Direct practice interests of entering MSW students

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Administration in Social Work

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Bridging the Crevasse Between Direct Practice Social Work and Management by Increasing the Transferability of Core Skills

Ryan Tolleson Knee & Jeff Folsom

To cite this article: Ryan Tolleson Knee & Jeff Folsom (2012) Bridging the Crevasse Between Direct Practice Social Work and Management by Increasing the Transferability of Core Skills, Administration in Social Work, 36:4, 390-408, DOI: 10.1080/03643107.2011.604402

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03643107.2011.604402

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Administration in Social Work, 36:390–408, 2012 Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN: 0364-3107 print/1544-4376 online DOI: 10.1080/03643107.2011.604402

Bridging the Crevasse Between Direct Practice Social Work and Management by Increasing

the Transferability of Core Skills

RYAN TOLLESON KNEE Department of Social Work, University of Montana –

Missoula, Missoula, Montana, USA

JEFF FOLSOM AWARE Inc., Helena, Montana, USA

The following is a conceptual article that critically examines a longstanding concern in social work administration that involves the promotion of social workers primarily educated for and employed in direct service or clinical positions to entry or middle management levels. A review of the literature identifies four core skills commonly learned in graduate foundational courses and whose applicability could be expanded, making them more rele- vant to management. The analysis provides specific suggestions to graduate social work programs and human service organizations so social workers in direct practice can better transfer the skills to improve proficiency in the non-technical aspects of human service management.

KEYWORDS clinical, core skills, direct practice, generic skills, management, social work, transferability, versatility

INTRODUCTION

In 1977, Patti and Austin indicated, “In the foreseeable future the vast majority of persons assuming lower and middle-management positions will continue to be drawn from the ranks of direct practice” (p. 267). The authors identified the promotional practice as a troubling trend and predicted that,

Address correspondence to Ryan Tolleson Knee, Department of Social Work, University of Montana – Missoula, Jeannette Rankin Hall, Missoula, MT 59812, USA. E-mail: ryan.tolleson knee@umontana.edu

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in spite of a growing number of graduate students selecting concentrations in administration, new managers would continue to be ones whose expe- rience and skills were embedded in direct practice. A follow-up study of clinical social workers promoted to management positions confirmed their prediction, and findings further indicated that the managers had difficulty dis- continuing their clinical practices and were frequently treating staff members as clients (Patti, Diedreck, Olson, & Crowell, 1979).

Years later, Skidmore (1995) and Martin, Pine, and Healy (1999) identi- fied that managerial positions were continuing to be filled by social workers whose primary expertise was in working with troubled clients and whose skills were less effective for the management and supervisory responsibilities required in entry and middle management positions. Patti (2000) then recon- firmed his earlier prediction by indicating that the most common career path continued to be promoting social workers in direct practice to supervisors and eventually to management and administrative positions. Unfortunately, the promotional practice has been exacerbated by the new managers receiv- ing little or no management training and frequently relying on skills that worked well for clients but not for staff or organizations (Mor Barak, Travis, & Bess, 2004; Patti, 2000).

Because of difficulties associated with the newly promoted managers and since fewer MSW graduates are selecting the administrative track (Ezell, Chernesky, & Healy, 2004), more organizations have chosen to hire gradu- ates with degrees in public administration (MPA) or business administration (MBA) (Hoefer, 2003). Unfortunately, the decision to hire outside the profes- sion could result in the MSW degree becoming less valued as one suitable for human service management, and the profession could begin to experience an ideological shift as people with a limited understanding of social work’s knowledge, skills, values, and ethics are placed in important decision-making positions (Wuenschel, 2006). “The image of the human service manager as incompetent lingers and competition continues” (Martin et al., 1999, p. 74).

REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE

One reason so many managers are promoted from direct service is because the vast majority of graduate level social work students choose clinical pro- grams and concentrations. In their study of incoming MSW students, Rubin and Johnson (1984) indicated that 86% of incoming students were obtaining the MSW degree to enter private practice, 82% were planning to be in private practice within five years of graduation, and the majority were not committed to the profession’s focus on helping disadvantaged groups of people. Two years later, a follow-up to the study found that while students were less likely to believe they would enter private practice upon graduation than when they entered the program, respondents still remained most interested in private

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practice (Rubin, Johnson, & DeWeaver, 1986). In a similar study of incoming MSW students, Butler (1990) found that while more were interested in the profession’s mission to help the disadvantaged, the majority (84%), were still seeking a career in direct practice. Butler’s findings are consistent with others who found students shared a dual interest in direct practice and the pro- fession’s traditional focus on disadvantaged populations (Bogo, Michalski, Raphael, & Roberts, 1995; Limb & Organista, 2006). Although the data on student interest in direct social work appears to be less than what Rubin and Johnson (1984) originally reported, the current literature indicates that approximately 80% of MSW students’ primary interests are in direct practice (Austin & Ezell, 2004).

