There is an increasing suggestion that adult social care leadership should take a more collaborative approach, moving away from traditional power structures, instead sharing control with those who use the services, those delivering care and those trying to shape the future of local care and support.
This strategy enables managers to take into account the vital input which users and carers can make to service design and delivery, going well beyond just feeding back their views on their own care and support. Such an approach allows these individuals to directly influence the range and availability of support options available as their insights help leaders understand what needs to change for the quality of services to improve.
It is also recommended that leaders share responsibilities and ideas with partner agencies such as health, housing, leisure and transport, as well as with local people and communities. In doing so, leaders can continuously develop and learn, drawing knowledge, inspiration and example from them.
However, it must be remembered that a user’s experience is very rarely limited to just one service – people have multiple and changing needs, shifting between say, social care, health and housing issues. Good leaders need to recognise this and ensure that accessing a range of services is as easy as possible, regardless of how regularly an individual moves between different organisations.
For example, an older person may be receiving care at home but needs to have hospital treatment for a short period before being safely returning home – this process needs to be seamless, ensuring that the individual not only receives the appropriate community health support throughout, but also has their care quickly reinstated when they are back home.
Therefore, whilst collaborative leadership is a great premise, it also presents a key challenge for leaders. For a start, such a leadership style of course requires a real desire to listen and act upon the experiences shared by those requiring care and support. All too often, these views and opinions are heard, but such information remains undervalued with nothing coming from it.
Leadership success requires the will, insight and confidence to harness the contributions of local individuals and agencies to a shared purpose. It is imperative then that leaders treat others respectfully and value their contributions if a collaborative approach is to work. This is particularly important in adult social care, when it comes to the relationship between statutory commissioners and providers – the majority of which are small businesses in the independent sector.
Collaborative leadership, with different systems and services working together, will really benefit service users and carers. Engaging everyone involved in the design and delivery of care and support can have a huge impact on the first hand experiences of everyday users of care. Today’s leaders will need to be prepared to drive forward integrated approaches in the future.