The Importance of Revitalizing Management Education for Social Workers

By Nesoff, Irwin | Social Work, July 2007 | Go to article overview

The Importance of Revitalizing Management Education for Social Workers


Nesoff, Irwin, Social Work


For more than three decades, social work educators have recognized the unique challenges of training social work administrators and the limitations of schools of social work in preparing students as administrators (Ezell, Chernesky, & Healy, 2004; Neugeboren, 1986; Patti, 1987). During this period a decline has been documented in the number of NASW members identifying themselves as administrators (Gibelman & Shervish, 1997), and attempts have been made to determine the management competencies that should be addressed in social work education programs (Edwards, Cooke, & Reid, 1996; McNutt, 1995; Menefee &Thompson, 1994; Wimpfheimer, 2004).

Social work educators are studying the issue of how best to include management content in the social work curriculum, and two disturbing trends have been noted. A 2003 study by the United Way of New York City suggested a looming crisis in nonprofit management, with many nonprofit leaders on the verge of retirement and few potential leaders poised to take over. Despite the finding that staff members needed more work to improve their managerial performance, few organizations reported that they are investing in the leadership training of their management staff (Birdsell & Muzzio, 2003). The second trend is the growing number of social services agencies being run by administrators from fields other than social work. "Social work administrators find themselves in competition with those in other areas of administration, including non-profit administration and law, who are thought to possess stronger decision making skills" (Ezell et al., 2004, p. 73) These two trends, taken together, are resulting in fewer social services agencies being run by social workers (Slavin, 2004).

TRAINING FOR HUMAN SERVICES MANAGEMENT

After interviewing a manager who calls for fewer social workers in managerial positions, Patti (2003) noted that the "call of high level managers for more business talent" results in one getting "the sense that many executives are saying that social workers don't bring to the table what they are looking for in upper level management" (p. 7). If this is not addressed through increased investment in training practicing social workers as administrators, the result may be that social workers will no longer be viewed as the appropriate professionals to run social services agencies.

Packard (2004) underscored this when he wrote,

   Schools of social work need to pay particular attention to the
   "competition" that their MSW graduates are facing from managers who
   have learned on-the-job and through continuing education and from
   graduates of MBA, MPA, or nonprofit management degree programs.
   Agency executives and boards who hire human service administrators
   will need to see clear evidence of how an MSW with an
   administration specialization adds value to the organization beyond
   what may be offered by someone with other credentials or
   experiences. (p. 19)

On its Web site, the School of Social Work at the University of Texas succinctly draws the differences between an education in business administration, public administration, and social work.

   Although administration and planning in social work shares elements
   of theoretical perspectives with schools of business administration
   and of public administration, there are marked differences in
   curricular objectives. Business administration emphasizes
   preparation for a career in for profit corporations, and public
   administration emphasizes preparation for careers in public
   services at local, state and national levels of government ...
   business administration concentrates on the profit motive through
   [the] sale of products and services, while public administration
   concentrates on effective and efficient management and policy
   development in the public sector.... Another distinction is found
   in the primary constituencies of the three disciplines. … 

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