Changing Environment: A Leadership Model for Child Welfare

Administration in Social Work, 37:401417, 2013
Copyright Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 0364-3107 print/1544-4376 online
DOI: 10.1080/03643107.2012.724362
Leadership in a Changing Environment: A Leadership
Model for Child Welfare
Freda Bernotavicz
Muskie School of Public Service, University of Southern Maine, Portland, Maine, USA
Nancy C. McDaniel and Charmaine Brittain
Butler Institute for Families, Graduate School of Social Work, University of Denver,
Denver, Colorado, USA
Nancy S. Dickinson
School of Social Work, University of Maryland, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Numerous studies have shown that a comprehensive and unifying leadership model, with an associated
defined set of leadership competencies, has largely been absent from the field of human services. In the
complex and turbulent field of child welfare, leadership skills are necessary at all levels of the agency.
The purpose of this article is to describe a leadership model specific to child welfare developed by the
National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (NCWWI) and to provide examples of how its application
in a national training and capacity-building program has led to personal leadership development and
systems change.
Keywords: education and training, leadership, leadership capacity building, leadership competencies,
leadership development, leadership model
Buffeted from without by demographic, economic, political, technological, social, cultural, and programmatic forces (Cohen & Cohen, 2000; Regehr, Chau, Leslie, & Howe, 2002) and challenged
from within to recruit and retain a competent and committed staff and maintain internal systems
(Hopkins & Hyde, 2002), child welfare agencies operate in a condition that has been described
as permanent whitewater (Vaill, 1996). In this turbulent environment, agencies need leadership
The authors wish to thank the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (NCWWI) partnersUniversity at Albany/
SUNY, University of Denver, Fordham University, University of Iowa, Michigan State University, University of Michigan,
University of Maryland, University of Southern Maine, Portland State University, and the Childrens Bureau/ACF/DHHS
whose strong collaboration made this work possible. The work for this publication was funded by the US-DHHS, ACF,
Childrens Bureau, Award #90CT0145. This article is solely the responsibility of the NCWWI and does not necessarily
represent the official views of the Childrens Bureau.
Correspondence should be addressed to Nancy C. McDaniel, Butler Institute for Families, University of Denver GSSW,
2148 S. High St., Denver, CO 80208, USA. E-mail: [email protected]
at all levels to hold the vision and operate effectively. However, as numerous studies have shown
(Preston, 2005), the human services field as a whole lacks a comprehensive and unifying leadership
model, supported by leadership competencies and promoted through opportunities for leadership
development. The purpose of this article is to describe a leadership model specific to child welfare
developed by the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (NCWWI) and to provide examples
of how its application in a national training and capacity-building program has led to personal
leadership development and systems change.
Need for Leadership Education and Training
Numerous studies (Elpers & Westhuis, 2008; Preston, 2004) have emphasized the need for leadership in human services and the disconnect between this need and the professional preparation of
managers and administrators in the field. A survey of leaders in the National Association of Social
Workers (NASW), the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), and social work education programs asked participants to assess their perception of leadership development. The authors, Rank
and Hutchison (2000), concluded, The majority of the participants expressed a sense that leadership has been an overlooked area of development within the profession (p. 499). Regehr et al.
(2002) noted that managers and supervisors in child welfare have been largely ignored in the professional literature, except from the standpoint of what they can do better to support workers, and
the authors concluded that leadership is the key to revitalizing child welfare services.
The condition of permanent whitewater (Vaill, 1996) in the child welfare field requires a
broader range of leadership and management skills than in the past. Among the most severe and
pressing work-related stressors for supervisors and managers are those of organizational change,
community conflicts, and public/media scrutiny of these external realities (Regehr et al., 2002).
In this environment, characterized by increased competition for scarce resources, heightened
performance and accountability concerns, escalating caseloads, devolution of federal authority,
privatization, and contracting, Hopkins and Hyde (2002) argue that it is no longer sufficient to
monitor an agencys internal affairs and maintain the status quo. Instead, the situation requires
strategic skills and competencies aimed at adeptly assessing and aligning an organizations internal
aspects (i.e., structure, processes, technology, culture, and staff) with its external realities. Weill
(2000) concludes that these strategic leadership skills are critical to improving service outcomes
for children and families.
Recognizing the need for an increased focus on leadership development, the Council on Social
Work Education (CSWE) implemented a Leadership Development initiative. Twenty-five opinionfinding sessions with stakeholder groups and email surveys in 2005 resulted in the finding of
nearly universal agreement that social work education has not adequately planned for leadership
development (Sheafor, 2006, Summary of Findings, para. 1). The reasons for this crevasse
(Knee & Folsom, 2012) between social work education and the leadership needs in the field have
been well documented. A major reason for the lack of leadership skills on the part of human service
managers is that the vast majority of graduate-level social work students choose clinical programs
and concentrations, with about 80% of MSW students expressing a primary interest in direct practice (Austin & Ezell, 2004). Only about 3% of MSW students select administration as an area of
specialization (Patti, 2000). A study of three MSW programs suggested that an inhospitable climate for administration might contribute to the decline in the percentage of students specializing in
administration (Ezell, Chernesky, & Healy, 2004).
