Making the transition (1): From Youthworker to Youthworker/Manager

Its whats said of footballers at times isnt it? not every great player makes a great manager, and for those that try it out by getting their coaching badges and become player/managers the task is that much greater. For a trivia question ; can you name all of the player/managers in the premier league era?

Its made especially tough they say when the player is already so well known to the other players and then takes on the extra responsibilities and thats possibly why theres only 5 or 6, and not many have gone on to be managers in the highest elite since.

But what about making a similar transition from youthworker to youth work manager? is it a similar kind of transition? do any of the situations from a Dave walker cartoon resonate?- role in management maybe – transitions maybe not…

About 15 years ago i worked in a call centre in the north east of England, for four years on the phones and in the back office, and when a round of opportunities came up for the role of team manager i thought i would go for it, armed with a few years youthwork experience, of coaching and training and a few icebreaker games (useful for interviews), i got one of the roles. However, from what i remember there was minimal training for the role, but i was assigned a different team, and people whom i didnt know at all to manage.  What I realised from the outset was that most of the challenge of management is in making difficult decisions, all the time. Decisions about customers, accounts, team dynamics, sickness procedures, recruitment and performance. Yet, because of the nature of the work, it was rare i hankered after being back on the phones. There was something in the challenge of dealing with a situation. Even if the team as a group was pretty destructive and ultimately so set in their ways that they were unmanageable.

Fast forward, or at least slightly step sideways, and looking back to my first dips into faith based youthwork in churches; management, though it wasnt mentionned was part of the ongoing task. From team, resources, young people, partnerships with agencies and schools, relationships with clergy, networks all require some degree of management. And thats before thinking about personal management. So even in a voluntary capacity there are tasks requiring management, or at least to be tended to.

When I was at the Sidewalk Project in Perth, as well as these types of activities, above, that required a level of managing, the project involved the recruiting, training and supporting of volunteers, and then as it took on students undergoing qualifications for placements, managing students professionally and also academically. The management of funding was also something that was gradually heading in my direction. It was such a gradual shift, though my title was ‘project coordinator’ not ‘just’ detached youth worker – it was at times the archetypal ‘(detached) youth worker/manager’ role. The Management aspects that included managing volunteers and funding, as well as partnerships, agencies and communication were gradually being increased.

But what did that mean for being a youth worker? In the main, actually doing the detached work meant that it was possible to generate stories, be passionate and have determination to keep the project going as long as possible – if nothing else because of the connections made with young people.  But what of making that transition?

For guides, books on management are many, books and resources on managing in youthwork are few – but can be helpful. Ords is helpfil (critical issues in youthwork management- but theres not much in it for the new manager juggling practice and managerial tasks) Not many talk of making the transition, either you’re a youthworker, or a manager – being both, especially in the statutory sector has been a relative ‘no-no’ its seen as too complicated and risky, too many conflicts of interest in decision making or too much time taken with managerial duties to be dedicated in practice. But for the youthworker in a faith based setting, the resources usually arent there not to be in practice, leading groups or activities, as well as taking on managerial responsibility. So it is more of a player/manager role.

In one way, being the virtual originator of a youthwork project, where it delivered and developed by one person who then gradually takes on more responsibilities is a different managerial situation to taking on a role in an organisation with limited knowledge, knowledge of its history, connections, people and cultures. This is what i took on as a role in my current position of Centre Director as DYFC. What i thought i knew about management, didn’t prepare me for what was now needed, maybe it coudnt. All of a sudden decisions had to be made, that i was expected to make, that i had no idea of, or whether i had the responsibility to make. Being seen as a bit of a practitioner expert may have given me a few weeks grace, or being new. But going into an organisation and managing from scratch is a whole different ball game, and yet because of resources it is still effectively a player/manager role, being on the streets on detached and helping at the clubs.

So, what about the transition from youth worker to youthworker/manager? for one theres alot in youthwork that us about management anyway – often the term management is only used when you’re having to manage people, staff or employment situations, but management occurs all the time. Being a manager does mean having to make decisions that might be difficult, ones that as a worker you’re not expected to make. Becoming a manager might mean having to withold information from people – people whom used to be colleagues. Transitioning means taking on responsibilities, though what that can mean at times is keeping more plates spinning, and hoping some don’t fall. To protect yourself sometimes you have to say no, no to the networking meeting to focus on finding funding, no to the conference to be at the office training and supervising volunteers – when these might have been automatic yes moments in the past. And while i talked about new christian conferences in a previous blog, one for faith-based managers is severely lacking. Managers tend to go to practitioner conferences just to network with other managers. Its not well resourced, let alone for the faith based detached youthwork manager…

In the faith organisation, its far easier to describe practices of direct face to face work in a theological themes, or to resonate them spiritually- but faith and management is a far more difficult call. Being a practitioner is the moment of transformation in a young persons life, and thats hard to let go of, like the footballer giving up the passion of the crowd for a pass, cross or goal.  Getting a funding bid, or making an ethical decision or supervising staff is rarely as proclaimed from the rooftops, and hard to determine as a spiritual activity, or worshipful.  But as a youthworker/manager the days of being at the coal face might be behind you, and that can be hard to take.

During the process it is worth trying to establish what kind of manager you would like to be- and if in a youthwork organisation- can you be a youthworker/manager and uphold the same kind of values you might have tried to embody as ‘just’ a worker? and this is important- nothing short of critical – so how might the new decisions you are asked to make, be also collaborative decisions if they need to be, or empower staff, or be made in a democratic process? Theres stuff on style, on culture, and shaping the relationships to be about management, supervision or both.

As youthwork is an art form, even trying to manage the process of becoming a manager might be futile, its often an improvised task, combining the reactive and strategic, developing identity within the role and adapting to and creating organisational culture. Are there hints and tips you would add to this to share, please comment below and share with others….



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