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My first year and finding my tribe

Our executive director of standards, policy and engagement Sarah Blackmore reflects on her experiences over the last 12 months as she celebrates a year at Social Work England.

My first year and finding my tribe

1/13/2020 12:00:00 PM

To my astonishment, the first week in January, together with it being the advent of a new decade, also marked the first anniversary of my role as executive director of strategy, policy and engagement at Social Work England.

It seems like a good moment then, to reflect on the last 12 months of establishing a brand new organisation, and to think back over the past year about some of the things that are important, and some key points of learning along the way.

I remember boarding the train to Sheffield on a cold and murky January morning, feeling anxious at my decision to take a punt on something brand new and potentially very different. We have all had our experiences of workplaces with toxic cultures, and of management hierarchies where egos take precedence over staff and the organisation, but as soon as I arrived at the office, and after a long time searching, I realised I had finally found my tribe.

The opportunity to build an organisation from the ground up, coupled with the chance to develop professional and education and training standards for the profession I love, rarely comes along in anyone’s career, and it was something I couldn’t miss out on being involved with. Through my initial days and weeks, I found a group of people who were of a similar mindset, who wanted to constructively challenge institutional and traditional ways of working, and develop a culture where safety, honesty and development of staff were welcomed and embraced, and not something to be feared.

Added to that, a chief executive and a group of peers in our leadership team, all of whom are focussed on getting the best out of people, has been an eye-opening experience. It’s been amazing to see how an organisation can work in this way and the difference it can make to performance, commitment and energy, and of course, delivery. Many organisations of course will talk about and pay lipservice to how they do this, but it isn’t until you see it really being done, that you realise the profound impact it has.

We are still learning, and like anything that’s newly formed, we won’t always get it right. We are learning about each other as individuals, and as teams, and how we can work together to achieve the best results. We are still taking baby steps and there will be times when we stumble. Collectively however, we share a determination to hold our culture fast and not to let attitudes and behaviours slip in our busy day to day working environments.

There are also many parallels between our approach and the social work profession which I hope people can see. Specifically, values of unconditional positive regard, empathy, genuineness and authenticity – understanding that we bring our whole selves to work, a focus on achieving the right outcome, and not on the process. The inclusion of the voices of those who matter and whom our approach affects is paramount, whether that is one of our people, a social worker on our register, or a person with lived experience of social work.

In short, we hope to lead by example, both inside and outside of our organisation. We are committed to working with everyone who has an interest in social work, to show that when you value people, you listen to them, and make them feel safe in what they are doing, then there is little that can’t be achieved.

I am looking forward to an incredible year ahead, and already to what I will have learnt by this time next year!