Strong interest in direct practice and working directly with clients is exacerbated by a declining student interest in administration (Ezell et al., 2004). Approximately 10% of MSW students choose the macro concentration (Patti 2003, Raymond, Teare, & Atherton, 1996; Swartz & Dattalo, 1990) and a modest 3%, or approximately 1,000 students, select the administrative concentration (Ezell et al., 2004). One of many possible explanations for the decreased interest is that students in administrative tracks experience anti-management comments, perceive anti-management attitudes, and hear statements that “administration is not real social work” (Ezell et al., 2004, p. 63). Students also feel pressured to become licensed and realign their initial interest in management to direct practice upon learning that more employment options are likely to be available following graduation (Pine & Healy, 1994).

Other possible explanations are potentially rooted in the graduate pro- grams themselves. In a survey of social work deans, Neugeboren (1986) found that 63% believed that direct practice was a prerequisite to becoming a manager. Foundation practice courses have also been narrowly focused on teaching skills specific to direct practice and working with individuals and families rather than small groups or teams (Ezell et al., 2004; Martin et al., 1999). Many students, especially those in direct practice (approxi- mately 80%) who are less likely to complete an administrative course, have few opportunities to learn basic management skills or how to better apply the generic people skills frequently learned in direct practice courses (e.g., communication, interpersonal skills) to management settings and situations.

The combination of the anti-management sentiments and the focus on individuals and families in foundation practice courses has the poten- tial to keep direct practice students minimally informed about the role of management and to foster a bias against those in management positions (Patti, 2003). Furthermore, “the negative climates experienced in professional education of both management and non-management students may exac- erbate the gulf between managers and clinicians as MSW graduates move into agencies, further increasing the strain between the competing domains within organizations” (Ezell et al., 2004, p. 74).

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If students take the anti-management sentiments from the classroom to the workplace following graduation, the profession is likely to undermine many of its own aspirations and ethical principles, shooting itself in the foot as it limps forward. For example, many organizations employing clini- cal social workers are required by state regulatory and accrediting agencies to hire supervisors who are licensed and have direct practice experience. Teaching management skills to former direct practice social workers is diffi- cult enough, and negative attitudes about management can make the process of transferring the new skills or positively socializing them into manage- ment roles even more challenging (Austin, Weisner, Schrandt, Glezos-Bell, & Murtaza, 2006).

Social workers in direct practice who have proven their value to the organization and whose credentials help the organization to meet licensing and regulatory structures are often the ones first considered for management positions. Patti (2009) conservatively estimates that there are 360,000 management-related jobs in the private and public sectors (p.7), 25% of NASW members are in management-related positions (p. 8), and 27% of LCSW’s spend 20 hours or more each week completing manage- rial tasks (p. 8). Unfortunately, between 25% and 50% of MSW practitioners are completing management-related tasks with little or no training (Patti, 2009). In a survey of managers who belong to the National Network of Social Work Managers, Mor Barak et al. (2004) found that 80% of the respon- dents attended a clinical or combined clinical/generalist program and that one-third were enrolled in a clinical program (p. 29). The study further indi- cated that the majority of managers felt unprepared for their managerial responsibilities.

Higher Education and Organizational Leadership

Graduate schools of social work and public and private nonprofit leadership both share a responsibility to prepare clinical social workers for management and leadership positions. For schools of social work, the problem is magni- fied by students’ negative attitudes toward macro and administrative courses and increased pressure to provide micro content courses directed toward stu- dents’ more immediate educational and employment interests. Furthermore, the vast majority of MSW students are women and most administrators are men (Patti, 2003), thereby limiting the number of administrative role models for female students Scholars in the field of career development also indicate that women must still balance career aspirations with what they perceive as possible (Farmer, 1997). Super (1990) suggests that self-concept is a strong determinant in career selection and that, with more professional experi- ence, the self-concept expands and creates new opportunities for career choices. Super’s explanation is consistent with Bandura’s (1977) contribu- tions to social learning theory whereby through contextualized observations

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of others new behaviors can be assimilated and reproduced in the future. Since most social work students are women and administrators are men, and most are launching their first career, few have had opportunities to have the behaviors of leadership modeled for them by same sex mentors, thereby limiting career choice. Moreover, many students enter the social work profes- sion to help people overcome personal problems and have a limited ability to envision a professional role beyond helping clients in a way similar to how they were helped (Sheafor, Horejsi, & Horejsi, 2000).

