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Maximizing Social Impact: The Importance of Management Functions in Social Services

Maximizing Social Impact: The Importance of Management Functions in Social Services


Management has often been considered a vital aspect of the success of any business. However, for a long-time management has only been associated with business and profits. The importance and vital role that management plays in social service has largely been ignored. Recent research however shows that without management social services are often rendered ineffective. The social management allows the programs to conduct their activities faster, efficiently and more easily. This translates to meeting the needs of community much more effectively. With social services including a much larger staff, each with their own expertise and special roles, it follows therefore that skills and knowledge are required in ensuring motivation and productivity.

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In management, the administrative and social service responsibilities often overlap and mangers are required to have skills from both domains. Saleebey, (2012) highlights that in the past, social service managers often came from other fields and areas. While they brought a significant amount of improvement in the social service departments, they often did so at the expense of the actual roles of the social worker. Seeing the importance of the management in social work, social care has had to implement training and development courses directed at providing knowledge and skills to social workers specifically designed for management. The quality of work that social workers are able to provide depends highly on the nature of management skills that they posses and their ability to manage the workplace environment.

Management is often defined as the ability to make use of the right resources in the right manner to ensure the highest productivity. Like any other organization, social service requires the right use of resources, failure to which the work fails to be productive. In an area where one mistake can be quite detrimental and where humanity is given a face, resources must be adequately utilized as well as organized to ensure high productivity. What is unique about management in social service is that it includes an integrated approach. On the one hand, management must take an organizational and business approach, where decisions are made practically without considering emotions but with more focus on productivity. On the other hand, social service in itself requires empathy (emotional investment) for the community and the clients and this is the most vital resource for managers pursuing productivity and effectiveness in this sector.

Functions of management in social service


In management, planning is designed for purposes of making decisions and outlining actions for the future of the organization. According to DuBois and Miley, (2013) planning involves making decisions on what to do in the future, how to do it and when to undertake such actions in a manner that ensures growth and productivity of the organization not just presently but also in the future. Planning provides an opportunity to bridge the current state of the organization and the future desires for the same organization. It is assumed that the organization is not just in existence for the present but will also be there in the future; therefore, plans have to be made for survival and the exact nature of the organization in the future. Planning avoid unnecessary wastage, misuse of resources and maladaptive decisions that will pose unnecessary risk to the organization.

Social service addresses in specific social problems, what is unique is that social problems are forever changing. What was considered an issue in the communities in the past may no longer be an issue in the present. For example, in the early 1980” s social workers were often faced with the problem of early marriages, where young girls had to be rescued from detrimental situations of abuse, and parents and the community educated on the vital importance of the education of the girl child (Featherstone et.al.(2013). Although there are a few cases that still exist today, it can no longer be said that the issue of early child marriages is an emergency. Hepworth, Rooney, Rooney, & Strom-Gottfried (2016) state that planning is of great value to the community in that it provides a platform for the organization of social activities so that they meet the desires and needs of the community being assisted. In order to address the needs adequately, social workers often find that they may have to alter activities and ways of doing things, design new programs that are relevant to the change and engage in research to determine the best ways to help the communities they are engaged with. This in itself forms the planning function. However, Bartol, Tein, Matthews, Sharma, & Scott-Ladd (2011) caution that social workers are often only involved in planning through their local agencies and governments, mostly implementing decisions that have already need determined in higher agencies and departments rather than engaging in the actual planning itself. The Auckland Youth Network is a program born from such involvement of social workers. Having noted the main challenges that the youth faced in the county, challenges that often resulted in misuse of drugs, idleness and delinquency, social workers petitioned the government for the Auckland Youth Network, a program that attempts rehabilitation of the youth with a focus in engaging and developing special skills and talents through networking.


This is the process of ensuring a healthy relationship between the physical, financial and human resources within an organization. Organization is what enables a business to function. Without proper organization, organizations would be full of confusion, wastage and lack of focus which would make functioning of the individuals within and the organization at full quite difficult. The first step in organization is determining the actual activities to be undertaken. As shown by Netting, Kettner, McMurtry & Thomas (2016) communities often have several needs which can be addressed in different ways; however only a few of these ways are effective in addressing the needs of the community adequately. These form the basic activities that fall within the scope of social service. Social workers can become overwhelmed with many activities if the same are not minimized to what they can do, and how it should be done in order to be more effective. Secondly, organization involves classification of the same duties, which is categorizing the responsibilities and activities that are to be undertaken. Social service in itself is quite broad with many requirements and a broad boundary. However, individuals within the field can only complete a certain level of duties. Categorization allows for easy management of the vast community needs such as legal frameworks, child care and protection and probation for example. A good example comes from the Ministry of social development in New Zealand. The ministry has segregated and formed departments that address particular programs and challenges. These include for example, Link age (a program for the aging), agenda for children, improving outcomes for youth and supporting teen fathers. Because of such categorization, it has been easy to measure outcomes and monitor progress in the specific areas, making the programs more effective. Social service programs in themselves are large and involve a vast array of individual characteristics such as gender, age and social class each of which poses a new challenge to the social worker. Categorization allows for an easier and concise way to address the needs of each group adequately.