Although the reasons for the crevasse are diverse, the results are that the demand for social workers formally educated in pedagogical models of managerial work far outpaces the supply (Preston,
2004). Graduates from clinical programs are unprepared for their managerial responsibilities (Mor
Barak, Travis, & Bess, 2004), and a growing number of social services agencies are hiring graduates
with degrees in public administration (MPA) or business administration (MBA) to run their agency
(Nesoff, 2007).
Preston (2004) also found, in a national survey of state-level child welfare management training programs, that interpersonal and technical skills and competencies were stressed over strategic
leadership skills, and that approximately one-third of the states had no comprehensive mandatory
management training program in place, leading to the conclusion that a substantial percentage of
frontline supervisors and mid-level managers are forced to rely on unrefined, rudimentary mental
models of management.
As a result of these issues, many managers and supervisors in child welfare bring a more microperspective into what, by definition, is a macro-oriented job, and are unlikely to have management
experience, education, or training (Hopkins & Hyde, 2002). Given their lack of formal management education and training, particularly the leadership skills necessary in a turbulent environment,
child welfare managers and supervisors need to develop a new range of knowledge and skills for
their role, focusing less on the technical skills for solving problems and more on the complex
and sometimes painful (Heifetz & Linsky, 2002) process of leading people to make adaptive
There is the need for a more coherent professional development process for child welfare
professionalsa progression of competencies from caseworker to supervisor, manager, program
manager, and agency administratorsrelevant to the changing child welfare environment. The challenge is to change an individuals self-perception from technical expert in a program area to a leader
skilled at dealing with the internal and external complexities of a changing environment.
Reaching agreement on an approach to leadership development is not a simple process. In 1997,
Chemers noted that contemporary leadership theory has been described as complex, fragmented,
and contradictory, making its study frustrating for the scholar and its application difficult for the
practitioner. Ten years later, in a special issue of the American Psychologist on leadership, Hackman
and Wageman (2007) concluded that, despite all of the research, there are no generally accepted definitions of what leadership is, no dominant paradigms for studying it, and little agreement about the
best strategies for developing and exercising it. In the same issue, Sternberg (2007) provides a listing
of validated models of leadership, including Attributes, Behavioral Theories, and Contingency models, and Transformational and Situational approaches. Many of these, including Theory XTheory
Y, Behavioral, Situational Leadership, Transformational Leadership, and Learning Organizations,
are the leadership theories most commonly applied in social work settings (Wilson & Lau,
Given the richness and ambiguity of the leadership field, and its critical importance for systems change, the challenge is to identify areas of consensus and to develop models that provide
a synthesis of the most promising approaches and that can act as a comprehensive and unifying
framework. Across the multiple theories, there seems to be agreement on the following qualities
and characteristics of leadership:
Leadership and self-knowledge. Leadership is based on self-awareness providing the basis
for transparency, authenticity, integrity, and trust (Goleman, Boyatzis, & McKee, 2002).
Leadership and personal traits. Leadership is a process not a property or trait of a person
(Vroom & Jago, 2007).
Leadership and management. The concepts of leadership and management are interdependent, overlapping, complementary, and vital to organizational success, and the terms should be used
interchangeably (Wilson & Lau, 2011).
Leadership and position. Leadership is not reserved for positions at the top of the organization, but may be exercised by people at all levels of the organization, including by informal leaders
(Spillane, 2006).
Leadership and followers. Leadership does not exist in a vacuum … leadership exists only
with the consensus of followers (Bennis, 2007).
Leadership and balance. Leaders need to balance order and stability with adaptive and
constructive change (Kotter, 1990).
Leadership and development. Since leadership is not an innate ability, it can be developed
through careful training and coaching (Goleman et al., 2002).
To meet the need for a leadership model in the turbulent environment of child welfare, these
areas of agreement need to be organized into a coherent framework, as recommended by Preston
(2004). Based on a comprehensive review of the literature, Preston proposes the Competing Values
Approach (CVA) as an empirically supported framework for leadership development in the human
services field. The CVA integrates four major perspectives or models from organizational theory
literature (human relations, open systems, rational goals, and internal processes) and addresses
three key value dichotomies (internal/external, flexibility/control, and process/outcome). Quinn
and Rohrbaugh (1981) assert that each model is embedded in a particular set of competing values, thus having a polar opposite model with contrasting emphases (p. 135). The human relations
model emphasizes the needs of the individual and flexibility, in contrast with that of the rational
goals models emphasis on the organization (versus the individual) and stability. The open systems
model is defined by an emphasis on the organization and flexibility and is countered by that of the
internal process, which places a value on people and stability.
The CVA provides a starting point to meet the need identified by Preston (2005) for a pedagogical
framework for management and leadership that possesses a solid theoretical foundation, contains
all of the relevant content domains, incorporates the unique values of the social work profession,
and presents training in an integrated and holistic fashion. Such a framework should recognize the
need for a flexible approach reflecting the conflicting roles of managers as they simultaneously face
multiple job demands of equal importance.
