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What Leadership and Professional Development Have in Common
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Message From The Executive Director

What Leadership and Professional Development Have in Common
Implications for Mentorship and Supervision in Organizations that Employ Social Workers, for Schools of Social Work and for NASW-NYC

Steps that can be taken now

In the past four years, NASW-NYC has honored 49 emerging social work leaders. We can see from the review of the nominations by the selection committee that these individuals really do stand out. Nevertheless, we have been carrying the question as to whether every social worker, by virtue of the work we do everyday, is a leader of some sort.

This question was behind a discussion that NASW-NYC staff had with five emerging leaders recently. What came up revealed a great deal about the role of supervisors and mentors. This has significant implications for when this support is available and when it is not. Here are highlights of what was shared:

1. Becoming clear about where one fits within the profession and being part of the profession emerges out of supervision and mentorship.

2. Leadership is a skill learned from supervisors. Social workers need to be able to claim their spot with others, for example, in interdisciplinary collaboration.

3. Good mentors can help you in changing the direction of your career, applying for a new job, doing public speaking, or publishing.

4. Leadership breeds leadership, and compassion breeds compassion. It is essential for the more senior generation to infuse their knowledge into the next generation. Holding back on sharing knowledge is an opportunity lost.

5. Inspiration emerges out of a sharing of similar experiences, including when mistakes have been are made or circumstances are very difficult or threatening.

6. When facing cuts in programming, in the face of anxiety on the job and struggling on the ground, it is essential to be able to give voice and feedback to upper management. How this is accommodated can facilitate further development; when absent, it can suppress it.

When asked what makes leadership difficult, participants said that we have to look at ourselves. The following points were raised in relationship to this:

• We need to speak up about clients even when it might ruffle feathers.
• There needs to be a willingness to put oneself on the line.
• We need to accept being uncomfortable and to have audacity.
• We need to know the culture of our organizations; to build relationships and to negotiate.
• We must be in constant dialogue with others.
• We need to search for opportunities.
• We need to face the prospect of losing our job.
• These are all everyday challenges.

The discussion we had on leadership brought the participants into what felt like a deep place of connection, within themselves and with each other. What emerged was a shared agreement that a great deal more is needed in the field to support new professionals.

Out of this concern emerged the following suggestions for NASW, and they are applicable to employers as well as schools of social work:
1. Be a catalyst to spur greater commitment and support for leadership development in all social workers.

2. To make it through these challenging times, there needs to be a re-dedication to the profession and one’s self as a professional. “We have to re-do our vows” to being social workers.

3. We all need to recognize when there is an emotional incongruence that relates to the support not being there.

4. What goes well needs to be highlighted

5. Leaders need to share their stories, their paths (for example, CEOs), so new social workers can see where they might be down the road.

6. We need to deepen the discussion, have honest conversations.

An Exemplary Effort

At the end of the meeting, one social worker shared what is happening in her department at a medical center. The social work department has developed strategic goals on visibility, leadership and professional identity. This reflects an effort of the entire department. A committee has been established to be responsible for organizing and planning in order to operationalized their commitment to these issues. A forum is one of the activities being carried out.

Can anything be replicated from the example of this department?

NASW-NYC is itself a place to find mentoring relationships. It is where social workers connect. Be a member, encourage others to belong, and share in how we can support each other.

Please feel free to distribute this column within your organization if you think it will help stimulate discussion, and let us know what you think. I can be reached at



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