In spite of students’ immediate desires to obtain training and a career in direct practice, nearly half will be promoted to management positions (Patti, 2009). As a result, well-developed management training programs and continuing education are critically important (Thompson, Menefee, & Marley 1999). Management training, however, can be expensive and time consum- ing, and administrative leaders must consider them in light of shrinking budgets and potentially limited positive impacts. Professional development and staff training in the private and public sectors is estimated at an annual cost of $100 billion and consumes 15 billion work hours of time each year. Unfortunately, the current return on the organization’s investment in the transfer of skills, knowledge, and attitudes from the classroom to current job performance is estimated at between 10%–15% one year later (Austin et al., 2006; Holton & Baldwin, 2003; Yamnill, & McLean, 2001).

The literature clearly indicates that many managers who were previously in direct service positions frequently suffer from a case of “tunnel vision” that limits their capacity to effectively manage employees (Patti & Austin, 1977). As Patti (2003) states, “poorly socialized and inadequately informed graduates send an unfortunate message to the field” (p. 7). And, by applying direct practice skills to managerial problems, the staff and organizations they manage could be adversely affected.

ANALYSIS-DIRECT PRACTICE AND MANAGEMENT SKILLS

Many of the fundamental skills being taught in the foundation year are the ones most needed to effectively provide direct services to clients and to effectively manage people. The generalist focus of the foundation year has required that students acquire skills generic in nature and applicable to multiple settings and situations, including management. In their respective studies, Menefee and Thompson (1994), Martin et al. (1999), and Hoefer (2003) reached similar conclusions by identifying the skills that managers of human service organizations most frequently used were non-technical and include: communication, supervision, facilitation, teaming, and interpersonal skills. While technical skills were important, the authors also identified that they were less often employed when managing human service organizations. The only exception was Martin et al.’s (1999) study of students graduating

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with an administration concentration, who indicated that communication and budgeting were the most important skills followed by leadership, team building, and problem solving (p. 85).

The literature indicates that the fields of direct practice social work and human service and business management share a set of common core skills. Borrowing from each practice area, the following section identifies four generic skills frequently cited as requirements to effectively provide direct practice social work and to manage in mid-level administrative positions of human service organizations that employ clinical social workers. Each skill is defined with attention given to its significance and applicability in direct practice and management, identifying the similarities and differences of each skill, and how the different contexts have honed a specialized subset of practice behaviors making it potentially difficult to transfer the skills from a clinical to a managerial role.

Communication

Superb communication skills are a prerequisite to developing effective ther- apeutic relationships with clients, facilitating group and family meetings, conducting interviews, negotiating and mediating conflicts, and working effectively with other professionals (e.g., judges, physicians) (Hepworth, Rooney, Dewberry Rooney, Strom-Gottfried, & Larsen, 2010; Sheafor et al., 2000; Shulman, 1992; Trevithick, 2000). In fact, “verbal communication is at the heart of social work practice” (Sheafor et al., 2000, p. 136), and if social workers do not have the ability to communicate extremely well, their effec- tiveness is limited (Trevthick, 2000). Social workers in direct practice must possess sound verbal and non-verbal forms of expressing ideas, thoughts, and meaning through skilled questioning, paraphrasing, voice tone, facial gestures, eye contact and “tuned in” body movements to effectively establish rapport and convey a sense of genuineness, trust, empathy, and uncondi- tional positive regard (Boyle, Hull, Mather, Smith, & Farley, 2006; Hepworth et al., 2010; Shulman, 1992). Similarly, social workers in direct practice must have the ability to accurately interpret verbal and non-verbal forms of com- munication and the capacity to actually experience the client’s emotional state in an accepting and non-judgmental manner (Hepworth et al., 2010; Shulman, 1992).

In studies measuring what managers do, communication has been con- sistently identified as one of the most important skills for managers to possess (Hoefer, 2003; Martin et al., 1999; Menefee & Thompson, 1994; Whetten & Cameron, 2011) since “80% of a manager’s time is spent in ver- bal communication” (Whetten & Cameron, 2011, p. 239). Managers should be able to: understand multiple forms and styles of communication; accu- rately interpret what is being communicated verbally and non-verbally; and respond to cues appropriately. Managers who communicate effectively must

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also be articulate and succinct; keep staff accurately informed (Menefee & Thompson, 1994); minimize ambiguity when articulating goals and objec- tives (Whetten & Cameron, 2011); make presentations (Whetten & Cameron, 2011); respond empathically (Goleman, 1994); effectively converse with a diverse constituency (Whetten & Cameron, 2011); and exchange information internally and externally (Menefee & Thompson, 1994).

