October 9, 2011

Professional Development

Posted in Best Practice, Managers Matter, Professionalism at 3:39 am by Sue Hine

Professional Development is a chestnut that falls from the Management of Volunteers tree every year.  It turns up in research, and in workshops and seminars.  Yes! say the managers in unison – we want more, and there are a heap of suggested preferences for topics and content, and how this might happen.

There are plenty of provider resources for professional development, on line, and institution-based, for various levels of attainment.  Volunteer Centres can offer a year round programme of one-off workshops and seminars.  Volunteering New Zealand’s Management of Volunteers Programme is pursuing a learning and development pathway that could initiate a real career option.

Yet Professional Development is not just about acquiring an accredited qualification or a few notches on the belt of ‘training courses attended’.  Being professional has a few more responsibilities, as the chestnuts recognise.

Like embracing a code of conduct and a code of ethics.  Go here for an outline on professional standards and ethics for managers of volunteers.  There are not too many codes of conduct specific to managers of volunteers, and the one I found made no mention of professional development. So I have resorted to a New Zealand version for the social work profession.  Right up front you can see the commitment to professional development.  ‘Continuous improvement practice skills and knowledge’ is what you do,
and regular supervision is first on the list to get there.  Managers of volunteers are telling us they want continuous improvement too.

‘Supervision’ is a tricky word, used particularly by professionals in the human services field, like counsellors, psychologists – and social workers – and most recently taken up by the nursing profession.  ‘Supervision’ is certainly not that part of your job where your boss reviews your performance.  Nor is it about ‘supervising volunteers’.

Think about ‘supervision’ as your personal time to focus on what you do as a manager of volunteers, how you do it, and what you want to do better, and why.

There is a continuum of models for ‘supervision’ practice.  You can enjoy 1:1 supervision, or group supervision, or peer supervision.  Or apply the same formats to ‘mentoring’.  Or go for ‘coaching’.  Never mind the words – go find out more here, and here, and here.

Back in 2010 Managers Matter research reported the importance attached by managers of volunteers to external support:  mentor/external supervision (25%), local volunteer centre (25%) and Volunteering New Zealand (13%).  [Table 15, p33]  The researchers noted the following: Only 3% of respondents mention seeking support from other similar organisations, suggesting the potential of improving networking between organisations in the sector.

Picking pieces out of a very important piece of research is not always constructive, but I have to put this information alongside informal evidence of managers of volunteers clamouring for ‘professional development’ and ‘networking’.

Trouble is, ‘networking’ does not come to me – I have to get out and engage with others.  Volunteer Centres will help, but they can’t do everything for me.

Trouble is, we are beset by the “too busy/no time” syndrome.

Trouble is, supervision / mentoring / coaching can come with professional fees.

If the organisation baulks at the cost or does not have a HR policy on professional development then go for self-directed peer groups (which could be a way to build on networking).  Peer supervision or mentoring is not to be taken lightly – they need to offer more than a cosy chat.  There are various process models, which work best when there has been some introductory training.

The thing is, this business of professional development is not just about personal career development.  There are gains for all the volunteers and for the people they work with, for the mission of the organisation, and specially for setting and maintaining standards in management of volunteers.  You want a first-class volunteer programme?  Go look for Professional Development, via formal qualifications and / or mentoring.

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