Strengths based leadership


I am writing this blog having recently taken up the role of chair of the ADCS Yorkshire and Humber region.

My appointment prompted me to reflect upon the role of the Association, that of a director of children’s services (DCS) and the wider environment in which we all operate.

In January I opened the eighth Yorkshire and Humber sector-led challenge event. It was clear that new and aspiring leaders were bringing fresh thinking perfectly blended with a wealth of experience gained within the context of the current landscape.

The event demonstrated a level playing field where experience, knowledge and skills from all the local authorities contributed to a collaborative approach to improvement. Still, colleagues can find themselves at the wrong end of an Ofsted judgment and having to embark on an intervention and improvement journey.

To interpret from Tom Rath’s Strengthsfinder, as strategic leaders we must ‘muse the complexity and define simplicity to achieve our goals’.

Many colleagues have astutely articulated an ambition to reimagine the future, recognising that as systems leaders we must work tirelessly if we are to reach those aims articulated in 2017 of developing a country that works for all children.

We face many challenges in the sector and we are rightly held to account. Listening to the BBC Radio 4’s “Cradle to Care” it made me reflect on how we must find the right balance to enable children to stay with their families, their schools and their communities by making investments in the things which work from a perspective of prevention. Unfortunately, a decade of funding cuts means that this is not always possible, however, we must build resilience within children, families, communities and the whole children’s workforce. Relevant partners must come to the fore in a whole system approach too.

To do this we must reduce anxiety and uncertainty within the system in the widest terms, building confidence while continually challenging ourselves against the principles we operate within – the Children Act 1989 and beyond - where the lived experience of the child is what matters.

The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) last year published a briefing Leadership in Strengths-based Social Care. Whilst it has an adult social care focus, the key messages apply to children’s social care also. It states that “leadership should encourage a positive attitude to risk and empower the workforce to take control and ownership over the provision of social care support in order to facilitate innovation and creativity”, in stating this the report brings us back to developing a no-blame culture.

From what I have seen through my experiences as a DCS, a member of ADCS, of having spent my career in the sector and now as a regional chair, a strengths based approach to leadership reaps huge benefits and can be achieved with an environment of “high challenge - high support”.

We don’t often get to choose what we do in a heavily regulated environment, but we do get a choice about how we lead at every level and across the whole sector.

Mick Gibbs is director of children and community resilience, North Lincolnshire Council. This blog was first published on the ADCS website

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