Similar to social workers in direct practice, effective managers should understand that people perceive and interpret situations in a variety of ways and that the differences can frequently lead to miscommunication. Both roles require an ability to understand the emotional implications of difficult con- versations and the capacity to monitor and manage one’s emotional state to minimize defensive reactions (Sheafor et al., 2000; Whetten & Cameron, 2011). In both positions, the listener must work to understand what is being communicated, determine how to best present complicated information, and monitor the affective and cognitive states of both the speaker and receiver to accurately judge the person’s understanding of what was communicated. Moreover, both roles require an ability to competently and quickly establish rapport; mediate and negotiate conflicts (Whetten & Cameron, 2011); provide sound supervision (Menefee & Thompson, 1994); establish positive working relationships (Goleman, 1994); convey a sense of competence and confi- dence; accurately interpret and respond to the emotions of others (Goleman, 1994); and convey an interest in the personal and professional development of supervisees (Austin et al., 2006)

While both professional roles require exceptional communication skills, social workers in direct practice must fine tune a subset of communication skills that incorporate careful attention to the nuanced verbal and non- verbal forms of communicating emotions and how thinking processes, mood regulation, and behavior impact personal functioning. This subset of commu- nication skills is particularly effective for gathering clinical information and assessing a client’s emotional state. The subset of skills, however, is rarely, if ever, needed in management. Similarly, managers’ communication skills are situationally fine tuned and perfected through the process of developing professional organizational relationships with clients, staff, and board mem- bers, and community relationships with legislators, community leaders, and donors. This subset of skills requires an ability to communicate with a more diverse group of people, within a wider range of contexts, and on a less intimate basis.

In their study of managers who were previously employed as clini- cal social workers, Patti, Diedrick, Olson, and Crowell (1979) found that the respondents had “difficulty in changing from an individual to sys- tems perspective, a hesitancy to disengage from clinical practice, and a tendency to treat subordinates as clients” (p.149). If a newly promoted manager is unable to distance himself from a previous clinical role and continues to rely on a subset of specialized communication skills that are

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therapeutic, employees could become confused and professional boundaries blurred.

To illustrate the point further, consider two common situations where new managers might use therapeutic communication skills and easily revert back to their former roles. The first example involves communication skills commonly used when facilitating group meetings. Middle managers are fre- quently required to facilitate meetings, small group discussions, and team brainstorming sessions. Clinical social workers are typically skilled group facilitators and trained to attend to interactional processes, the group’s capac- ity to actively explore emotional concerns, and generating positive feelings. While the group facilitation and corresponding communication skills are an asset for a new manager, if the focus is on group members’ cognition, affect, or behavior, the manager will likely fail to disseminate information, instruc- tions, and guidelines that will assist the group members in completing their work. A similar example involves conflict resolution. If new managers use therapeutic communication skills to resolve conflict, the focus is likely to be on expressing feelings, which could further entrench each party’s respec- tive position as being ‘right’ and subsequently jeopardize the possibility of reaching a solution (Northam, 2009).

Direct practice social workers have refined the skill of communication within a specific context and precise role, perfecting a subset of skills well suited to clinical practice, but not to management. Unfortunately, therapeutic communication skills often become domain dependent, are more applicable to a client’s personal needs rather than an organization’s goals, and are dif- ficult to cognitively reorganize to be made more useful for management (Billing, 2007).

Problem Solving

Clinical social workers would not be employed if clients could independently solve their personal problems. The personal problems social workers in direct practice typically address are complex, multi-dimensional, ambiguous, and require an ability to employ a wide array of complementary cogni- tive and interpersonal skills to effectively resolve them (Hepworth et al., 2010). Prior to engaging clients in a problem-solving process, social work- ers in direct practice must comprehensively assess how thought processes, coping strategies, emotional stability, family relationships, and environmen- tal and political forces impact presenting problems. Social workers typically implement a framework to divide the problem-solving process into sequen- tial and manageable steps to ensure that specific actions are implemented. Commonly used frameworks involve engaging clients in multiple phases and include: 1) exploring and assessing presenting problems; 2) implementing a plan of action and mutually establishing a set of goals; 3) evaluating and monitoring progress toward goal attainment; and 4) terminating the helping

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relationship (Hepworth et al., 2010; Shulman, 1992). A theoretical orientation and specific therapeutic tools then guide the intervention in an attempt to increase the likelihood that positive change will occur. To successfully engage clients in the problem-solving process, the social worker must have sound interpersonal skills and the capacity to reason abstractly and think critically to accurately analyze complex information provided by multiple sources (Sheafor et al., 2000). Finally, social workers in direct practice must know the clients’ strengths and resources and be able to engage both in the problem-solving process.

