Academic journal article Social Work

Empowering Staff and Clients: Comparing Preferences for Management Models by the Professional Degrees Held by Organization Administrators

Academic journal article Social Work

Empowering Staff and Clients: Comparing Preferences for Management Models by the Professional Degrees Held by Organization Administrators

Article excerpt

As defined by Gutierrez, Parsons, and Cox (1998), empowerment practice in social work can occur in interactions between clients and workers, among members of self-help groups, and in actions taken by social service organizations to involve staff and clientele in decision making. Empowerment strategies are considered to be most effective when they originate from the values and actions of organization leaders and are embedded in the organization's decision-making structure (Linhorst, Eckert, & Hamilton, 2005; Peterson & Zimmerman, 2004). However, many social service administrators adopt management approaches that incorporate principles associated with for-profit businesses: cost containment, finding low-wage alternatives to paying good salaries, and concentrating decision-making authority in a handful of top managers (Anthony &Young, 2003; Bobic & Davis, 2003).These activities often conflict with the promotion of social work values such as social justice and client self-determination (Linhorst et al., 2005).

Only a handful of research studies have actually examined management practices used by social workers (Hoefer, 1995; McNutt, 1995). Consequently, very little is known about whether social workers actually apply empowerment theories and principles in management practice or whether social workers are more likely than other nonprofit managers to apply empowerment approaches and principles. In this article, we report on findings from a national online survey of nonprofit and public managers. Members of several professional organizations associated with nonprofit management were asked to describe their own approaches to management. Respondents were also asked whether, and to what degree, their organizations engaged in activities designed to empower organization staff and clients. These responses were then analyzed to determine whether management approaches adopted by social work managers varied from those used by graduates of other types of master's programs offering content on nonprofit management.


The empowerment approach to management is one of a number of models of administrative practice that are commonly used by nonprofit or public managers of social service organizations such as management by objectives (MBO), total quality management (TQM), Theory X, and the human relations model (Austin, 2002; Kettner, 2002; Netting & O'Connor, 2003). Models include theoretical assumptions, values, or perspectives about how individual managers should carry out their roles, activities, and specific skills sets to achieve their intended outcomes (Hardina, 2002). The empowerment model of management practice and the outcomes that this approach is intended to produce are well explicated in the management literature in business, social psychology, public administration, and social work (Lawler, Mohrman, & Ledford, 1995; Petter, Byrnes, Choi, Fegan, & Miller, 2002; Shera & Page, 1995). Although there is limited research on whether empowerment-oriented management is used by nonprofit and public managers, previous studies have examined whether management education or type of graduate degree (business, social work, public administration, or nonprofit management) influence what types of management activities are undertaken by nonprofit and public sector administrators.

The Empowerment Model and Skills for Nonprofit and Public Organization Managers

The term "empowerment" is often linked to participatory management (Pine, Warsh, & Maluccio, 1998). Although it is used to describe efforts to expand decision-making roles for nonadministrative staff members in social service organizations, empowerment was originally associated with efforts to include clients in social service decision making. Client participation as a formal process had its origins in efforts to directly involve consumers in the management of social service organization during the War on Poverty in the 1960s (Arnstein, 1969). …

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