Definition of supervision

Supervision is a formal engagement between a more senior, appropriately qualified and experienced social worker and a more junior social worker where the latter can review and reflect on their work (Ford & Jones, 1987)

Within the social work profession, supervision is traditionally a process in which a more experienced social worker supports and provides a space for a supervisee to reflect on their practice (Kadushin, 2014).  Morrison and Wannacot (2010: 1) further asserts that supervision is an integral element of social work practices.

 Furthermore, the Department of Social Development (DSD) and the South African Council of Social Services Professions (SACSSP), ( 2012: 8) define supervision of social workers as an interactive process in a positive non-discriminatory relationship, based on distinct theories, models and perspectives of supervision entailing administrative, supportive and educational functions.  Supervision is part of the social work profession. 

Defining the profession of social work

The international association for social work defines the profession as follows: Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing. 

Supervision is thus an inherent part of the social work profession as it fosters quality, efficient service to clients.  

Characteristics of an effective supervisor    

Supervision contributes towards ensuring that a supervisee functions effective and efficiently within an organization (Du Plooy, 2011: 14).  A social work supervisor is responsible for the ethics applied by social workers within their practice and the ultimate work done by them (National Department of Social Development, 2012: 8).  

Munson (1993) identified the following characteristics: a) Reading:  the supervisor must be up to date with relevant literature to be able to guide and advise the supervisee appropriately. b) Writing: the supervisor role models to the supervisee how to maintain good records, compile comprehensive reports, draft proposals and write presentations. c) Watching: the supervisor needs to have excellent observation beyond what is reported by the supervisee. d) Verbal communication: clear communication should be maintained by supervisor to his/her supervisee.


Christian & Hannah (1983:98) identified four characteristics of effective supervision. These characteristics have not changed, but are still applicable in the implementation of good supervisory practice. The characteristics are:

Productivity - monitoring and directing the activities of staff to ensure a quantity of output consistent with work performance standards and the goals and objectives of the organization.

Quality control - supervisor's actions to ensure that staff performance results in a quality of service consistent with client need, legal policy, social work guidelines and organizational policy and procedure.

Morale - actions of the supervisor to promote the positive morale and job satisfaction of the social workers.

Education - supervisor's actions for improving his own job-related knowledge, skills and personal adjustment as well as that of the social workers for whom he is responsible.

In theory the concepts of social work supervision and social work supervisor indicate a high level of responsibility, skills, techniques and knowledge which are to be implemented and passed on to the social workers. In the practical situation, the realities of the circumstances in which the supervisor is expected to function, such as lack of supervisory training and lack of support, lead him to perform in a stress related manner which results in the social workers not receiving the expected support and guidance (Engelbrecht, 2014).

Effective: Effective has bearing on the execution of the correct actions and activities, to obtain the correct information and to make the right decisions. The supervisor is effective when the activities and behavior that he reveals, contribute to achieving his personal goals as well as the goals of the organization

Efficient: Efficient has reference to the correct execution of activities in order to achieve the planned goal through the best methods and procedures and in a cost-effective manner. A service is efficient when it is a manifestation of economic and appropriate usage of resources without giving up on quality. (Peiser, 1988:19)

1. Maintain an overall knowledge of the operation.

2. Understand your subordinates.

3. Be considerate, but firm and fair in all personnel dealings.

4. Think things out, and make sound decisions in a reasonable time span.

5. Take enough interest in your people to be genuinely concerned about them, but don't get over involved to the point where it will affect your judgment.

6. Train your subordinates so as to prepare them for their next promotion, even if it is to your job.

Peiser (1988:19) had identified six steps to ineffective supervision such as depreciated supervision, performed ineffective client conceptualization and treatment, and weakened the supervisory relationship. Ineffective supervision is characteristic by the mobility of management, supervisors and social workers to control negative situations in the work environment resulting into destruction of services and degeneration of moral values.

Below are common barriers to the delivery of effective supervision

Common barriers to the delivery of effective supervision can include the following: Dumping saving up criticisms and discussing them all at once, Unplanned, rushed agenda, and unfocussed sessions, Inadequate preparation by supervisor or supervisee, Unclear or unrealistic goals for staff members, telling rather than listening, failure to offer constructive commentary on performance, misuse of power, e.g. bullying, harassment, victimization, allowing interruptions, running out of time, poor recording of supervision, emotional issues unaddressed.


Effective supervision mirrors the management functioning on a somewhat restricted level. Rather than being involved with the whole organization, supervision oversees non-management people exclusively. Thus a supervisor works with non-management employees, planning, organizing, directing, and controlling their efforts to meet the objectives of the organization. Effective supervision provides higher management with the input and output that relate it to the work force on a day-to-day, continuing basis. Effective supervision not only disseminates information as a basis for action; it also gathers data for the feedback so essential in measuring results.


Effective supervision is needed in the work environment especially to the non-governmental organization where the employees are on their own without undergoing proper training. The Social Worker with a firm experience should have a good personality and not taking side with his/her employees. A supervisor who is effective work in collaboration with his/her subordinates and he/she listen to their ideas. A supervisor who maintain a democratic way of doing things, we call her/him a good leader and will take the organization to the next step in terms of delivering services to communities on the grassroots level and in doing so, the clients at the grassroots level will become self-reliant rather than depending on the social workers for the rest of their lives.









Christians, C. 2005. Ethics and Politics in Qualitative Research. In: Denzin, N & Lincoln, L. (eds.) The Sage handbook of qualitative research. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Department of Social Development. 2006. Draft Recruitment and retention strategy for social workers. Pretoria: National Department of Social Development. 

Department of Social Development (DSD) & South African Council for Social Service Professions (SACSSP). 2012. Supervision framework for the social work profession in South Africa. Pretoria: National Department of Social Development. 

Du Plooy, A.A. 2011. The functions of social work supervision in the department of health and social development Ekurhuleni region. Unpublished MA Thesis. Johannesburg: University of Johannesburg.

Engelbrecht, L.K. (ed.) 2014. Management and supervision of social workers: Issues and challenges within a social development paradigm. Andover: Cengage Learning EMEA Limited.