A primary responsibility of middle managers is to address problems that staff members are unable to solve independently. The problems managers confront are frequently complex, ambiguous, multi-faceted, and cumulative, and originate from both within and outside of the organization (Brody, 2005; Whetten & Cameron, 2011). To successfully solve the internal and external problems that organizations typically face, managers frequently employ a problem-solving framework and trace the origin of the presenting problem by gathering information to provide a comprehensive understanding of what led to its development. A commonly used framework involves: 1) defining the problem, 2) generating alternative solutions, 3) evaluating and select- ing an alternative, and 4) implementing and following up on the solution (Whetten & Cameron, 2011, p. 175). The process of defining the problem involves conducting an assessment and collecting factual information from relevant sources. The information is analyzed and relevant parties are usu- ally involved to select and implement a potential solution. Finally, managers must evaluate how the imposed solution is impacting the problem and make modifications as needed to increase the likelihood that the problem is solved.

Middle managers involved in organizational change employ a similar process and framework that involves: 1) establishing a climate of positiv- ity, 2) creating readiness for change, 3) articulating a vision of abundance, 4) generating commitment to the vision, and 5) institutionalizing the positive change (Whetten & Cameron, 2011, p. 543). The framework encourages the active participation of employees impacted by the problems experienced in the workplace in an empowering process to increase the likelihood that the problems are resolved by the people most affected by them. To success- fully solve the internal and external problems, managers must be skilled at analyzing problems and creatively solving them.

Problem solving is a skill that social workers in direct practice and managers share. In both roles, a similar framework is used to define the problem, assess its origin and contributing factors, and implement a strat- egy and system to evaluate its success. Both positions also require an ability to analyze complex information, use sound reasoning and judgment skills, and to collaboratively engage the people most impacted by it. Although problem solving is a shared skill, the subset of practice behaviors are con- textually developed and subsequently best suited for their respective practice

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settings. For example, social workers in direct practice must hone a subset of problem-solving skills tailored to the personal needs of individual clients. The method commonly used by clinical social workers to solve or decrease the impact of the problem involves implementing a specific therapeutic technique (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy) to extinguish the problem- atic behavior, alter thought processes, or improve emotions. The focus of the problem-solving effort is specific to the client or client system presenting the problem, and the solution is largely dependent on the specific needs of the client. The focus on an individual’s needs and presenting problem is unique to a clinical perspective and critical to ensure that the client’s presenting problem is effectively resolved.

Managers engage in a similar assessment and problem-solving process, but the focus of the solution is on a larger system, and the organization’s mission and purpose will determine how the problem is perceived and sub- sequently solved. To help solve a client’s personal problems, social workers in direct practice must attend to how thoughts, mood, and behavior impact personal well-being. Managers, on the other hand, must attend to the orga- nization’s mission and goals and be sure that problem solving consistently support both. Managers attempting to solve a problem associated with work productivity, for example, might contend with how negative thinking or unproductive behavior affects a teams’ ability to complete an assignment, but the employees’ thoughts and behaviors are secondary to finishing the project to meet the organization’s goals. If mid-level managers revert to their former roles and become preoccupied with the employees’ cognition or behavior, the organization’s goals could be compromised.

Problem solving is an important skill for direct practice social work- ers and managers to possess. When attempting to solve problems in either position, a framework is needed that includes careful assessment, an under- standing of available resources and strengths, and an evaluation of the solution being employed. Both positions share a common goal: solving a specific problem. However, the contrasting perspectives of the two positions complicate how the problem is initially framed and subsequently solved. To successfully problem solve, new managers must understand that the organization’s goals take precedence over individual needs.

