Leadership is everyone’s business...and it starts with me

From across the social care spectrum, more than 60 professionals accepted an invitation from the National Skills Academy for Social Care to join together at Central Hall, Westminster, not only to celebrate the launch of the Leadership Strategy for Adult Social Care, Leadership Starts with Me, but to be very much part of it in a spirit of collaboration.

Skills Academy Chair of the Board, Jo Cleary kicked off the afternoon with a warm welcome and a clear statement that not only does good leadership arise from integrity, dignity and compassion, but that it is everyone’s business. The afternoon was a seminal moment for the Skills Academy itself, not least because it was set up for the very purpose of providing a blueprint for developing high-quality leadership in both individuals and organisations:

“I’m really proud that we’ve got to this point,” Jo Cleary said, “because it was our remit when we were set up, and here we are. I genuinely feel we’re on a journey and it’s about a series of ongoing conversations where we’re striving for ‘what could be’ rather than being satisfied with ‘what is’.”

Minister of State for Care and Support, Norman Lamb, followed on with congratulations for the impressive and accessible quality of Leadership Starts with Me and an acknowledgement of how it will help develop a pipeline of new talent to deliver high quality care.

Lamb said: “Recent reports have underlined the need for values to be at the heart of social care and this strategy is based on valuing people. It took in the views of service users because this isn’t just about the care people receive, but what makes them happy.”

Before rushing back to Parliament, he restated his commitment to working with the Skills Academy going forward, and the promise to chair the Leadership Forum in May.

Skills Academy’s CEO, Debbie Sorkin then expressed her hope that Leadership Starts with Me would not just be a document, but a lived reality within organisations and similarly on the commissioning side, as a criterion for awarding contracts.

“It feels very gratifying for the Skills Academy to have achieved this on my watch. It’s what we’re here for - to drive leadership forward and make it a reality for people on the ground, and for people using services.” 

Debbie Sorkin then introduced us to facilitator Allison Trimble who tasked us – in our groups – to purposefully share our thoughts, views and ideas around the question:

If we had good leadership in Adult Social Care, how would it change the experience of service users, providers, commissioners and communities?

And by then end of the discussion, for each group to generate a catalytic question for the panel to answer.

What followed on each table was a robust, dynamic exchange and an unpicking of complexities where everyone’s input was listened to and debated with brio and passion, chewed over at length, and finally shaped into a challenging question. 

Undaunted, the panel appeared to relish the thorny questions and further comebacks. In fact, cheers were heard from tables at one point when the panel thanked challenging contributors.

Panellist and Chair of SCIE, Lord Bichard expressed his concern that as a sector we’ve become generally compliant, and said it’s “a state we must challenge because poor leaders are the compliant ones often simply defending their organisation.”

No such compliance in Central Hall as the open forum came to a close and everyone made their way upstairs for a celebratory drinks reception.

Panellist and Programme Director for the Department of Health, Deborah McKenzie thought the event a real success:

“It worked so well partly because of the wide range of people who came along - so lots of views were represented - and partly because it set the tone for how we’re going to work together. People often talk about if only the leaders and leadership would change, everything would be fine, but what the document clearly says is that it starts with me and is about each of us taking responsibility for making the change. Then we can create far better outcomes, a far better environment and be far more successful.”

Perfectly reflecting the vision and spirit of the Leadership Strategy for Adult Social Care, the launch of Leadership Starts with Me empowered sector professionals to contribute to social care leadership policy development in a refreshing atmosphere of challenging transparency.

If part of the essence of good leadership is vision, you can’t blow an uncertain trumpet. As everyone made their way home, few could doubt the certainty of the Skills Academy: the launch of Leadership Starts with Me is a clarion call to each and every one of us.

Debra Mehta
Freelance Journalist at Care Talk Magazine

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