless – from reducing micro-management to minimising staff frustration and burnout. The leader must have a vision which is not focused on KPIs, budgets and caseload numbers, although of course these aspects fall into line to support the implementation of the vision. The communication of the vision to staff must focus on the personal.
“They felt they were on the cusp of something amazing… that they were contributing to a once in a generation change in practice.”
I had the pleasure of working with one such leader who communicated her vision to staff in such a way that she drew tears. Her staff understood the importance of what they were doing, they felt they were part of a bigger goal, bigger than their teams and the organisation. They felt they were contributing to a once in a generation change in practice, that they were on the cusp of something amazing. They had such belief in the process that they were able to overcome setbacks with grace and humility. Teams began to communicate, staff began to support each other, people began to put up their hand and ask for help, trusting that they would be supported not ridiculed. She managed to create a culture of learning and openness, by communicating her vision with passion and hope.
Child protection is personal business. To lead with empathy, compassion and vulnerability is to demonstrate to staff that they are understood, and the inherently personal nature of their work is not only respected but cherished.