Empowering Others

The process of “helping people, both individually and collectively, to gain power over their lives has been a part of social work’s philosophy since its founding” (Sheafor et al., 2000, p. 77). Clients seeking help from social work- ers in direct practice are often challenged by fears, negative self-concepts, and low levels of motivation that undermine their capacity to recognize per- sonal strengths, solve personal problems, or to learn more positive behaviors and skills. To successfully empower clients, social workers in direct practice

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must create opportunities that build on individual and collective strengths (i.e., team, group, family) and instill a sense of confidence to limit self- defeating thought processes or behaviors. Social workers must also counsel and teach through guided discussions and role plays that emphasize the knowledge, skills, wisdom, and experience clients possess, and build on strengths, instill confidence, recognize clients’ sources of power, and teach them how to employ personal assets in an effort to lead healthier lives (Gutierrez, Parsons, & Cox, 1998)

Managers empower employees to help encourage productive and pro- fessional behaviors and to overcome apathy and discouragement that might limit their ability to reach organizational goals. It is critical for managers through their words and actions to support employees by recognizing their strengths and creating opportunities that energize productive behaviors and instill an intrinsic desire to complete work-related tasks (Austin et al., 2006; Whetten & Cameron, 2011). Through supportive teaching and coaching techniques, managers can create opportunities for employees to gain self- confidence and initiative in a way that capitalizes on personal talents and creativity.

While it is critical for managers to help create an empowering environ- ment, they must also be strategic about how and when to use power to convey to employees that they are competent, able to make choices, that their actions have an impact and are meaningful, and that they can trust those in power (Whetten & Cameron, 2011, p. 447). Unfortunately, some managers might view empowering others as a threat to their own power and a recipe for anarchy, subsequently becoming less empowering, more top down, and autocratic when organizations are unstable (Whetten & Cameron, 2011), which can be commonplace in human services.

Empowerment is a skill shared by clinical social workers and managers to help clients and employees better understand and capitalize on their tal- ents and to reach their fullest potential. Both must create an environment that conveys a sense of trust and recognizes the strengths, competencies, and choice-making opportunities available. The subtle contextual differences that exist between the positions are largely based on well-established per- spectives. Direct practice social workers should consistently support and encourage thinking processes and behaviors that further clients’ personal growth and capacity to overcome obstacles that have previously limited them. Managers must also foster a supportive environment that encourages personal and professional development as long as it supports the organi- zation’s mission and goals. If new managers revert to their previous role and corresponding perspective by primarily focusing on individual needs rather than organizational goals, the agency’s mission could be compro- mised and the nature of the professional relationship blurred. To illustrate further, consider when staff members request a 10-hour a day, four-day workweek. If new managers respond to the employees’ personal needs

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by immediately saying ‘yes’ or encouraging them to collectively advocate executive management for a policy change, the manager’s actions has the potential to: negatively impact the work of senior management; violate reg- ulatory requirements established by licensing and accreditation agencies; negatively affect the workload and morale of staff who remain on a five- day schedule; and decrease the availability of services for clients who can only meet on the days staff are now absent. Unfortunately, in this situa- tion, the manager’s immediate approval or efforts to empower employees by encouraging them to advocate for their personal needs could have a backlash and very well disempower the organization and the clients it serves.

It is important for new managers to carefully discern how and when to empower staff members, bearing in mind that the skill of empowering employees requires a systems perspective and recognizing that the personal needs of supervisees are secondary to organizational goals. By reverting back to a clinical role and corresponding individual perspective by empowering staff the same way clients were empowered, managers could jeopardize the organization’s mission and professional relationships.

Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is a critical skill that social workers in direct practice should possess and continually hone to understand how personal biases, emotional triggers, assumptions, and values will either aid or hinder their capacity to work effectively with clients. The ability to internally monitor personal thoughts and emotions can increase one’s capacity to understand how a client’s thoughts and emotions could impact their behaviors and per- sonal lives. Being continually self-reflexive and knowing what aspects of self can be utilized is also identified as crucial to the therapeutic relation- ship (Cooper & Granucci Lesser, 2002). The 2008 Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS) also reinforces the importance of self-awareness and encourages a curriculum whereby social workers “gain sufficient self- awareness to eliminate the influence of personal biases and values in working with diverse groups” (CSWE, 2008, EP 2.1.4).

Social workers in direct practice should understand what personal traits limit and benefit the therapeutic relationship and under what conditions one is most and least able to demonstrate empathy, flexibility, hopeful- ness, compassion, and self-determination (Sheafor et al., 2000). High levels of self-awareness guide how the use of self, self-disclosure, and counter transference might help or hinder the therapeutic relationship. By under- standing personal feelings that result from hearing a client’s life story or through the client’s immediate behaviors, better diagnoses and correspond- ing treatment can occur (Cooper & Granucci Lesser, 2002). If a social worker in direct practice cannot introspect or actively self-examine the impact of

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personal cognition, emotions, and behavior, the therapeutic relationship can be negatively affected (Sheafor et al., 2000; Shulman, 1992).