Leadership Competencies
In addition to a framework that recognizes the multiple dimensions of the leadership role or
process, it is also important to identify the competencies that are critical to successful performance
as a leader. Authors and researchers across many diverse fields have described various leadership
competencies and competency domains. According to Goleman et al. (2002), the competencies
that characterize outstanding leaders are neither technical nor purely cognitive competencies, but
rather the drive to achieve results, the ability to take initiative, skills in collaboration and teamwork,
and the ability to lead teams. Bennis (2007) identifies six areas of competencies of leaders: They
create a sense of mission, they motivate others to join them on that mission, they create an adaptive
social architecture for their followers, they generate trust and optimism, they develop other leaders,
and they get results (p. 5). Extensive research conducted by Gallup researchers identified three
keys to being a more effective leader: knowing your strengths and investing in others strengths,
getting people with the right strengths on your team, and understanding and meeting the four basic
needs of followers (trust, compassion, hope, and stability). They found four distinct domains of
leadership strength: Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building, and (Rath &
Conchie, 2008).
Several detailed leadership competency models have been developed in the human services field.
For example, the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) model for the Excellence
in Child Welfare Leadership Program includes 13 competencies and their behavioral elements:
communicating vision and direction, promoting ethics, leading by example, continuous learning, strategic thinking, decision making, systems thinking, championing innovation, organizational
astuteness, interpersonal communications, developing leadership, team leadership, and supporting
the community (APHSA, 2002). The National Network for Social Work Managers developed and
implemented the Certified Social Work Manager (CSWM) credential that includes competencies
in 12 core areas divided into external and internal relations: contemporary social and public policy issues, advocacy, public/community relations and marketing, governance, planning, program
development and management, financial development, evaluation, human resource management,
and staff development (Wimpfheimer, 2004).
In the public sector, not specific to human services, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management
developed a leadership competency model based on an extensive review of the literature. This
model provides a progression of leadership competencies from supervisor to manager to executive grounded in clearly identified foundational competencies. The model is organized according
to five domains: Leading Change, Leading in Context, Leading People, Leading for Results,
and Fundamental Competencies (U.S. Office of Personnel Management, 2006). These five
domains are consistent with the synthesis recommended by Gosling and Mintzberg (2003) of
leadership/management mind-sets or perspectives that create a comprehensible whole. The five
mind-sets are Managing Change, the action mind-set; Managing Context, the worldly mindset; Managing Relationships, the collaborative mind-set; Managing Organizations, the analytic
mind-set; and Managing Self, the reflective mind-set.
Leadership Development
Since leadership competencies are not innate talents, they can be developed through welldesigned leadership programs. According to Goleman et al. (2002), the crux of effective leadership
development is for learners to manage their learning through a process of discovery, including
self-assessment in relationship to an ideal self, developing a learning agenda, experimenting with
and practicing new behaviors, and developing supportive and trusting relationships that make the
change possible. They argue that such learning is most effective and sustainable when participants
understand the process of changeand the steps to achieve itas they go through it.
A survey of leadership development programs identified the following best practices: link
to agency strategic objectives rather than just individual development, build on leadership
competencies consistent with the organizations values, include action learning using real-life issues
as the basis, encourage learners themselves to develop answers to tough questions, link to succession planning, provide top-level support, and include ongoing assessment of the effectiveness of
the program (Fulmer & Wagner, 1999). Building on similar principles, Austin, Weisner, Schrandt,
Glezos-Bell, and Murtaza (2006) implemented a human service leadership program that includes
pre-training activities, application of classroom learning, supervisory support, and post-training
assignments to promote transfer of learning.
While there is no single accepted theory of leadership, the field of leadership development
includes a richness of approaches reflective of the complexity of the leadership process. The challenge for the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (NCWWI) was twofold: first, to synthesize
the most promising approaches to create a conceptual model and competency framework, and
next to embed that model through multiple strategies in a comprehensive and cohesive leadership
development program relevant to the child welfare field.
As part of an overall national systems reform effort, the US-DHHS Childrens Bureau created the
National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (NCWWI) to build leadership capacity at all levels
throughout the child welfare system. Funded in 2008, the NCWWI is led by a national partnership
among nine universities: University at Albany/SUNY, University of Denver, Fordham University,
University of Iowa, Michigan State University, University of Michigan, University of Maryland,
University of Southern Maine, and Portland State University.
NCWWI goals include disseminating effective and promising workforce practices, engaging
national peer networks, coordinating BSW and MSW traineeships, and facilitating leadership development through an approach described as the Leadership Academy. The Leadership Academy has
two components: the Leadership Academy for Middle Managers (LAMM), coordinated by Portland
State University, and the Leadership Academy for Supervisors (LAS), coordinated by the University
of Southern Maine.
