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Why leadership matters in safeguarding

Debbie Sorkin sets out why you don’t get one without the other

“If you think health and safety is expensive, try having an accident.”  This quote comes from Stelios, the founder of Easyjet.

The same principle applies to safeguarding: if you think getting it right is expensive, in terms of time and other resources, then just wait and see what happens when you get it wrong.  And getting safeguarding right is about leadership.  As this issue of Care Talk focuses on safeguarding, I thought it would be useful to look at the relationship between safeguarding and leadership, both within and across organisations and sectors.

Leadership is intrinsic to safeguarding.  This stems from leadership being grounded in behaviours, and how you act in everyday situations.  Two things follow from this: 1) leadership is for everyone, no matter what their job title is or what they do; and 2) everyone needs to take responsibility for what they do and address poor practice wherever they see it.

So if you see something that you think might be a safeguarding issue, then doing something about it – whether that’s telling someone about it or intervening directly to put things right – and not turning a blind eye – is the right thing to do.  It’s what makes you a true leader.

That’s why Ensuring the safety of people who use services is built into The Leadership Qualities Framework (LQF) for Adult Social Care.  It’s one of four components of the LQF section on Improving Services, alongside evaluating services; encouraging improvement and innovation; and facilitating transformation. In order to ensure the safety of people who use services, leaders at all levels must assess and manage the risks associated with service developments, and balance the need for user safety with other considerations.  So good leaders always:

o   Identify and quantify the risk to people who use services, using information from a range of sources

o   Use evidence, both positive and negative (i.e. what is and isn’t working) to identify options

o   Use systematic ways of assessing and minimising risk

o   Monitor the effects and outcomes of change.

And you can be a good leader whatever your role.  So if you’re an apprentice, or you’ve just started in your first care role, you can still act to ensure the safety of people you support.  In fact, safeguarding is especially important at front-line level, as this is where issues are likely to come to light.  So good leadership includes front-line staff feeling confident to challenge appropriately and being prepared to raise concerns about quality, safety and performance, even if – especially if – this means reporting on the actions of a work colleague, which people often find difficult to do.

If you’re a team leader, you can show you’re prepared to raise concerns and take action if a member of your team comes to you with an issue, and you can instil a ‘safe to challenge’ culture.  And if you’re operating at more senior levels, taking up your leadership role includes actively building that culture.

It follows that for people in senior leadership roles, safeguarding is closely tied to other aspects of the Leadership Qualities Framework, particularly around creating a vision for an organisation that reflects the needs and aspirations of service users; communicating that vision in a way that engages and inspires others; and implementing a strategy to put the vision into practice on the ground.

This means embedding safeguarding right from the start.  Getting staff teams to think about safeguarding as the standard way of working is key to developing a safe organisation.  One way to do this is by embedding personalisation.  People who are empowered by having choice and control over their lives are much less likely to be victims of abuse.  And working in a personalised way means that staff see real people whom they treat with dignity and respect.

Similarly, creating a high level of awareness of potential abuse makes it more likely that it will be recognised.  Awareness of safeguarding issues needs to be part of the ‘golden thread’ of culture running right through the organisation.

Aside from being a fundamental building block of care and support, you’ll find that having well-developed safeguarding pays dividends when demonstrating how ‘safe’ your organisation or service is for regulatory purposes.  Many of the CQC key lines of enquiry for the ‘safe’ criterion focus on safeguarding and on the confidence that staff feel that they can report on issues and that, if they do, appropriate action will be taken, and fast.

Safeguarding can also surface in how a service or organisation works in partnership with others, both within and outside social care.  So taking safeguarding seriously marks you out not just as a leader, but as a Systems Leader – being prepared to lead across boundaries; where no one person is in charge; where you’re dealing with complex issues with no easy solutions; and where you make progress by being able to work with, and influence, other people.  As the LQF also notes: ‘Collaboration within and across systems plays a vital role in the delivery of services.  Effective leaders work in partnership…to deliver and improve services.’ 

So see safeguarding as something that’s not ancillary to your leadership role: on the contrary, it’s at the heart of leadership.  If you’re starting out in your social care career, it’s one of the ways you demonstrate good leadership.  If you’re a Registered Manager, or acting in other senior roles, it’s how you embed it and build a leadership culture.  But wherever you are in social care, safeguarding is one sure-fire way to make good leadership an everyday reality, and to instil quality – even outstanding quality – as standard.


If you have examples of great leadership in your service, please send them in to www.caretalk.co.uk or contact debbie.sorkin@localleadership.gov.uk.

Debbie Sorkin is National Director of Systems Leadership at The Leadership Centre.  Debbie.sorkin@localleadership.gov.uk @DebbieSorkin2


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