Whetten and Cameron (2011) identify self-awareness as one of the most important skills to develop since it impacts so many managerial responsi- bilities. The authors contend that in order for managers to understand and lead others, they must first be able to self-manage and understand how per- sonal thoughts, feelings, behaviors, values, assumptions, and expectations, to name a few, impact their lives and how each might affect the lives of others. The Center for Creative Leadership reinforces the importance of self- awareness and identifies it as a critical skill and one that helps to: put people at ease; strike a healthy balance between personal lives and work; build and maintain relationships; and confront problem employees and manage organi- zational change (Leslie, 2003). In the book Emotional Intelligence, Goleman (1994) also identifies self awareness as crucial to: 1) understanding how personal thoughts, feelings, and reactions might impact decision making; 2) identifying strengths and weaknesses; 3) maintaining a positive outlook; 4) self-regulation; and 5) successfully building and maintaining relationships. Becoming more self-aware and understanding personal strengths has also become a national phenomenon as such best-selling books as Strengths Finder 2.0 and Strength-based Leadership has helped business and nonprofit managers and leaders to increase self-awareness and to identify and bet- ter understand the value of personal strengths, determine how to build on assets, and develop the capacity to identify and build on the strengths of others (Rath, 2007). Managers who possess strong self-awareness skills and are willing to continually improve them have the necessary foundation to successfully acquire other important management-related skills (Whetten & Cameron, 2011).

Clinical social workers and managers must understand how personal characteristics affect their ability to accurately understand and respond to others. Self-awareness and the ongoing disciplined practice of reflecting on how personality traits impact professional relationships are critical to both positions. The skill, however, has subtle differences if developed as a direct practice social worker or as a manager. For example, the nature of the therapeutic relationship and the clinical social workers’ focus on personal problems experienced by individual clients shapes self-awareness skills that are more therapeutically confined and center on intra- and inter- personal processes and how each might impact emotional stability and the capacity to remain objective when analyzing the cognitions and emotions of clients. Since direct practice social workers perform few managerial tasks, self-awareness is likely to be less developed in such areas as: developing and maintaining professional relationships with community leaders and power groups; managing the politics that impact the organization’s goals; address- ing organizational conflict; confronting or disciplining staff; and conducting performance evaluations.

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The self-reflexive skills developed as a direct practice social worker are an asset and can be similarly applied as a manager. The process of introspection, however, should shift from how personal values, beliefs, and former experiences impact the therapeutic relationship, emotional health, and capacity for professional objectivity to how these and related items are likely to affect the ability to build and maintain professional relationships within and outside the organization and impact one’s capacity to create the conditions that help to promote the organization’s success.

Summary

Communication, problem solving, empowering others, and self-awareness are skills that social workers in direct practice and middle managers must possess to effectively execute their responsibilities. While each skill is required in both positions, transferring the skills into management is diffi- cult if each was initially learned as a micro practice skill and subsequently perfected within the context of addressing personal problems experienced by individuals, couples, and families. Furthermore, the 2008 EPAS encour- ages schools of social work to create explicit curriculums that “respond to contexts that shape practice” to ensure that:

. . . social workers are informed, resourceful, and proactive in responding to evolving organizational, community, and societal contexts at all levels of practice. Social workers recognize the context of practice is dynamic, and use knowledge and skill to respond proactively.” (EP2.1.9)

In order for social workers to become more contextually competent and able to transfer their skills from direct practice to management, schools of social work and human service organizations will need to make specific changes. What follows is a set of recommendations to help both improve with that transition.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The first recommendation is a reiteration of what was proposed by Martin et al. (1999) and involves modifying the way foundational direct practice courses are taught. To help more social workers successfully transition from direct practice to management and to maximize the versatility of founda- tional core skills it is important for faculty to clearly identify how the skills apply to management. If such skills as communication, problem solving, empowering others, and self-awareness are purposefully confined within the parameters of direct practice, students will have a limited ability to implement them in other professional contexts (Billing, 2007). By providing

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404 R. Tolleson Knee and J. Folsom

clear examples, case studies, experiential activities, or reflective exercises the instructor can demonstrate how, for example, active listening can apply to a client being counseled and also pertain to an employee who is complaining about unfair workloads or vacation time. The instructor, however, should understand the versatility of active listening and its application in multiple settings rather than its sole application to individuals, couples, or families. By creating multiple contexts and opportunities for students to apply the skill, then its transferability will increase from one setting to another (Billing, 2007).

