[Interview] Zoë van Zwanenberg

Zoë van Zwanenberg is director of Zwan Consulting and project coordinator for the Centre for Confidence and Well-Being.

She is also the author of Leadership in Social Care (2009, Jessica Kingsley Publishers).

In this interview, she talks about her work:

How did you first become involved in social care?

I first became involved through my work with the National Health Service in the UK, where I was head of organizational development and I was involved in developing partnership working at a strategic level. When I then moved on to become chief executive of the Scottish Leadership Foundation, I was asked to undertake a study into leadership and management challenges in social care and support the development of a national approach to leadership development for the sector in Scotland.

What do you think are the main challenges currently facing social care practitioners and managers?

The current financial situation is going to give double pressures to both practictioners and managers, demand for services is likely to increase as demographics increase the elderly population, and unemployment and debt add problems for children and families. At the same time, budgets for service provision are going to be squeezed -- practitioners and managers are going to have be to be very focused about focusing provision without loss of quality and relationships with partner agencies are going to become even more important.

These are leadership and management challenges for practitioners and managers.

Clarity of purpose, clear direction, standards and focus on outcomes will have to drive work, with relationships as the key ingredient.

Why are leadership and place-based development so important in social care?

If we see leadership as being about clarity of purpose/outcome and the ability to align different individuals to a shared vision of what that should be, this is clearly core to the work of social care staff, as they work with individuals and families to enable them to achieve the best that is possible.

Place is, in my view, critical as the particular circumstances and context for each family and individiual are an essential element of understanding their issues and their ambitions. Work with individuals and famillies is never context free, and ensuring that we have a clear focus on place and on ensuring that work is specific in that way, we are more likely to be able to set realistic amibitons and align services to meet those desires.

The issues are different if you are working with a family in an inner city sink estate to if you are working with a family on a remote island, and these two extremes are just the outer ends of the spectrum. We need to work at all points along the spectrum and to understand what the impact of the differences are on both what we do and how we do it.

Could you tell us about the Centre for Confidence and Well-Being?

The Centre for Confidence and Well-Being was established in December 2004. Originally set up as a company limited by guarantee it was later granted charitable status on educational grounds.

The Centre's mission is to help bring about a transformation in Scottish culture so that it supports more:
  • Optimism (for self, others and Scotland),
  • Self-belief (an important ingredient in "can-do" attitudes),
  • A "growth mindset" (essential for people to realize their potential),
  • Resilience ( required in helping people keep going when life is difficult),
  • Positive energy (essential for relationships, team working and collaboration),
  • Sense of purpose/meaning (important for motivation and well-being),
  • Giving (an antidote to a "me" centered world and a source of personal energy and inspiration), and
  • Wisdom (important for leadership, good decision-making and for advancing the confidence agenda).
The Centre's work is guided by the following principles:
  • Creative and entrepreneurial,
  • Positive and optimistic,
  • Rigorous in our approach,
  • Values led/committed, and
  • Guided by common sense.
The Centre has a history of providing the following:
  • Robust research,
  • Reports and documents that can influence policy and policy makers,
  • Reports, documents and books that are user focused and accessible to the general public,
  • Seminars and conferences that bring together leading edge research with issues of practical application, and
  • Management and delivery of multiple projects.
The Centre works with a small core group of professional staff supported by a range of specialist associates. The Centre has well developed web resources to support its work and a dedicated secretariat team.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare-time?

I am chair of Scottish Ballet and the arts are my real love, so I spend much of my time listening to music, reading, going to ballet, opera, concerts and theatre and art galleries. With what time is left, I work in the garden, sew and spend time with friends travelling, mainly in Europe.

(c) Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011

This article was first published in the Jessica Kingsley Publishers Social Work Newsletter in October 2009

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