I was engaged in a discussion with a colleague a few weeks ago about staff training, supervision and leadership. During the course of this conversation one of my colleagues asserted that the ability to be a good supervisor is due to innate qualities in an individual and could not be taught. The idea was that "you either have it or you don't," when it comes to supervisor and leadership skills. This idea really struck a nerve with me and I found myself adamant in the defense of the view that supervision represents a large range of skills and strategies that can be taught, learned and developed within an individual.
A supervisor can have many roles at any given position. In my line of work supervisors can be seen to work in three broad areas:
1. Staff Management Development
2. Team Management
3. Administrative Duties
Of the above listed three areas, I suspect that the first two are typically seen as the areas in which a supervisor either "gets it or doesn't," and I will be addressing the areas of staff and team management below.
Team management can include fostering team cohesiveness and collaboration, group learning and sharing of resources/ideas among team members. A supervisor plays many key roles that can influence a positive team culture that exhibits these qualities such as group facilitator, community organizer and group director. Working with groups is a complicated matter and much has been written on this subject. There are many learned skills that can help a supervisor become effective in team management such as use of agendas and other tools, identifying and using staff talents, facilitating discussions, and group educational strategies. Wagner and Ingersoll (2013) have written a book "Motivational Interviewing in Groups" that reviews much of the literature on facilitating groups and introduces some recent research on using MI in group facilitation. Many of these same skills listed in this book are also effective in managing a team of professionals. I will be writing a future blog entry on the use of MI in groups that relies heavily on concepts discussed in this book.
Some components of managing staff can include developing individual staff's clinical abilities, supporting the staff's growth within the company and correcting problematic behaviors. To accomplish these staff management goals, a supervisor may offer training, one on one coaching, or disciplinary actions. A good supervisor will develop an effective skill set and approach in these tasks that work for both the staff members and the supervisor. Individual tactics and skills involved in training, coaching and discipline can be taught. Often supervisors are trained in these areas as they are written in agency policy and procedure. In addition there are many typically unspoken areas that supervisors must develop in order to be effective in implementing these supervisory tasks.
Perhaps one of the reasons that some believe that "you either have it or you don't" when it comes to the supervisory skill set is that these more elusive areas of supervisory skills are often overlooked when training supervisors. As an MI enthusiast, I find it useful to use the four processes of MI as a template for thinking about the supervisory skill set. Below I have outlined the "four processes of effective supervision" as a way to conceptualize the roles and skills needed to become a good supervisor. It is my belief that just as these skills are taught to clinicians through MI, these skills can be taught to supervisors. If implemented correctly the supervisor will not only be effective in achieving the goal of staff management, but will also model and normalize MI strategies with clinical staff.
Relationship: Supervisors must establish working relationships with staff in order to be effective. Staff need to trust the supervisor to give and receive feedback, clients count on a trusting relationship with supervisors to have their voices heard and the supervisor must maintain a strong relationship with the agency in order to maintain fidelity to the agency mission. Relationship skills are taught and practiced. In MI, we focus on engagement and avoiding "traps" in the relationship building process, we know that the engagement process can take time and is in constant need of reevaluation.
Purpose: Supervisors need to understand and be able to communicate their role to others, and this role may be different depending on the staff member, client or colleague. Both staff and supervisors need to understand what purpose the supervisor serves and how to effectively use the supervisor-staff relationship to accomplish goals such as staff development. In MI we work to have a flexible direction towards a purpose and practitioners learns skills such as agenda setting to help develop a focus of a given interaction.
Communication: Supervisors are nothing if not communicators. Often supervisors are called to communicate agency changes to staff, other times supervisors help staff communicate with clients, and supervisors are called upon to regularly provide staff with feedback regarding their clinical and professional performance. Communication is a skill that can be taught. In MI we use OARS as communication skills to elicit from the client, these skills do not come naturally and must be practiced.
Direction: Supervisors are called upon to give direction nearly every day. Staff often call to consult on clinical decisions, clients may call supervisors with a grievance and the agency (hopefully) frequently seeks to solicit feedback and suggestions from the supervisor. Implementing an effective directional approach is a skill. In MI, we know that there is a spectrum of following-guiding-directing in terms of direction. Supervisors, like clinicians can fall on all points of this spectrum in terms of their natural directing style. The development of an effective directional style requires introspection, practice and feedback.
These four processes and the associated skills can come across as effortless and natural when implemented correctly, but there is no doubt that the skillful supervisor has had a lot of practice. The fact that the supervisory role is composed of learnable and teachable skills can even be elusive to the supervisor themselves, they may have not thought deeply about how they do what they do "I just do it." Just as some MI practitioners find it more or less natural to implement reflections, supervisors may start at differing proficiency levels when learning the skills required of their role. It is my belief that with few exceptions these skills can be taught and a good supervisor can be developed through trainings, mentorship and skillful guidance. Just as with MI, all that is required from the learner is an eagerness to learn, a beginner's mind and practice.
What are your thoughts on this? Please comment below!
Jesse Jonesberg (Berg) is a mental health professional, field instructor, trainer, and MINT member. He is passionate about issues of mental health, cultural humility, compassion, and motivational interviewing.
Jesse Jonesberg (Berg) is a member of the MINT network and active member of the MINT IDAC.
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