If we are to draw some positive learning from the pandemic’s rewriting of our daily lives, the incredible resourcefulness and creativity of our local communities, so fundamental to effective and lasting support for those in need, would be among them.
Whilst we may not always agree what to call it (most commonly, strengths based practice), there is general agreement across social care of the value of a more socially connected, community based approach to supporting individuals and families to achieve what is important to them.
Such approaches help us move away from focussing on what people cannot do, and instead look to build on their personal and community assets. The aspiration to embed strengths-based practice is reflected across our professions, including social work, occupational therapy, and nursing.
Despite this ethical and practical consensus, we are frustratingly still some way from it becoming a common reality for people who access care services.
It is true that models including local area coordination, community-led support, and family groups conferencing have been successfully introduced in many areas. There are also places that have made substantial progress in includes working with colleagues in health around new developments such as social prescribing.
The celebration of such positive examples must be balanced against the numerous cases where strengths-based approaches have been introduced, then run out of steam, or been limited to a few discrete services with little real engagement with the mainstream.
Leading the way
Leadership by senior managers undoubtedly has a critical role, expressed through securing organisational, political and financial support. More importantly, leadership must be shown by those responsible for supporting practitioners on the front line.
We need to embrace ‘uncertain ways’ of working. This makes intuitive sense. Strengths-based practice moves us away from tried and tested procedures and adopts more flexible and uncertain ways of working with people and their families.
We must be more creative in our approach to risk and be willing to share the safety of our professional authority with those who may be disadvantaged and traditionally outside the system.
All this requires a transformation in the culture of our organisations and teams, which in turn requires a new style of leadership.
The University of Birmingham have been working with the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) to understand what this kind of leadership would look like. Through discussion with our lived experience and practice partners, our direct work with social care organisations, analysing research evidence and leadership theory, we have identified the following behaviours that leaders need to demonstrate to support strengths-based working:
I recognise my strengths as a leader and how I can build upon these
I reflect my professional values in my leadership
I lead in partnership with people with lived experience and their communities
I facilitate the practice of others to become more strengths-based in their work
I lead teams which build on their individual and collective strengths
I make positive changes in my organisation and the wider system
Such behaviours are of course easy to list but hard to demonstrate in the busy, pressurised and ever-changing world of health and social care. Doing so will require organisational commitment and support, and access to practice enablers including critical reflection, constructive challenge, ongoing learning, and engaging communities of practice.
But only if we demonstrate strengths-based leadership, can we in turn demonstrate strengths-based practice.
Find out more
The Leadership for Strength Based Practice Programme will be launched in Spring 2021 by the University of Birmingham and SCIE. For more details please email firstname.lastname@example.org