One of the first tasks of the NCWWI was to develop a leadership model. The next task was
to compile the associated set of competencies that could be used as a unifying conceptual competency framework for all NCWWI components and provides a basis for the training in the Leadership
Academy. Over a period of months, NCWWI partners engaged in an extensive review of the literature, conducted informational interviews with key informants active in leadership training and
workforce development, shared relevant readings and publications, and met to review the findings and collaboratively design a comprehensive leadership model and visual illustration. During
the steps of development, the leadership model and the Leadership Competency Framework were
reviewed and adapted iteratively by NCWWI partners to ensure face validity.
As the complexity of the model emerged, NCWWI developed a visual illustration to convey the
dynamic and multidimensional nature of leadership. Figure 1 is the graphic representation of the
leadership model, followed by an explanation and description of its component parts (NCWWI,
The leadership model rests on a solid foundation of five values or principles (Adaptive,
Collaborative, Distributive, Inclusive, and Outcome Focused), which appear as pillars in the
graphic illustration. The principles emerged from team discussion as important concepts that reflect
the unique values of the social work profession. Individually, they were insufficient, but together
they form a powerful values-based foundation to launch the full leadership competency model.
The model includes four leadership domains, illustrated by the four quadrants of the circle
in the graphic (Leading Change, Leading in Context, Leading People, and Leading for Results).
These domains are consistent with the four quadrants of the Competing Values Approach (Quinn
& Rohrbaugh, 1981), the four mind-sets of Gosling and Mintzberg (2003), and the four domains of
strength-based leadership (Rath & Conchie, 2008).
The circle at the center of the model includes the concepts of self-knowledge and being regenerative. Like good social work practice, effective leadership begins with self-knowledge (Goleman
et al., 2002; Rath & Conchie, 2008). Emanating from self-knowledge is the capacity to manage
ones own behavior, recognize strengths and challenges in oneself, and, from a repertoire of models
and skills, select the most effective response to a situation. Effective leaders are also regenerative:
They model continuous learning and develop the capacity of others to lead and self-govern. A key
role of the leader is to create an environment where all people are encouraged to reach their own
potential in a positive organizational climate (Wheatley, 1991; Heifetz & Linsky, 2002).
The NCWWI leadership model recognizes that being effective as a leader in a turbulent environment requires a constant balancing act. Leaders need to change and keep order, make the numbers
and nurture people, open up to the community, and run a tight ship (Gosling & Mintzberg, 2003).
The outer circle of the graphic suggests the leaders world is a constant act of balancing countervailing forces (internal flexibility, external flexibility, internal control, and external control). To be
FIGURE 1 National Child Welfare Workforce Institute Leadership Model (color figure available online).
effective, leaders need a way to hold the big picture in mind with all of its seeming contradictions
and competing forces, and have the skills and mind-set to deal with the task at hand.
The Domains of Leadership
The four domains of leadership represent the four dominant perspectives and responsibilities of
child welfare leaders.
Leading change. Inherent to this domain is the ability to establish an organizational vision
and to implement it in a continuously changing environment. This domain reflects the strategic role
of the leader to set and realize high standards of organizational performance and emphasizes an
action mind-set, the ability to plan strategically, and the capacity to envision creative new responses
to organizational, political, and social challenges in the external environment.
Leading in context. Effective change in the child welfare system requires meaningful participation by all key stakeholders, including families, youth, and the community. The role of the
leader in this domain is to effectively and proactively engage the external environment. This involves
engaging in advocacy, boundary spanning, and working with the community.
Leading people. Systems change in the child welfare field is occurring within the context of
what has been described as a workforce crisis (Alwon & Reitz, 2000; APHSA, 2001; Westbrook,
Ellis, & Ellett, 2006; U.S. General Accounting Office, 2003). This quadrant of the leadership model
has an internal focus and reflects the reality that leaders manage and inspire people within their
organizations. The focus is on developing individuals and groups within the agency and emphasizes
relationships, people, and processes. Inherent to this domain is the ability to provide an inclusive
workplace that fosters the development of others, facilitates cooperation and teamwork, and supports
constructive resolution of conflicts.
Leading for results. With an internal focus aimed at control, this domain emphasizes workflow processes and various forms of work-related information and data. Leadership at all levels is
needed to encourage evidence-informed practice and develop the chain of evidence from individual
to agency to system outcomes. This domain emphasizes an analytical mind-set and using data to
inform decisions to promote accountability.
Linking the four domains is a double helix symbol that illustrates the interdependence of leadership and management. This symbol shows that leaders at all levels are involved in a constant
balancing actbetween external and internal demands, between action and reflection, between control and flexibility. The symbol also captures the regenerative nature of leadership, the process of
revitalization, and the creation of new energy. The classic distinction proposed by Bennis and Nanus
(1985) (managers do things right; leaders do the right thing) creates a false dichotomy. The double helix symbol instead conveys: Leaders do the right things right. Such a mind-set builds upon
defined principles to guide the behavior of leaders.