Aronson and Smith, (2010) is quick point out that perhaps the most vital value of organization in social service is the delegation of responsibilities. Agencies, programs and projects are designed to address a specific need. Delegation not only provides a scope of work for the social worker and the programs within the community but also helps in identifying possible gaps within the community, that is, needs that exist within the community which are yet to be addressed. This allows organizations and government programs to focus and redirect resources so that such needs can be met and addressed adequately. To organize social service means therefore to direct and provide the right resources and human skills to the community structure.


Staffing in the recent years has gained a vital importance in management due to the changing technology and the increased focus on human behavior. Organizations are not just made up of buildings and products. The most vital and important asset for any organization, is its staff. Human resources provide the most unique aspect of the organization, giving it a competitive edge, which cannot be manipulated or copied by competitors. Staffing in management involves recruitment, training and remuneration of the workers. Staffing may seem like a straight forward aspect in social service. However, Healy (2014) cautions that the complexity of human needs and community goals make staffing a vital component for the management of social service organizations. Staffing allows the organization to determine needs and opportunities that are yet to be filled. Just as with categorization, staffing gives the opportunity to identify new sets of skills, knowledge and needs of the community that can be addressed by the same. Further it reduces wastage of available resources. It is indeed possible to find two programs or even two social workers who are addressing the same case from the same angle. Simply put, the organizations or individuals are duplicating the work and thus wasting resources that could have been easily used in another area or case adequately. Therefore, many of the community needs go unanswered not because there are no social workers but because the human resource has not been organized and directed adequately.

It is only though management, that, the right skills and knowledge for a specific job can be determined. Management has the ability to look at a situation independently and match the needs of the community with the right skills from the human resources available. This means that the community will have a better answer and a more sustainable solution o their own challenges through the right human resource. In an attempt to improve the staffing policy, the New Zealand government developed a good practice guideline for social workers in New Zealand. The agenda specifies items such as collaboration with other agencies, ability to develop and make use of computer software for better returns as well as guidelines on determining emotional investment of the social workers within the community. In response most of the community institutions and training areas have revised the curriculum to include such specifications. Staffing is therefore not just about finding people to fill in positions, but rather according to Yates and Paquette, (2011); it is the art of designing the right position and then finding the right skills and knowledge to fill the position adequately so that the organization maintains functionality and increases productivity. In order to maintain the high level of productivity, social workers are also expected to go through performance appraisals and constant training. This allows them to adapt to the changing needs of the community, so that the management gains the opportunity to not only meet the needs of the community but also ensure career development and growth for the staff. In this way, workers are motivated to not only work but also to match their own career goals to the changing needs of the community they are working in.


This is the aspect of the management that is involved with the actual actions of the organization. It involves taking the plans and goals of the organization and outing or setting them in motion so that they become achievable. It involves taking a step by step accountability and responsibility chart for each individual within the organization (Austin, 2012). Directing is often the most challenging part of the organization because it involves ensuring that whatever theories and plans that were put in paper, are actualized in the organization. Directing is the actual core of any management, without which the organization would not only be unable to function but would also be marred by confusion. Directors are vital in social service, simply because human beings cannot work well without a focus, goal and a guide as to how to reach the desired goals. Most of the scandals involving social workers can be traced to poor direction. For example, Reamer (2013) found that in 63% of the child abuse cases where action has not been taken until too late, social workers and staff had minimal supervision and therefore did not conduct the cases and investigation as expected until it was too late. Directing allows for proper and adequate supervision of the staff to ensure that they are not only conducting their duties but that they are also doing the same duties in the manner that they are expected to. This involves proper accountability for resources given and actions taken while at work. Beddoe (2015) highlights that in 2011, the office for disability in Auckland determined that majority of the challenges encountered in reaching and effectively assisting the disabled stemmed from a lack of communication and biasness towards the needs for the disabled. All these issues and challenges were found to stem from a lack of direction and guidelines by the department. Manukau and Auckland councils immediately introduced the position of a social manager to oversee the needs of the disabled as well as ensure that such needs were properly addressed through international standardized programs.

Directors are often equipped to communicate the goals of the organization as well as gain feedback from the staff. Social workers are in direct contact with the people that programs and projects are attempting to reach (Fisher, 2009). They are therefore aware of the direct and immediate challenges of the community and the shortcomings that the programs are having in reaching the community. By allowing for easy communication, managers as directors are able to implement change that is effective for the community and which in turn allows the workers to be motivated to work. Directors therefore provide both motivation and leadership for the group they are in charge of, allowing not just for functionality but also stimulation and satisfaction in the workplace.


