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6 Apr 2021

Supervision models

Supervision models

NQSW supervision resource 10

A variety of models have commonly been discussed that help explain the interaction at play between stakeholders and pay attention to the different functions of supervision. Some key theories inform current practice in supervision that you may wish to explore or revisit.

Supervision policies often refer to a three or four-function model of supervision. Morrison (2010) identified management, professional, and developmental aspects and added the role of mediation in recognition of the role of supervisors. He saw supervisors as the main link between frontline workers and management structures. 

These multiple dynamics of supervision are set out by Kettle (2015), who highlights that a “task-focused approach fails to take account of the interaction between these functions,” or to “situate the dynamics of the supervisory process within the wider organisational or inter-agency context”.

Proctor (2008) advocates a three-part supervision model that has been influential, and these terms are often discussed in wider literature including the very helpful SSSC Supervision Learning Resource (SSSC, 2016).

The key domains are shown in the table below.

Normative  Ensures that staff work within a safe framework for practice   Maintain trust and professional standards   Exploring options within the supervision session
FormativeThe learning function   Sharing knowledge and skills and experiences   Problem solving and skills development   Assist with understanding the people who use services better   Explore alternative ways of working  
Restorative  Support for personal/professional development   Building morale and confidence   Ensure staff function within a safe framework for practice   Maintaining their professional standards  

Proctor (2008)

Increasingly we are seeing that a learning organisation will use multiple methods to achieve staff development rather than expecting everything to be provided by a line manager in 1:1 supervision (Tsui, 2017). This may incorporate peer and group approaches, mentorship as well as consultation and coaching. Peer group work is explored in the training outline for NQSWs. The supervisor training sessions included on this website has a focus on 1:1 models that help to take account of multiple needs.

There is more information on supervision models and a suggested learning exercise below.

We will explore a few more that might give breadth to your supervision journey and will inform models in further sections that you might want to adopt partially or wholly in your practice and organisation.

Heron (2001) set out a model which helps us think more about the variety of interventions that might happen in supervision. Both authoritative and facilitative interventions are needed but some of the facilitative needs may also be achieved in peer-group work (particularly cathartic and catalytic interventions).

Authoritative interventions
Prescriptive – Explicitly direct the NQSW by giving advice and direction
Informative – Provide information to instruct and guide the NQSW
Confronting – Challenge the NQSW’s behaviour or attitude
Facilitative interventions
Cathartic – Helping the NQSW to express/overcome thoughts or emotions that they have not previously confronted
Catalytic – Help the NQSW reflect, discover and learn for themselves. Move toward self-reflection, self-direction and self-awareness
Supportive – Build up the confidence of the NQSW by focusing on their competence, qualities and achievements

Heron (2001)

Developmental models

There are several developmental models which are helpful when thinking about the domains of motivation, autonomy and awareness in supervision.

As with all models it aids our thinking rather than having a linear or universal application. Factors including career history, such as a prior experience of the care sector, may impact our developmental journey.

The categories set out in the table below are adapted from a model advanced by Stoltenberg and McNeill (2010).

Level 1 self-centred (Can I make it in this work?)
We may be focused on getting it right and the feeling of ongoing assessment or may be frustrated by not being able to get on with it after intense assessments and scrutiny in successive placements.
We may be feeling overwhelmed at times by greater caseloads and conflicted about doing a ‘good enough job’ rather than a comprehensive one.
The supervisor provides a safe and structured container with regular positive feedback.
Level 2 Client-centred (Can I help this client make it?)
The supervisor may be less structured and reduce direct advice, legislation and policy guidance.
Support is offered for occasional swings between feeling skilled and not able to cope with the role and needing to negotiate or ask for help.
As the supervisory alliance grows it is seen more as support for practice than continuous assessment by the organisation.
Level 3 Process-centred (How are we relating together?)
Supervision becomes a joint task, more co-productive and with more power balance.
Supervisees are less likely to use individual theory or prescribed forms of assessment and intervention as they become more comfortable with using their strengths and different range of styles in client work.
They become more self-supervising of casework and their overall development
Level 4 Process-in-context centred (How do processes interpenetrate?)
As a supervisee’s skills become more refined they become integrated with the worker’s effective use of self.
They come knowing how they want to use the session and the supervisor’s strengths.
The supervisee may be a supervisor or practice teacher themselves by this point.  

adapted from Stoltenberg and McNeill (2010)

Reflective questions

  • Of the Heron categories set out above note which interventions you feel are most helpful and which you may be resistant to.
  • How could the alliance with your supervisor progress to asking for a balance of these interventions including ones you may find difficult?
  • Think of different situations over the last month, did you need or desire different supports for them (e.g. direct advice, questions, encouragement)?
  • What situations required which kind of support?

Overview of supervision for NQSWs

Next NQSW supervision resource

Contact information

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