Leadership Principles
Completing the model are the five pillars of leadership that are fundamental principles reflecting desired qualities and values of effective leadership within the child welfare field. These
pillarsAdaptive, Collaborative, Distributive, Inclusive, and Outcome Focusedare foundational
and provide an approach to leadership consistent with child welfare values.
Adaptive. Adaptive leadership emphasizes the necessity of learning new ways for dealing with
challenges (Heifetz, Grashow, & Linsky, 2009). Technical challenges can typically be managed by
employing existing knowledge and established procedures. Adaptive challenges, on the other hand,
require innovative thinking, challenging traditional approaches and the status quo.
Collaborative. Collaborative leadership engages the community to create opportunities to
exchange information and share resources. A common purpose unites stakeholders to do more than
just discuss, but also to take action on a joint agenda. Collaborative leadership stresses the process
of community engagement (Lawson, 2008).
Distributive. Distinct from inclusive leadership (see below), distributive leadership encourages
and enacts leadership at all organizational levels (Spillane, 2006). Decision-making and leadership
responsibilities are defused at all levels to encourage purposeful and collective action. Distributive
leadership results from the dynamic and interdependent interactions among individuals in context.
Inclusive. Inclusive leadership is the process of actively seeking and valuing diversity of perspective and points of view at all levels within the organization and with stakeholders. Inclusive
leadership acknowledges that disparities exist; thus, efforts must be intentional and more intensive
in order to engage diverse stakeholders, create a sense of urgency regarding issues of inclusion,
promote leadership as a collective process, and rectify previously authoritarian approaches (Ryan,
Outcome focused. Outcome-focused leadership means that child welfare agencies emphasize
organizational and professional goals to achieve outcomes of safety, permanency, and well-being.
Agency functioning and decision making is informed by data for a more analytical approach to
problem solving (Lawson, 2008).
Together, the pillars reflect the fundamental values inherent in child welfare leadership. Adaptive
leadership encourages a flexible approach, while the pillars of collaborative, distributive, and inclusive promote a mind-set of involvement across the spectrum of internal and external stakeholders.
Finally, the on the inherent trust placed in child welfare systems to
assist children and families. Leadership competencies embody the pillars to varying degrees and, in
total, fully realize these fundamental principles.
NCWWI Leadership Competencies
Once the conceptual and visual NCWWI Leadership Model was developed, the next step was to
identify the competencies most salient for the development of leadership skills in the field of child
welfare and organize them into a unifying framework. The process of identifying the competencies
associated with the NCWWI Leadership Competency Framework was multi-stepped and iterative.
First, leadership competency models from the public, private, and academic settings were identified,
compared, and contrasted. Only a limited set of relevant competency models were located, and
those that were selected for comparison were ones that appeared to be most closely aligned with
the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary for success in the field of child welfare. Competency
models selected for comparison included that of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM)
(2006), Cornerstones 4 Kids (n.d.), Lawson (2008), University of Southern Maine, Child Welfare
Training Institute (2007), and Daniels College of Business, University of Denver (2007). The OPM
model was selected as the base model, because it was a comprehensive framework consistent with
the NCWWI Leadership Model and had been utilized in a national leadership development program
in the public sector.
The next step was to examine the competencies through the lens of child welfare leadership.
The OPM model was not developed for child welfare, and to make it more child welfare specific,
some competencies were revised, deleted, or shifted to other leadership domains. Further, a few
competencies from other frameworks were added to round out the NCWWI Leadership Competency
Framework and make it more relevant for child welfare. Table 1 shows the competencies organized
according to the leadership domains and fundamental competencies.
The NCWWI promotes the view that staff members at all levels of a child welfare organization
are leaders. Consequently, the competencies associated with effective leaders are similar across job
levels; however, proficiency levels do vary by position. As leaders increase their job responsibilities, they also need to develop proficiency with various competencies, and their sphere of influence
related to each competency may expand. To reflect this progression, examples of proficiency indicators were developed for each of the competencies and organized by level of leadership (caseworker,
supervisor, manager, and executive). As a result, the NCWWI Leadership Competency Framework
provides a ladder illustrating how competencies manifest at progressively higher levels of responsibility within a child welfare agency. Table 2 provides an example of a competency showing the
development of the proficiency indicators at each of the levels.
