“It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you lead it”

One of the striking things about projects within the Innovation Programme was the importance of ownership and passion. Some of the projects involved rolling out models of practice – such as Signs of Safety or Reclaiming Social Work. For these projects, an external consultancy led the change and local authorities partnered with them. In contrast others – such as Hertfordshire or Leeds – involved leadership within the organisation. They led the change and were responsible for it.

Those that involved rolling-out an approach experienced great variation in buy-in; some local authorities seemed really committed, others appeared half-hearted or even abandoned the change. There were so many other priorities that compete with the implementation of a new way of working, such as budget cuts, Ofsted inspections, changes in key personnel and new leaders. In this context implementing models – however good they appear to be on paper – is really difficult. And I mean really, really difficult.

In contrast, in a local authority like Hertfordshire, the passion and commitment of the leadership team was obvious. They also had a strong sense of ownership: this was their initiative and they were responsible for its success. When the going got tough they found a way. And there was no question of leadership changing because leadership were so excited and committed to the changes they were bringing about. The reforms in Leeds seem similar. And in TriBorough.

This creates an enormous challenge for any of us interested in improving Children’s Services. It is not enough to develop a model of good practice. What is even more important is finding those with the commitment and passion to create meaningful changes. Maybe it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you lead it…?

More accurately describing what we do when we do great social work is only the starting point. We do not know enough about that. Yet how we make great social work happen is perhaps even more important. And we know even less about that.

In the next few Blogs, I will explore some thoughts on what great practice is – and how we can create organisations that produce social work that makes a difference.



The report on the Hertfordshire Safeguarding initiative is here.

The report on the roll-out of Reclaiming Social Work is here.


  • Claudia Bernard

    Some key issues identified. Leadership at all levels in the organisation is key to creating meaningful changes in Children’s Services. Frontline workers also need good reflective forums/spaces to be able to sustain any changes.

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