Social Work Internships

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Using Agency Supervision

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8.1 Using Agency Supervision
Purpose: To obtain knowledge and learn skills through guidance provided by
the agency supervisor.
Discussion: In order for a social worker to learn job-related tasks and proce-
dures and develop as a skilled professional, he or she must make appropriate and
effective use of supervision. The term supervision is rooted in a Latin word that
means “to look over.” Modern supervisory practice places less emphasis on a su-
pervisor as an overseer or inspector and more emphasis on a supervisor as a
skilled master of work to be done, a leader, and a teacher. Van Dersal (1968)
described supervision as
the art of working with a group of people over whom authority is exercised
in such a way as to achieve their greatest combined effectiveness in getting
work done. It is best performed in an atmosphere of good will and zestful
cooperation on the part of all the people involved-including, of course, the
supervisor. It us possibly one of the most difficult of all the arts, since it
demands an ability to use successfully and almost intuitively those
principles of human relations that have proven true with most people most
of the time. (p. 25)
In a social agency, the supervisors serves clients through the work of others
(i.e., line workers or supervisees). Above all else, a supervisor must be accountable
to the clients. The quality of service provided to a client is the ultimate test of a
supervisor’s performance. Kadushin (1976) explains that “the ultimate objective of
supervision is to offer the agency’s service to the client in the most efficient and
effective manner possible. It is toward that aim that the supervisor administratively
integrates and coordinates the supervisee’s work with others in the agency, educates
the workers to a more skillful performance in their tasks, and supports and sustains
the workers in motivated performance of these tasks” (pp. 20-21). An agency, its
workers and supervisors, exists for the purpose of providing quality service to its
clients. All other functions and activities must be viewed as the means of
accomplishing that end.
There are three major functions or components of supervisory practice
within a social or human service agency: (1) the administrative function, (2) the
supportive function, and (d3) the educational function. In describing the essence of
the administrative component, Kadushin (1976) states that “ the supervisor is a link
in the chain of administration-the administrator who is in direct contact with the
worker. As an administrator, the supervisor has responsibility for agency
management, and specific, clearly defined, administrative managerial functions are
assigned to her” (p. 41). A supervisor must attend to the management and
administrative functions of directing, coordinating, and evaluating the performance
of workers.
Austin (1981) explains that supportive supervision involves activities such
as “ sustaining worker morale, facilitating personal growth and increasing sense of
worth, promoting a sense of belonging related to the mission of the agency and
developing a sense of security in job performance” (p. 11). Supportive supervision
is extremely important in the human services, where high stress and worker burnout
are serious personnel problems.
Kadushin (1976) states that the educational component of supervision “is
concerned with teaching the worker what he needs to know in order to do his job
and helping him to learn it. Every job description of the supervisor’s position
includes a listing of this function: instruct workers in acceptable social work
techniques; develop competence through individual and group conferences; ‘ train
and instruct staff in job performance” (p. 125). In essence, the educational
component relates to the transmission of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values
needed by the workers.

Several guidelines can help the social worker make appropriate and
effective use of supervision.
1. Realize that a good supervisor will have expectations that you are to meet.
Austin, Skelding, and Smith (1977) provide a list of general expectations.
COOPERATION. You will be expected to be cooperative with all your coworkers
and to demonstrate a willingness to work and learn alongside them.
INITIATIVE. Your supervisor will expect you to complete whatever duties
you are given and then if you haven’t been told what to do next. To look
around, see what needs to be done, and do it if you can.
WILLINGNESS TO LEARN. Your supervisor expects you to learn about
your job and your agency and the way things are done in your agency. You
should not be ashamed to say “ I don’t know” and to seek your supervisor’s
help when you need it.
expect you to be able to follow directions and, after you have been working a
while, to be able to work on well-established routines without direction.
supervisor expects you to know your job, to like your work, and to show that
you like your work. You are also expected to be familiar with your agency’s
procedures and to be able to apply them in your daily activities.
ACCEPTANCE OF CRITICISM. Criticism is necessary since it is the way
your supervisor lets you know how he or she expects the job to be done. You
should accept it with a smile and try to improve when it is justified and
constructive. (p.412)
*Excerpts from pages 412 and 413-414 (following quote) in Delivering Human Services: An
Introductory Programmed Text by Michael J. Alexis H. Skelding, and Philip L. Smith. Copyright 1977
by Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Harper & Row. Publishers, Inc.