The Leadership Model and competencies provide the conceptual framework for the competencybased written curriculum and learning activities of the NCWWI Leadership Academy, which offers
two training programs nationally at no cost to participants from public, private, and tribal child
welfare agencies. The Leadership Academy has two components:
Leadership Competencies by Domain
Leading in Context: Building
Leading People: Workforce
Competencies: Competencies:
Partnering Conflict Management
Political Savvy Developing Others
Influencing/Negotiating Team Building
Cultural Responsiveness
Leveraging Diversity
Leading Change: Goal Setting Leading for Results: Accountability
Competencies: Competencies:
Creativity and Innovation Capacity Building
External Awareness Service Orientation
Flexibility Decisiveness
Strategic Thinking Entrepreneurship
Vision Financial Management
Fundamental Competencies:
Continuous Learning
Effective Communication
Interpersonal Relations
Personal Leadership
Socially Responsible
A Leadership Academy for Middle Managers (LAMM) provides a weeklong residential experience and web-based leadership training and coaching at no cost to child welfare managers
who oversee programs and manage teams implementing programs. Training is delivered by
a team of three training consultants, who adhere to the written curriculum in the residential program and provide opportunities for self-assessment, peer learning, and coaching. The
training consultants were selected following a national search and were required to have, at
minimum, a masters degree or above in social work, public administration, or a related field,
and experience in public child welfare and skills-based training at a manager level. In addition, training consultants were expected, at minimum, to be well grounded in the theory and
practice of leadership, change management, systems change, and implementation science or
related topics. The core curriculum in the residential program qualifies the individual to receive
continuing education credits, and then continues with post-training offerings, which include
webinars, teleconferences, online peer networking sites, and coaching.
A Leadership Academy for Supervisors (LAS) provides online leadership training to experienced child welfare supervisors that provide direct supervision to frontline workers. The
core curriculum includes six modules comprising 21 hours of online learning. Each module
is followed by a synchronous session that can be delivered either remotely or in face-to-face
sessions. Presentations by national experts, use of avatars, animations, and interactive
knowledge checks all help to provide an engaging learning experience.
Competency Proficiency Indicators: Partnering
Partnering: Develops networks and builds alliances; collaborates across boundaries to build strategic relationships and
achieve common goals.
Proficiency Level Indicators of Proficiency Level (Examples)
Executive Collaborates with central or staff office, regional offices, and key stakeholders to implement new
Partners with various parties by sharing information and resources across multiple levels to establish
new programs
Builds consensus with partners by considering input and promoting trust between various parties
Gains support from key leaders and staff within the organization to ensure support for work objectives
and team initiatives
Coordinates with partners regarding new strategies to ensure consistent communication with agencies
Ensures future partnerships by developing strong relationships and resolving issues with partners
Manager Considers stakeholder input when developing strategies to ensure mutually agreeable initiatives
Coordinates with various agencies to plan and conduct annual events
Coordinates across and within organizations to determine required resources to support goals
Works with a team of managers or employees across agencies to address mutual issues and concerns
Meets regularly with peers and supervisors to identify recurring issues
Supervisor Develops and maintains network of stakeholders for collection and sharing of information
Meets with staff to discuss plans to implement strategic goals
Meets regularly with service providers for development of positive relationships and to troubleshoot
Caseworker Participates in cordial relationships with outside organizations
Learns about services and people at other organizations
This domain involves the ability to build collaboratives internally and with other federal agencies, state, and local
governments, tribal organizations, and nonprofit and private sector organizations to achieve common goals.
The goal of both components is to develop leadership skills for the implementation of change.
The transfer of learning instructional strategy has two components:
The Personal Learning Plan is to deepen participants understanding of leadership issues and
develop leadership competencies relevant to their own situations. By responding to concrete
examples and case studies and applying them to their own experience, participants are able
to develop and apply leadership competencies to their work role. They develop a Personal
Learning Plan to document and plan competency development.
The Change Initiative Plan focuses participants on contributing to the implementation of sustainable change in the child welfare system. Participants are asked to identify and develop a
change initiative that is part of their state, tribe, and/or agencys change efforts. Linking the
participants change initiative to an ongoing state or agency effort makes it more likely that the
initiative will be sustained and will improve services to children, youth, and families within
the participants sphere of influence. Participants document this process through a Change
Initiative Plan and logic model linking efforts and resources to intended outcomes.
Both the LAS and the LAMM begin with an online introductory module that provides an
overview of the key issues in the child welfare field and a preview of the Leadership Academy.
The curriculum begins with a unit on Foundations of Leadership, providing an opportunity for
self-assessment using the Strength Finder perspective (Rath & Conchie, 2008) and the Adaptive
Leadership framework (Heifetz et al., 2009). Subsequent units cover concepts related to the four
domains of the Leadership Model: Leading in Context, Leading People, Leading for Results, and
Leading Change. Each unit or module draws on values from each of the leadership principles. The
Examples of LAMM & LAS Training Competencies and Learning Objectives
Leadership Academy for Middle Managers (LAMM)
Unit 10: Leading in Context
Training Competency: Understands the importance of developing partnerships internally and
externally in implementing sustainable systems change.
Reviews personal strengths in Influencing and applies to Leading in Context quadrant and
Building Partnerships in implementation process.
Applies a systems perspective to map key partners in the agencys external environment.
Applies concepts of partnering, negotiating, and influencing to engage key partners in the
agencys external environment.
Leadership Academy for Supervisors (LAS)
Unit 2: Leadership Skills in Building Collaboratives
Training Competency: Able to describe the application of a range of leadership skills in the
partnering process.
Describe a continuum and range of skills in the partnering process from communication,
coordination, collaboration, negotiating, and advocacy.
Provide examples of supervisory leadership skills in the partnering process.
