Sunday, 10 March 2013

The Risks of Macho Management

I was struck by something I read recently written by Blair McPherson, a former senior social work manager with a large local authority and a much-published writer on social care management. Blair wrote in the Community Care social work blog:

“The more the public sector behaves like the private sector, with an emphasis on competition, keeping costs (wages) down and cutting overheads (management posts), the greater the pressure to achieve overambitious performance targets. And the greater the risk of bullying, fiddling figures, cutting corners, exploiting staff and intimidating whistleblowers.”

He is right. There is a deplorable tendency in the public sector for managers to think they have to be ‘tough’. The recent article by Amelia Hill in the Guardian recounts the stories of health and social care practitioners who have blown the whistle when they observed service users being abused or neglected by other members of staff. Often these employees have been bullied by managers as a reward for their public-spiritedness.

Or, less dramatic perhaps but equally worrying, a recent survey reveals that senior managers are perceived to be out of touch with practice and fail to consult when changes are introduced – see

A consequence of macho management, which Blair McPherson doesn’t mention, is that it is likely to increase the risk of safety breaches and accidents. If senior managers are out of touch with the frontline, and if people who raise concerns about bad practice are punished for doing so, organisations are simply flying blind, with those leading them unaware of the risks that are being incurred.

Fear and the blame culture are the enemies of safety. In order to create a ‘reporting culture’ in which people feel empowered to report near misses and mistakes, and to draw attention to bad practice and shortfalls in services, people need to feel that they will be safe in doing so. They need to know that they will be treated fairly and justly. It is the responsibility of management to make sure that happens.