“Behind every great man there’s a great women rolling her eyes” (Bruce Almighty), and behind every great youth worker there is a great support structure.
A support structure means more than just well-wishers and prayer-warriors. A support structure means work contracts, policies, accountability boards, bosses, mentors and managers… good ones, not pants ones!
I bet that one of the top reasons youth workers quit so early and frequently is a widespread lack of understanding of the chain of command. Everyone thinks they’re your boss – parents, teenagers, councils, caretakers – everyone!
I think the holy trinity of successful youth work support is a pastor – to include you within the wider vision; a mentor – to nurture you as a disciple, and a line-manager – to develop you as an employee. All three need to have a different emphasis but a common goal. Hypostatic union if ever I saw it!
We’re going to focus here on the specifics of the line-manager role.
In my first full time youth work job I had no line-manager. As a result I ended up working regular 70hr weeks, didn’t receive about half of my leave (and when I did I was granted it too late to book or save), wasn’t able to formally develop my training, and didn’t receive any clear feedback on my work performance. I left the job – and I nearly left youth work completely.
My next job came with an able line-manager, a quality mentor, a committed trustee board and a further accountability board to check up on the trustees. I’m still there – and I’m still growing.
There are five specific areas that a line-manager should be regularly checking up on: Time sheets, Annual Leave, Training, Project Management and Admin. Anything else probably falls under the purview of the Pastor or Mentor.
Checking how much time the youth worker is working, where they’re spending it and what – if any – gaps are show up, while keeping an eye open for over-working and unsociable hours. Keeping a google calendar of similar tends to be one of the easiest ways to do this.
Making sure the youth worker is taking it – including days off – and booking in advance. Also working alongside the youth worker to cover projects and seek outside help when needed. Annual Leave should never be made conditional on cover.
Looking together at relevant conferences, courses, conversations and a reading budget. This should include spiritual feeding and practical training. Ideally the board should set an annual budget for professional development.
Looking at the trickle down supervision of teams and volunteers under the youth worker. Mediating and advising on conflict resolution and making suggestions to both the youth worker and wider board regarding ongoing difficulties.
Anything that is foundational to the youth worker’s work, be it HR, policies, contracts, time sheets, rotas etc. Making sure that the machine is being well oiled by the right people.
Putting It All Together
These five areas should be noted and checked up on at least once every six weeks, and they should be minuted properly. Properly done minutes will include a ‘matters arising’ section to check up on ongoing items. Annual supervision meetings with Pastors/boards etc. then have some written record to go off. Minutes should be circulated only to those who need them – usually pastor/chair-person, line manager and youth worker.
You can also include ‘correspondence’ in your meetings. This gives the youth worker a chance to talk about extraneous, troubling or potential communications that have an impact on their work – and give the line-manager a chance to bring to the youth worker’s attention conversations with other leaders about work performance or project feedback – obviously filtering out the knuckle head and spiteful stuff.
Try to keep meetings to an hour, in a reasonably comfortable and private place!
Finally – don’t forget to stay professional but do build relationship. Laugh lots and have fun!
Line Manage Your Youth Worker