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Reclaiming Professional Supervision for High Performance

I hear and I forget’ ‘I see and I remember’ ‘I do and I understand

~ Confucius

Professional supervision is one of the most fundamental elements to improve professional standards, practice and performance in the workplace. It is essential for measuring sound decision-making, service delivery outcomes, ensuring evidence-based practice and staff are well supported and appreciated in their role. There is also a growing body of knowledge to suggest that professional supervision can prevent or minimise the potential for burnout.

One of the most important parts of supervision is to provide support, encouragement, the opportunity to reflect, provide guidance and positively challenge us as professionals to strive and maintain high performance. “Professional supervision provides a quarantined time and space whereby you and your supervisor can explore how you are going in your role, if you are feeling supported and valued, explore continued professional development opportunities and develop your practice framework in which to reflect and respond to clients” (Harris 2010).

The purpose of professional supervision is:

• integrate the organisations aims and objectives with the workers practice in order to achieve the best possible outcome for the client group

• to assess and review the workers need for professional development and support in the workplace to maximise positive outcomes for clients

• ensure the worker is clear about their role, responsibilities and accountabilities

• enhance and maintain the organisations standards of practice

• create a space for reflection

• ensure there is a two way communication flow

• develop a supportive and positive environment in which to promote high performance

• ensure the worker understands how they are working with clients and what intervention, approach and models to use appropriately

There are many benefits to having high quality supervision for the organisation, you as the professional, your client group and the wider profession.

Benefits for you:

• allows you time out of your busy work schedule to reflect on what you are doing in your role

• ensures you feel supported in your role

• identifies beliefs and values that may be influencing your work

• an avenue to debrief

• time to discuss client cases and ethical dilemmas

Benefits for your clients:

• your client knows they are going to get the best service possible

• that you are appropriately qualified and experienced to do the role

• you are up to date with the latest approaches and models to use

• you are competent and efficient in what you are doing

• you are confident in carrying out the services provided

The role of the supervisor is of teacher and guide for the new supervisee. Where a supervisee has been engaged in supervision for some time the supervisor becomes more of a colleague and sounding board. The supervisor guides the discussion and topic areas within the agenda in conjunction with what the worker would like to focus on. Many supervisors encourage the supervisee to develop an agenda prior to the supervision meeting and when there has not been the time to develop one, the agenda can be developed at the commencement of the meeting. The supervisor is there to encourage, support and offer options and solutions to case discussion. They are there to question and create a space whereby the supervisee explores and reflects on their practice. The role of the supervision is also about encouraging the process of continued professional development and learning, often exploring and discussing articles and information in the supervision session. The supervisor is also well placed to encourage the worker to think about what they do in practice and less about task and process.When we engage in this frame, as professionals we are more open to thinking about the interventions and models we are using and less about the administrative tasks involved in our role.

So what is the role of the supervisee?

Great question.

The supervisee also has a very important role to play and after all this is the reason you are having supervision – it’s all about you! So take the time to enjoy your supervision and take it seriously. The role of the supervisee is to seek guidance and direction when needed. It’s about having the opportunity to debrief and feel listened to. It is important to be prepared, think about what you would like included on the agenda prior to going into supervision. There is always a plethora of things to discuss, so there is no reason to finish before the hour is up when both supervisee and supervisor are well prepared. As this time is your time, be fully present in the supervision meeting. You may have come into supervision tired or frustrated, you may have just come out of working with a client or about to go in with a client after you have finished supervision. Ground yourself before going in as you may miss the opportunity to gain some beneficial learning or exploration. Use the resources of your supervisor as much as you can. Supervisors are a wealth of knowledge and often have a lot of experience in their practice field, so get as much out of the process as you can.

External vs Internal Supervision?

I am often asked the question of which is better, external supervision or internal supervision. The research talks a lot about both and there are pros and cons for both. The important thing is to find the ‘best’ supervisor for you. Think about what you are looking for in a supervisor! What type of personality are you looking for, a more outgoing person who will challenge and stimulate your thinking, a quieter supervisor that will be wonderfully analytical and reflective or someone who has all of these attributes. What qualities and skills are you looking for in a supervisor? What do you expect from a supervisor? One of the most important things to remember if you have an external supervisor is they are aware of the objectives and aims of your organisation as they become a partner in the process. Whilst they are external and are fully objective, high quality supervision will be the end result when your supervisor is supportive of the work your organisation does and understands it well. Another difference I see with having internal vs external supervision is that many supervisors that provide supervision within an organisation are extremely busy professionals and supervision is often what we call ‘on the run’ or more administrative in nature and outcome. High quality supervision ensures that your supervisor is using a model that brings a balance to the supervision discussion and whilst has some focus on task and process, will focus on other areas of your practice and role as well. We work with over 30 professionals every month and we travel into the workplace for many of these professionals to conduct supervision. We are a partner to the organisational environment and get to know the organisation and internal supervisor so they feel comfortable with us as external supervisors knowing their staff are receiving high quality supervision and it is in line with the organisations values and mission.

The key messages are:

• high quality supervision can reduce the risk of burnout

• it provides you with quality time to discuss a range of topic areas to support you in your role

• be happy with the supervisor you have

• ensure your supervisor has a model by which to conduct supervision and you understand it as well

• evaluate your supervision regularly to ensure you are getting the best out of it that you can

• attend supervision training to further your knowledge and skills

• ensure your supervision links to the annual appraisal process

• check Amovita’s website for information on our supervision training and services we provide Reclaiming supervision is important to take care of yourself as a professional and to ensure you are providing good services and outcomes to clients

Tracey Harris BSW DipSoc MAASW (Acc) FRDP (Acc) BSZ MPhil (commenced) Amovita Consulting

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hi Tracey, thank you for this excellent blog on supervision. I must say that I could not agree more with your sentiments about the importance of good professional supervision. You have set out a very useful road map for people to follow and hopefully you will encourage everyone to take the time to build supervision into their work lives. We need some robust research to support our belief that rigourous professional supervision builds better practice and improves outcomes for clients- then perhaps we can get better support for the time and resources to make it happen on a more regular basis.Thank you again for your wonderful contribution.

    November 16, 2010
  2. Marvelous article Tracey, thank you! I really enjoyed the discussion around the benefits of external supervision.

    Looking forward to your training in the new year!

    Fiona- Training and Development Manager

    November 17, 2010
  3. Lorelle Madden #

    Thanks for the great article on supervision, and the discussion on internal vs external supervision. Something I have found with internal supervision is that the supervisor may also have another role within the organisation and this can create dual roles and “muddy” relationships within these roles. Then it can be more difficult for the supervisee to be truly honest and open with their supervisor, so some of the benefits of supervision are lost.

    I read a good book on supervision called “On Being a Supervisee – Creating Learning Partnerships” by Michael Carroll and Maria C. Gilbert (2006). It has some great ideas, models and learning about supervision in it. Well worth a read.

    December 6, 2010

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