Most child protective services (CPS) supervisors are promoted from within the agency. This is natural and proper professional development, but it often leads to a unique set of challenges. Unfortunately, there is little preparation, training, guidance, or support provided to new supervisors, and they quickly begin to feel inadequate, confused, and overwhelmed.
- Some try to compensate for a lack of preparation and training by emulating past supervisors who they admired. Others initially guide themselves by simply avoiding the conduct of past supervisors they disliked. Neither solution leads to authentic leadership, and the new supervisor quickly begins to flounder.
- Often a new supervisor will try to maintain a peer relationship with his/her former colleagues.This immediately leads to role conflict. The staff expects leadership in the supervisory role, not just another person to "share the load." Failure to exercise leadership creates insecurity among the staff.
- On the other hand, new supervisors who feel uncomfortable in close relationships with the caseworkers they now oversee may rely excessively on the formal authority of their role. This leads to confusion and distrust among the staff because they feel that their recent peer is "lording it over them" and "acting high and mighty".
- Caseworkers promoted to supervisor are usually excellent practitioners. Consequently, some new supervisors have difficulty making the shift from doing the work to empowering others to do it.
- Finally, new supervisors are suddenly part of management. Promoted caseworkers tend to align themselves with their recent peers, however, and they lose both the trust of administration and the respect of their caseworkers.
When a caseworker is promoted to supervisor from another unit emotional problems crop up.
- The staff questions whether the new supervisor really understands the CPS mission. They usually have more experience in the program than the new supervisor, and they feel vulnerable because of the change in management.
- How do others within the unit who applied for the same position react to the new supervisor? They usually feel resentment, anger, and insecurity.
- Many times, older and more experienced caseworkers resent a new younger supervisor who was selected because he/she had more formal education.
- If the unit's previous supervisor was well liked, a new supervisor will be held to an unrealistically high standard that can become an impossible burden to bear.
- If the predecessor was not well liked, a new supervisor is usually greeted with an atmosphere of mistrust.
AVOIDING THE PITFALLS
A little known study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services about ten years ago found that the emotional problems facing supervisors promoted within a unit, as well as those brought in from outside a unit, cannot be avoided.
Rather, the newly minted supervisor must RISE ABOVE the problem by:
- Being fiercely committed to the goals of the organization he/she is about to lead.
- Learning to communicate clearly and with conviction.
- Focusing on the strengths of his/her new staff of caseworkers.
- Always seeking input from the caseworkers themselves.
- Recognizing the needs of others first.
- Always being honest, sincere, and truthful.
Simple, and perhaps obvious, but pretty sound advice if you ask me.