‘a collaborative space of support, self-discovery and professional development…’

Peter Hawkins (2012)

In several professions, we do not ‘look after’ our most valuable, and dare I say expensive, human resource.  Senior leaders under tremendous pressure are left to cope on their own. Some can. Some can but at a great expense to themselves and maybe colleagues they interreact with. Some leave the profession.

Is a sink or swim attitude wise or effective for an organisation?

So, what can we do?  Find a person to support the senior leader.  In schools, I heard people say speak to the Chair of Governors; in charities the Chair of the Trustees; across many industrial sectors  leaders are recommended to speak to whoever is their line manager; the next person in the chain.  Chair of the Board of Directors.  Really!

This is crazy in my mind.  Would you tell the person above you in the system that you are having difficulty?  They will be placing an advertisement for your job as the door is closing when you leave their room.  Okay, not always but…

Having worked and had knowledge of other occupations I discovered the concept of supervision or clinical supervision.  This I promote  in my professional world as Non-Managerial Individual or Group Supervision.  In this arrangement  you are being supported by someone or group of colleagues who have no managerial responsibility for you except as a fellow professional (and as a human).

The function of Non-Managerial Group Supervision

The immediate background of what is known as supervision in the human services lie in the development of social care, youth work and casework sphere.

This process of being linked to fellow practitioners which gives rise to learning through sharing and allows the members of the group to gain knowledge, skills, experience, and support. It also enables them to enter a particular ‘community of practice’. By spending time with fellow practitioners, by ‘looking over each other’s shoulders’, taking part in discussions about the routines and practices and exploring our work, we become full members of this shared community of practice; the supervision group.  This is a case study centred approach.

In one model of supervision Proctor (1986) identifies three primary functions of supervision in the following terms:

  1. Administrative (normative); – the promotion and maintenance of good standards of work, co-ordination of practice with policies of administration, the assurance of an efficient and smooth-running organisation. The primary goal is concerned with the correct, effective and appropriate implementation of policies and procedures.
  2. Educational (formative); – the educational development of each individual colleague within the group. The primary goal is to dispel ignorance and upgrade skill. The classic process involved with this task is to encourage reflection on, and exploration of the work. Supervisees may be helped to:
    1. Understand their role better;
    2. Become more aware of their own reactions and responses;
    3. Understand the dynamics of how they and their roles are interacting;
    4. Look at how they lead and the consequences of their leadership;
    5. Explore other ways of working.
  1. Supportive (restorative); – the maintenance of harmonious working relationships, the cultivation of  esprit de corps. The sharing of the pressures of the role. The primary goal is to improve morale and job satisfaction of members of the group.

The above three functions are interlinked. They flow one into another. If one element is removed then the process becomes potentially less satisfying to all parties – and less effective. Supervision is about performance and learning.
During a session colleagues may explore incidents and situations and seeing how they could be handled in different ways.
The supervision seeks to prevent the development of potentially stressful situations, removes the colleagues from stress, reduces stress impinging on the colleague, and helps them to adjust to stress.
The Supervisor /Coach is available, approachable and communicates confidence in the group, provides perspective, excuses failure when appropriate, sanctions and shares responsibility for different decisions, provides opportunities for independent functioning and for probable success in task achievement.

Putting the functions together

Primary purpose of Non-Managerial Group Supervision:

  1. To develop understanding and skills related to the work
  2. To receive information and another perspective concerning one’s work from colleagues
  3. To receive both content and process feedback from colleagues
  4. To be validated and supported both as a person and as a leader by colleagues
  5. To ensure that as a person and as a senior leader one is not left to carry unnecessarily difficulties, problems, and projections alone
  6. To have space to explore and express personal distress, re-stimulation, transference or counter-transference that may be brought up by the work
  7. To plan and utilise one’s personal and professional resources better
  8. To be pro-active rather than re-active
  9. To ensure quality of each other’s work


Being part of a community of practice.
We may have our individual ideas, but as members of a community of practice we need also to consider the views of others. This gives each member of the group an opportunity to reassess their practice.

We develop a collective or shared wisdom.

As a member of a specific community of practice, we have a duty to consider the appropriate standards and codes, of that profession.  From this the Group`s authority comes from our membership of the community of practice.  This is ameliorated through a set of shared understandings concerning what constitutes ‘good practice’. In other words, at certain points in the supervision process the group may be required to represent what constitutes acceptable behaviour or good practice within the professional sphere.

The supervisor/coach must not slip into a ‘telling’ mode within the supervision framework. The approach is recommended as following:

  1. Supervision is a space for the supervisee to explore their practice, to build theory, attend to feelings and values, and to examine how they may act.
  2. The Supervisor/coach should only switch into a more instructional mode where they are reasonably certain that the supervision process will be enhanced by their doing so.
  3. Such ‘instructional interludes’ should remain interludes i.e. they should as far as is possible be brief and oriented to resuming exploration.

The key idea underlying this is that no one should act to undermine supervisees’ ability and commitment to take responsibility for exploring their practice.

This is similar to the tensions we find in the roles of Coach or Mentor

Ground Rules established by the groups

Each group will establish its own ground rules such as:

  1. Established boundaries of confidentiality within the group
  2. Never belittling colleagues.
  3. Give commitment to two hours and regular attendance.
  4. Give everyone space and time.
  5. All take responsibility to present issues.

Group supervision in practice

  1. Up to five leaders meet regularly at a neutral venue six times a year for two/three hours.
  2. The Supervisor/Coach will facilitate the meeting.
  3. Each leader will check in with a general situation comment.

Two or three colleagues present a specific real case study or “issue” for all to respond to and further explore.

Who is it for?
Any senior leader – new and experienced if they want to develop.  It is not a deficit model; it’s a positive decision to attend – a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) opportunity.

After a year, a full evaluation will be conducted to see if the participants feel it has been beneficial and developmental to them. The process can/may evolve to meet the groups needs.

In conclusion
In simple language we have a groups of leading professionals across the country that are under great strain.  The support available for them is patchy in provision and quality. in some spheres non existent.

This proposal is a positive developmental and psychological development for our fellow leaders/colleague.  It is not a support group for failing colleagues – quite the reverse it’s an opportunity to further improve as a professional.

To know more about setting up a group, get in touch via the form below..