The responsibility to improve the versatility of core skills should not rest solely with faculty teaching the foundational practice courses. Most profes- sors, especially ones new to academia, strive to match their course objectives, learning competencies, and content to the program’s mission and guiding philosophy. When programs choose to be micro- or macro-focused, it auto- matically establishes precedence for its course content. Clinical programs might offer concentrations in macro practice or administration, but the litera- ture suggests that foundational course content is more focused on individuals and families (Ezell, 2004; Martin et al., 1999). Rather than widening the chasm between the two areas of practice, deans and directors should help to ensure that the foundation year is truly generalist and that the program philosophy and academic climate reflects a commitment to finding common ground between direct practice and management rather than reinforcing a division between the two.

Most schools of social work provide opportunities for professional development to clinical social workers, supervisors, and managers as their careers evolve and career-related responsibilities and interests evolve. Many schools have also partnered with human service organizations to develop management training programs specifically designed to address the specialized needs of the organization and the clients it serves.

Private businesses and public nonprofits have also developed internal professional leadership programs. One that is outside of the social work profession but could serve as an effective model for organizations seeking to develop internal programs in partnership with a local university has been developed within the Baylor Health Care System in Dallas, Texas. As one of the largest health care employers in the nation with 4,000 affiliated physi- cians, Baylor developed a three-tier leadership program to help clinically trained physicians further develop their management and leadership skills. The three levels include:

1) A one-day course early in physicians’ entry into leadership roles (e.g., team/committee members), so they understand that direct clinical respon- sibilities are one facet of their job and another important role is to manage and lead teams of health care providers to ensure that the patient’s multiple health care needs are met.

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Bridging the Crevasse 405

2) Physicians who are interested in management and demonstrate strong leadership potential can be nominated and then apply to Baylor’s Physician Leadership Development Program, which consists of six instruc- tional classroom days over a period of two years. Participants selected for the program attend a course developed by Southern Methodist University’s (SMU) Cox School of Business in collaboration with Baylor. Following each class session, a member of Baylor’s executive leadership team discusses how the system currently addresses such issues as finan- cials or effective communication skills. Between course meeting times, senior physician leaders host a dinner for the program participants who read a case study that raises managerial concerns that physicians might be less skilled to address (e.g., conflict, miscommunication, and cre- ative problem solving). The group discusses the management concerns raised in each case and considers how others might manage the situation. The group’s composition changes each meeting time to maximize learn- ing opportunities among colleagues with senior managers functioning as mentors.

3) Each year one physician who applies for additional management training is provided a scholarship to attend SMU’s MBA program.

Baylor’s leadership program was developed in response to physicians’ requests to have senior physicians who are trained in management to func- tion in the hospital’s administrative positions. Similar to human service agencies, the program limited the possible negative impact of clinically trained practitioners assuming management responsibilities with no training and little idea of what they’re getting themselves into. Level one of the pro- gram also encourages physicians to expand the parameters of their perceived clinical responsibilities immediately by assuming an important leadership role and by understanding that their responsibilities are to their patients, the organization, and the teams that provide care. Level two responds to physicians’ intellectual curiosity and the hospital’s desire to build internal leadership by developing a partnership with a local university and by utiliz- ing its internal expertise and administrative resources. The six-day program and interspersed roundtable discussions recognize the relevance of physi- cians’ technical skills and purposefully integrates skill development processes in such lesser developed areas as communication, mediation, and conflict resolution (Paul Convery, MD, MMM, senior vice-president and chief med- ical officer, Baylor Health Care System, personal interview, December 29, 2010). Human service organizations agencies might benefit from develop- ing university partnerships and internal management training programs to help foster professional development, promote leadership skills, and retain talented clinical social workers by transitioning them into management positions.

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406 R. Tolleson Knee and J. Folsom

CONCLUSION

The well-established trend of students choosing direct practice in graduate school and as an initial career, followed by opportunities to be promoted to management, is likely to continue. To help offset the negative impacts experienced by human service organizations who promote them, schools of social work should play a leadership role by finding ways to increase the versatility and transferability of core social work skills and by assisting human service organizations to educate and train better managers. In spite of the fact that most graduates are educated for and employed in direct practice, today’s organizational hierarchies are much flatter and demand that more employees share in executing some management responsibilities. As a result, social workers in direct practice will be required to assume some managerial responsibilities upon hire and many more as their careers evolve. Because of this reality, it is imperative that their core skills are not too narrowly imbedded in direct practice.

NOTE

The terms clinical and direct practice are used synonymously throughout the paper. The terms middle manager and manager are also used synonymously throughout the paper.

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