2. In return, you should have certain expectations of your supervisor. Again,
Austin. Skelding, and Smith (1977) provide a helpful listing of what your agency
supervisor should provide.
TRAINING. Your supervisor should see to it that you receive whatever onthe-
job training is necessary for you to do your job. If you are not sure how to
do something and you tell your supervisor, you can expect him or her to teach
you or make sure someone else shows you how to do it.
EXPLANATIONS. You can expect your supervisor to explain what he or she
Expects from you and also to explain any important policies, rules, and
regulations of your agency that you should know.
CHANGES. You can expect your supervisor to tell you about any changes in
your duties and responsibilities, and about anything else which affects you and
your work.
EVALUATIONS. Your supervisor will be evaluating your performance on
the job by assessing your work and making suggestions on how you can
DISCIPLINE. If you don’t follow rules and regulations, or if you don’t live
up to what is expected of you, you may be disciplined by your supervisor.
SUPPORT. You can expect your supervisor to give you the opportunity to
demonstrate your ability, to understand your viewpoints, to encourage you to
improve your performance, and to try to help you when you request assistance
with a problem. (pp. 413-414)
3. The social work student has a special set of responsibilities to himself or herself, the
School, the practicum agency, and agency clients. Judah (1982) provides a list of these
basics responsibilities.
Responsibilities to self:
1. to identify learning needs and objectives;
2. to be ethical in all activities;
3. to fulfill as fully as possible all legitimate expectations of the learner in the
field and to go beyond them as feasible;
4. to apply self fully to learning and services-including realistic allotment of
time to outside demands;
5. willingness to recognize the needs of the others in the field instruction
partnership system and commitment to be helpful. If possible.
Responsibilities to school:
1. to maintain open, honest and sharing communication for achievement of
system goals and maintenance goals, which includes problem solving in
the field instruction partnership system;
2. to complete all expected reports fully and on time;
3. to provide feedback from agency in the form of case illustrations for
classes and sharing of knowledge gained in the field; to questions and
comment on the usefulness of concepts and methods taught in class in
relation to field work;
4. to fulfill all educational requirements including spending the full time
expected in the field as usefully as possible;
5. to work diligently to solve problems arising out of inadequacies or mis-
understanding in the field instruction system, including evaluation of the
system and its functioning in relation to its goals;
6. to work to improve ways in which the school functions with respect to
field instruction through channels provided, such as committees.
Suggestions for improvements, and sharing in general;
7. to responsibly budget time to allow for adequate attention to both class and
field and other student responsibilities.
Responsibilities to field settings:
1. to fully cooperate with field instructor and other partners in obligations of
learning and reporting responsibilities including dictation, agendas for
conference, identification of goals, problems, needs and so on;
2. to carry out service and other field activities in compliance with agency
policy and practices:
3. to help field instructor keep an educational focus, if this help is needed;
4. to question and evaluate agency policies and practices and work
responsibly for their improvement;
5. to furnish all reports and other work required on time and fully, to devote
the full amount of time expected in the field, and to be flexible when
asked to change the specific hours worked for good reasons;
6. to discover how one’s own learning experiences may simultaneously
promote one’s growth as a professional and augment the agency’s
capacity to function;
7. to enhance agency efforts, when possible, through extra service to clients,
development of new resources, public relations contacts, feedback, sharing
new learning, and so on.
Responsibilities to clients:
1. to practice social work in a disciplined manner and at the highest level of
competence possible in view of time and skill limitations;
2. to work to maintain and improve social work service, of one’s own and
3. to offer service promptly, courteously, and without prejudice, and in other
ways to put the client’s interests first, before one’s own convenience;
4. to respect the privacy of clients but also their right to opportunity to make
use of service (outreach);
5. to never exploit clients in one’s own interest and to share with appropriate
persons the instances in which the agency and school policies or
requirements collide with a client’s needs. (pp. 156-57)
4. What you get out a job or learning experience reflects what you put into it.
Sometimes, good things happen completely by accident, but most often, a satisfying
work situation or a good learning experience happens because you have tried to
make it happen by recognizing and building on existing strengths.

Selected Bibliography
Austin, Michael. Supervisory Management for the Human Services. Englewood Cliffs.
N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1981.
Austin, Michael. Alexis Skelding, and Philip Smith. Delivering Human Services. New
York: Harper & Row, 1977.
Judah, Eleanor. “Responsibility of the Student in Field Instruction.” In Quality Field
Instruction in Social Work, edited by Bradford Sheafor and Lowell Jenkins
New York: Longman, 1982.
Kadushin, Alfred. Supervision in Social Work. New York: Columbia University Press.
1976. (2d ed., 1985)
Middleman, Ruth R., and Gary B. Rhodes. Competent Supervision: Making Imaginative
Judgments. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1985
Munson, Carlton. An Introduction to Clinical Social Work Supervision. New York:
Haworth, 1983.
Shulman, Lawrence. Skills of Supervision and Staff Management.Itasca, 111.: F.E.
Peacock, 1982.
Van Dersal, William. The Successful Supervisior in Government and Business.
New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
Sheafor, Bradford, Charles R. Horejsi, and Gloria A. Horejsi, “Personal and
WORK PRACTICE. Allyn and Bacon, Massachusetts, 1988, pp. 151-155


Written by tusksowk

April 7, 2010 at 12:25 pm

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