Apply the concepts of the partnership process continuum to own change initiative.
learning competencies and objectives closely adhere to the Leadership Competency Framework as
shown in the examples from both the LAMM and the LAS in Table 3.
Both curricula include real-life examples from the jobs of child welfare managers and supervisors and follow a case example of leadership to illustrate the competing forces and competency
requirements of each of the quadrants. This competency-based training design ensures fidelity to the
Leadership Model while acknowledging the real-world responsibilities of child welfare managers
and supervisors. Both the LAMM and the LAS also include both pre- and post-training activities to
promote transfer of learning.
Training Delivery
Delivery of training in both LAMM and LAS began in 2009, with a total 2012 enrollment of over
1,800 managers and supervisors from public, private, and tribal child welfare agencies. Participants
represented every state in the United States (including American Samoa) and rural and urban
agencies, coming from both county- and state-administered child welfare systems. Nine LAMM
workshops since 2009 have been held regionally for over 200 participants. The core LAS curriculum and four stand-alone modules are available online. The LAS has an enrollment of over
1,600 supervisorssome in a self-directed approach, others in state- or county-directed approaches
in Albany County, New York, Colorado, Indiana, Illinois, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee,
and Vermont.
National Webinar Series
The Leadership Competency Framework also informs a webinar series sponsored by NCWWI entitled, What Works for the Workforce: Leadership Competencies in Action. The webinar series
is intended to translate the leadership concepts and competencies to real-world application by
showcasing specific child welfare workforce innovations and the skills, resources, and action steps
necessary to support, implement, and sustain the change in practice. Presenters from state, county,
and tribal child welfare agencies describe a workforce change, its impact, and lessons learned. The
NCWWI presenter then applies the content to the Leadership Model, highlighting specific domains
and their salience, and exploring the relevant competencies. Since 2011, NCWWI has held four
webinars, with more than 2,700 registrants.
The Butler Institute for Families at the University of Denver is responsible for the evaluation of the
National Child Welfare Workforce Institute, and a comprehensive evaluation plan has been developed and implemented for all components of the NCWWI, including the LAMM and the LAS.
This plan includes a rigorous evaluation1 of the curriculum, pre/post questionnaires, and follow-up
questionnaires at three months, six months, and twelve months after training. The questionnaires
include measures of training satisfaction, attainment of knowledge and skill competencies in training, the transfer of learning from the training environment to the work environment, the application
of skills, and, finally, the participants self-assessment of her/his success as an agent of change.
Telephone interviews are also conducted at the with at least five
randomly selected LAMM participants.
Results to date from both the Leadership Academy for Middle Managers and the Leadership
Academy for Supervisors affirm the need for, and efficacy of, the Leadership Model and Leadership
Competency Framework for the field of child welfare. Findings from both LAS and LAMM programs are showing a high level of satisfaction with the relevance of the training and significant gains
in learning in all competency areas from pre- to post-training. Furthermore, results suggest that
participants continue to develop their skills on the job, as subsequent self-ratings of performance
competencies are significantly higher than at baseline. Self-reports also suggest that participants are
using these skills to implement their change initiatives and that they feel the training is leading to
improvements in their own leadership skills.
Evaluation results also indicate challenges that participants in the Leadership Academy are experiencing in applying the training to their job. Participants responses on the transfer of learning
inventory, a version of the Learning Transfer Systems Inventory (LTSI) developed by Holton, Bates,
and Ruona (2000) and adapted by the Butler Institute for Families, suggest that they are highly motivated to use the training and feel that the content is relevant to their needs, but are less sure that the
necessary supports are available within their agencies to apply the new skills and ideas. In general,
mean scores on items within the Work Environment construct of the LTSI for LAS and LAMM participants indicated they did not expect to receive much support or guidance toward applying their
learning to the job, and this concern was also reflected in the open-ended comments of LAMM
randomly selected respondents in the follow-up telephone interview. Evaluation results and the
experience of participants point out the challenges in maintaining and sustaining transfer of learning
of the leadership competencies, particularly those related to Leading Change. Participants in both
the LAS and the LAMM report a decline in their efficacy related to implementing and sustaining
a systems change, and report lack of support from their own supervisors and administrators as the
most important factor impinging upon their effectiveness.
1A more detailed description of the evaluation design and findings to date falls outside the scope of this article and will
be published separately.
Over the last 30 years, large-scale efforts have been made to standardize and promote best practices
with children and families. No less effort should be made to prepare the workforce to lead these best
practice efforts by providing a conceptually sound and relevant model of leadership competency.
