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Strengths based practice makes perfect

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Care and support, Communities
Diverse group of people of different ages and ethnicity
Strengths-based practice builds on personal and community assets. [Graphic created by]

Community spirit

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.

people helping each other climb
There is still some way to go before strengths-based working becomes the norm. Leadership is vital if we are to achieve this aspiration. [Image created by]

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

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  1. Comment by T P J Cooper posted on

    This is hardly a novel concept, more a statement of the obvious. With respect to the list of necessary management behaviours one would hope that all managers already work that way. However, when it comes to approaching risk, the reason so many practitioners are overly risk-averse is because of the destructive blame culture that has infused our society for the past twenty years. That causes an understandable reluctance to take risks and has for example been very evident in the government's handling of the Coronavirus pandemic where presentation has frequently overshadowed common sense. I suggest that SCIE would be better employed concentrating on ways of balancing risk and reward in a more positive and less tense climate rather than trotting out cliches about management practice that everybody is already signed up to.

  2. Comment by Kathleen cooke posted on

    Read all the above until these so called managers actually do the job for years I.e nearly a decade with no fancy training just an abundance of common sense (if qualifications were handed out for folk like me and thousands of others we would have honorary doctorates)not a minutes training just 54 years working and then suddenly having someone close to look after and all the physical and mental problems that come with are excellent to tell me do as I say not do as I do. I would have more respect from someone with experience of my problems not someone who has sat at a desk passed exams but lacking common sense and empathy.

    Ha ve I any faith in things changing in a word no. You don’t want to admit you have no idea how to care nor common sense to hand out and organise. I have run out of relatives to care for. Like my late father said (who lost his mother at 9 as I lost mine his wife at 11 years he has not read the book of life but experienced it!

  3. Comment by Terrie Kimberlee posted on

    Definitely. We live under the care of Bromford Housing Association. There priority is being Covid free. We able to walk the corridors wearing masks. We have a shop and restaurant but must queue 2 metres apart and wear masks to either collect our food or have it delivered to our doors. I worry about folk who live on their own, unable to walk about. Unless someone phones them they would only have their television.

  4. Comment by Andrew Reece posted on

    Strenghts Based Practice will continue to struggle to embed unitl Strengths Based Commissioning becomes a reality.
    While Council's continue to buy 'beds' in care homes and 'hours' of home care Social Workers or others putting together a support plan will continue offer them in these support plans