Strengths-based Supervision

The Florida Institute for Child Welfare (Institute) partnered with the Department of Children and Families to host Dr. Cynthia Lietz, Vice Dean of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions at Arizona State University. Dr. Lietz delivered the Strengths-based Supervision (SBS) model to a group of supervisors in the SunCoast region of Florida. The SBS model promotes intentionality in clinical supervision to enhance child welfare practice.


Dr. Lietz identifies four pillars to her SBS training model:

1. Fulfilling Three Functions of Supervision

There are three Functions of Supervision outlined in Dr. Lietz’s training: Administrative, Educational, and Support. Within the Administrative Function, supervisors monitor the work of their direct reports to ensure fidelity of child welfare practice. Supervisors are responsible for the work of their direct reports and should exert their authority to create a “stop and check” behavior among their direct reports. “Courageous Conversations” are also a critical aspect of the administrative function as supervisors need to balance between too lax and micro-managing supervision by providing on-going feedback and “growing up” staff through mentorship. Finally, supervisors fulfill their administrative function by evaluating the work of their direct reports, which involves noticing and encouraging best practice.

Within the Educational Function, supervisors should impart knowledge and help develop the critical thinking and analytical skills of their direct reports. This is best accomplished through clinical supervision. Supervision that is clinical tends to be more discussion oriented, focuses on case characteristics, and prompts critical thinking. These clinical supervision sessions lead to knowledge transfer between the supervisor and direct report, where supervisors provide less monitoring and more mentoring as direct reports become more experienced in child welfare practice. It is through the educational function that frontline child welfare workers can experience exponential growth as a professional.

The final function, Support Function, is a difficult component of supervision but just as critical as the administrative and educational functions. Staff who perceive to be supported by their supervisors may have fewer adverse vicarious trauma effects, which can increase retention of frontline workers. Research notes that the type and level of supervision is not universally defined, but that when a direct report—by their own definition, feels supported, job satisfaction increases and their intention to leave decreases.


2. Parallel Florida’s Practice Model/Family-Centered Practice

The parallel process can be a tricky concept, however, in general it can be described as mirrored behaviors. By increasing the intentionality of supervision, parallel processes can influence the engagement between the frontline staff and their families. Dr. Lietz notes that supervisors modeling strength-based supervision with direct reports can have a positive impact on those direct reports to then mirror the behavior and engage with their families using a strengths-based approach.


3. Provide Crisis and In-Depth Supervision

Providing both crisis and in-depth supervision is important for well-rounded and successful supervision. Crisis supervision is more task centered and is critical in times when direct reports need quick answers or urgent decisions need to be made. However, there are drawbacks to using only “crisis-oriented” supervision. Dr. Lietz noted that crisis-only supervision can lead to dependency among direct reports on the authority and decision-making power of their supervisors. This can result in direct reports failing to utilize their own critical thinking skills and expertise about a case. Without in-depth supervision key case details can be missed and opportunities for uncorrected mistakes arise. In-depth supervision, or reflective supervision, prompts critical thinking of direct reports, provides a space for introspective case reviews, which fosters competence. In-depth supervision also models family-centered practice and the practice model.


4. Integrate Individual and Group Supervision

Individual and group supervision modalities offer different benefits for direct reports. Both foster clinical supervisory discussion and both enhance clinical supervision. Individual supervision, which is the most common supervision, is important to the relationship between the supervisor and direct report and should use both task-centered and reflective supervision strategically. Group supervision is not as common and requires the supervisor to facilitate the group into deep discussion and dialog. If the group supervision is approached more of as a meeting, the benefits of the group supervision are lost.


Strengths-Based Supervision is not a completely new way of engaging in supervision, it provides language and labels to the work already being done. Making “the best use of your time with your direct reports [and increasing] the quality not the quantity” of supervision is a driving sentiment of the SBS model. “The practice of Leadership is not the same as the exercise of power…True leadership only exists if people follow when they have the freedom not to.” – James MacGregor Burns and called for supervisors to “inspire our direct reports to follow our lead.” To learn more about the Strengths-Based Supervision Model, please visit:


Journal Article Summaries

The Institute has published several article summaries on Strengths-based Supervision

Please click here for access.

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