Victoria Brewster, MSW

Victoria Brewster, MSW

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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Leadership and Teamwork in Social Work

Leadership, teamwork, management, structure of an organization; these are not typical words used in social work or any helping profession from the professionals themselves as they are often very focused on the clients, patients, clientage and recently I heard the term service user (from workers in the UK). Personally and professionally I find the term service user to be extremely impersonal. Client can be used in any profession and patient tends to have a medical basis to it.

I have come across a lot of information, articles and discussions lately that have to do with leadership, management, teamwork and coaching. I soaked it all in and then reflected. I thought of past jobs both in the social work field and otherwise and further reflected.

Ask, listen and talk; 3 basic words that hold so much leverage and potential in them. Now, these concepts are easily linked to social work and other helping professions. I like to think we are some of the best listeners out there. We have been trained to be that way, but are we truly? Are these 3 words woven into the fabric of your organization? Are they an integral part of your employment/employer and have you ever stopped to think about it? Or maybe they are ideas you would like to see take shape in your organization between management and front-line?

What about the words consensus, conformity and creativity? In discussing potential changes or voting in a case review as to the best way to approach a client or situation we would like to reach consensus-is it truly possible? Sometimes and other times we have to be happy with the majority. Conformity-here is a tricky word as it depends on the situation. There are times as a professional you want to see conformity from a client, but in an organization? Do we really want all the employees to be the same? To think the same? To approach problems and difficulties the same way? What about creativity? I love this word and as a professional, in the organization I work for-I want to see this from leadership, management and front-line staff. There is no one way to approach a problem or to find a solution-creativity gets the gears turning.

How about 12 words that can be addressed, sought and reflected upon by any organization? Empathy, forgiveness, humanity, humility, recognition, discretion, thoughtfulness, consideration, compassion, gratitude, appreciation and compliance. Now as a social worker, one who works in the social services field, mental health field or other helping profession, these 12 words for the most part are known to us and used often. Think of them as a reminder. As front-line staff I find it is easier to focus on these words as we use them daily in our interaction with clients. When it comes to management, sometimes a review is needed as they are removed from the daily interaction with clients and dealing with issues that do not need to enter the front-line workers thoughts. When it comes to interaction with management and front-line-these same 12 words need to be remembered, reflected upon and used in the interactions between levels in any organization to encourage participation, solutions, new ideas or areas to focus on and to increase moral.

How can you increase the performance of your team?

  • Listen at a deeper level and stay focused on the person in conversation.
  • Expect something special to come out of every dialogue.
  • Encourage the heart and acknowledge their gifts.

Be intentional about listening at a deeper level, and acknowledge with authenticity. I guarantee, if you improve these two things, your team will increase their performance. Asking both employees and colleagues how they learn best; visual, auditory, written, discussion, kinesthetic or a combination thereof. We learn: 10% of what we read 20% of what we hear 30% of what we do 50% of what we both see and hear 70% of what we discuss with others 80% of what we experience personally 95% of what we teach other. (Glasser, in Taylor S. and McKenzie, I. The Team Solution. Curriculum Perspectives (1995), p.23)

Encourage growth of the individual, learning how that person has grown/learnt within the team or can learn within the team. Two key elements for me are to create a professional relationship built on mutual respect and accept that the people I am working with have as much knowledge and ability as me.

“An essential part of true listening is the…temporary giving up or setting aside of one’s own prejudices…so as to experience…the speaker’s world from inside his shoes. True listening…involves a total acceptance of the other. Sensing this acceptance, the speaker will feel less and less vulnerable and more and more inclined to open up the inner recesses of  his or her mind to the listener. As this happens, speaker and listener begin to appreciate each other more and more, and the duet dance of love is begun again.”~ Scott M.Peck, MD

*Written by Victoria Brewster, MSW
SJS Staff Writer in Canada*

**First posted at:


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