Controlling as a function of management has the main purpose of ensuring that each activity undertaken by the company occurs within the confines of the standards that are set by the company and any other standardization body. Proper control allows the management to predict the possibility of deviation and the risk which could occur to the company from such deviation. Control allows for evaluation of the progress being made towards the goals that have been set by the organization. Without control, monitoring and evaluation would have no purpose as it would be impossible to measure the possibility of meeting the goals and objectives that have been set in the organization. Coulshed and Mullender, (2006) in his book suggest that control has become one of the most controversial functions of management in social service. Social workers and programs have fallen under heavy criticism which they have deemed unfair. Society on its part seems to have confused care and control, holding social work programs and workers responsible for individual’s behavior. According to Hughes and Wearing (2016) an example of a report in 1974 on probation and its importance seemed to suggest that officers were ultimately accountable for the behavior of their clients.

However, Epstein and Buhovac, (2014) suggest that control in itself plays a vital role in the management of social workers. Control allows for measurement of standard performance against actual performance. It provides standards from which social workers can be gauged to ensure proper evaluation of the effect that programs and individual social workers are having on the community. Deviation from standard performance often means that the community needs have either changed or that the measures being applied to correct behavior, trends and harmful cultures are no longer working. This means that corrective action must be taken immediately to allow for a more effective standard. Gambrill, (2012) has argued that control in social management is what allows the profession to move from a haphazard emotional and caring action towards a more professional and standardized form of work. Community needs are varied, and the means to reach and address such needs can also come in many forms.

Unfortunately, each of the forms exposes the community to new risks and the individuals to even further challenges. As such, control provides guidelines under which the social worker can not only operate but can also be held accountable for actions carried out within the profession (Collins & Clark, 2003) (Lawler, 2005). Such guidelines protect both sides of the situation. On the one hand, it allows the community to get high quality services from social service programs as well as the individual social workers themselves. On the other hand, the social worker is also protected from expectations of the community with regard to intolerable measures of control. Finally, according to Becker, Bryman & Ferguson (2012) control brings back individual accountability for both the client and the social worker. With the guidelines, social workers cannot be held absolutely accountable for client behavior but rather measures are put in place to control such clients and punish any form of deviance. Should deviation be detected, it is easy to determine the source and put corrective measures to avoid the same risk from occurring again. Social control may therefore not be an absolute function of management in social service, but in its latent nature it controls the functionality of the profession and defines the boundaries of social service within a community. The Whānau Ora report and task force were initiated for the purpose of ensuring that the community remained accountable for the growing instability of the area. Through the taskforce the community was able to produce specific guidelines keeping in mind the areas that were of great concern such as gender and family-based violence. Social workers in collaboration with the c community out together a taskforce that combined resources and curbed both stigma and the prevalence for such behavior.

Relevance to Social Services in Aotearoa New Zealand

Recent changes in the Australian public policies, such as deregulation and decentralization has led to an increased growth in numbers of registered nongovernmental social service programs which has in turn led to the birth of competition in the human service provision. Larner and Craig, (2005) suggests that these conditions have forced the programs to conduct their services and activities in the same way as businesses. This includes the introduction and focus of attention on management. Strategic management encompasses putting together goals and objectives in order to develop and implement plans to achieve the same. The functionality of welfare programs in the country is reliant on the ability of the management to bring together the resources available in an ideal manner.

In the recent debate against the sustenance of welfare programs, the Australian government heighted that the main focus is on bringing and re-integrating the welfare recipients to the community. However, Wiles et al., (2009) cautions that such productivity in the welfare programs would be impossible without proper management. Social managers in Aotearoa are called upon to ensure standardized procedures, for example the age, gender and social class of recipients is confirmed as well as productivity of the social workers in exercising due diligence before confirming dissemination. The welfare program relies heavily on the social worker. The program is making a shift from a rights initiative to a responsibility program. In the past three decades according to Mendes, (2017) change has been implemented with the aim of bringing focus into a more competitive program with increased effectiveness. Response to change has been slow and, in some cases, has led to unproductively. However, with the introduction of management change is not only easy; it is expected and thus prepared for.


Social workers are often forced to work under government and private organizations. It is difficult if not impossible to find independent social workers. Such organizations are often plagued with bureaucracy. Social workers may not have the time and resources to deal with such bureaucracies. Management often acts as a bridge between the social workers and the bureaucracy of such organizations. This gives the chance for the professionals to be effective in what they do. Kadushin, (2012) in his research found that for majority of the social workers, management acts as a bridge that protects them from unnecessary risk. On the one hand, management ensures that social workers can serve the community effectively by setting standards and guidelines for performance; while on the other hand, management also ensures that the community maintains responsibility for individual actions that are beyond the control of the social worker. As such management shields the individuals from the weight that comes with human service provision.

In the past, there was no one to handle the worker stress that came from being a part of the profession. Social workers are often found in high crime areas, marginalized communities and have to contend with a high case load coupled with the emotional baggage that comes with the job. With no buffer, social workers were prone to burnout, depression and a variety of similar psychological problems. With the introduction of management however, social workers now have an extensive team to address such challenges. Management deals with case load and complaints that come from the social workers providing them the relief that they need in order to stay motivated as well as productive in the field.


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Austin, D. (2012). Human services management: Organizational leadership in social work practice. Columbia University Press.

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