The preliminary evaluation results and experiences to date of the NCWWI have demonstrated that
the Leadership Model is conceptually sound and translates across multiple levels of responsibility
within a child welfare organization, and is applicable to the real-world experience of child welfare
professionals. However, NCWWI experiences to date also point to the need for ongoing efforts to
support the application of leadership skills on the job. Additionally, given the need for and value of
a cohesive model for leadership development in child welfare, there are untapped areas of potential
to expand and enhance the use of the NCWWI Leadership Model and Leadership Competency
The NCWWI Leadership Model and Leadership Competency Framework provide a structure to
link sometimes-fragmented child welfare professional development programs across the country to
promote consistent and research-validated competencies to address the dynamic child welfare environment. The complexity of child welfare systemsincluding the multiple stakeholderspoints to
the necessity of comprehensive and holistic approaches to systems change. Just as NCWWI promotes multiple domains of leadership, it also acknowledges the multiple and countervailing forces
that influence the ability to make change happen.
Consequently, an overarching implication is that leadership toward systems change occurs most
successfully within an environment that takes into account this complexity and brings together
multiple players and partners to create a comprehensive and cohesive plan, jointly practicing the
necessary leadership competencies. The NCWWI Leadership Model provides a salient construct
to organize and facilitate a range of critical activities and support and engages a host of essential stakeholders in areas of education, pre-service and in-service training, and ongoing leadership
development for child welfare professionals.
With regards to education, and especially Schools of Social Work, the Leadership Competency
Frameworks competencies and proficiency indicators are highly congruent with the 10 core
competencies in the Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS) (CSWE, 2008), lending themselves to operationalizing the EPAS competencies at a macro-administrative level. The
NCWWI leadership competencies also provide an important foundation for Schools of Social Work
to enhance curricula related to leadership development, with a strong emphasis on the application
of those leadership competencies in child welfare agencies. Social work professionals who wish
to pursue careers in management and administration would potentially choose an MSW program
offering explicit links to leadership development, rather than that of an MPA, MBA, or degree in
nonprofit management.
Furthermore, the Leadership Model, along with the Leadership Competency Frameworks
emphasis that leadership behavior manifests at all levels within a child welfare agency, provides
a concrete way to re-engage BSW and MSW students in recognizing that focusing on clinical versus administrative practice is an artifice and not reflective of agency practice. In fact, with the trend
toward flatter organizations, leadership is needed at all levels and social workers are leaders from
day 1 of entry into the profession. Similarly, agency professional development programs could also
use the incremental approach to inform their curriculum development and course offerings. may also reflect these competencies and provide opportunities to practice the
skills related to the competencies. The principles or pillars should infuse all aspects of educational
and professional development programs. In order to embrace the pillars of adaptive, collaborative,
distributive, inclusive, and outcome-focused leadership, agency management will need to engage in
deep reflection about whether their current practices reflect the pillars to ensure authenticity in
message and practice. If such authenticity is lacking, agency management should plan on making
efforts to align principles and practices.
Another implication is that of the transition made by newly graduated BSWs and MSWs to the
real world of agency practice. The NCWWI Leadership Model offers an opportunity to further
expand and enhance the Leadership Academy approach, possibly through the development of content for leadership training, which could be adapted and used by states and tribes to enhance existing
pre-service and ongoing professional development.
The Leadership Competency Framework provides an organizing context for human resourcesrelated activities from the development of selection and promotion criteria, to that of position
descriptions, performance improvement plans, and career ladders. Tangible indicators offer specific guidance and proficiency indicators to all participants and management. As agencies become
more serious about succession planning, the Leadership Competency Framework offers a path for
future leaders to systematically acquire leadership skills.
Finally, the Leadership Competency Framework lends itself to advances in knowledge, through
research and evaluation, by allowing flexibility to capture and organize competencies associated
with effective leadership and with an effective workforce.
Effective leadership at all levels is critical in achieving a competent and stable workforce and
improving outcomes for children, youth, and families. Through knowledge assessment and management, dissemination, and peer networking programs, the NCWWI identifies and provides best
practice information in the areas of leadership, systems change, and workforce development. The
NCWWI curriculum develops leadership competencies and strengthens the transfer of learning of
those competencies through training and coaching for implementation of change initiatives. Results
to date of the ongoing evaluation indicate positive and statistically significant improvements for
LAS and LAMM participants in measures of leadership competencies, reflected in knowledge and
skills, change initiative implementation, and transfer of learning from training to the job. These findings suggest that by participating in the NCWWI Leadership Academy, managers and supervisors
develop their leadership competencies, become prepared to assume greater leadership responsibilities in their agencies for succession planning, and contribute to sustainable systems change in child
The NCWWI Leadership Model provides a comprehensive and unifying conceptual framework
for all of these activitiesa framework that reflects the complexity and dynamic nature of the field.
As Fiedler noted in presenting his contingency model of leadership, a pretzel shaped theory was
needed to explain a pretzel shaped reality (quoted by Chemers, 1997).
The need for a leadership model in human services is longstanding and well documented. At this
time, in a service area such as child welfare, the need is more pressing than ever for agencies to build
their capacity of leadership at all levels to juggle competing demands in a dynamic environment.
The interactivity of this balancing act requires a multi-faceted and integrated approach to leadership.
More than a pretzel-shaped model, the NCWWI Leadership Model is like a mobile, providing a
responsive conceptual framework for leaders to hold the vision and operate effectively in a turbulent
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