Middle-Out Management


Author: Rebekah McIntyre


Too often social service agencies are headed by people who don’t know what they’re doing. One of two things tend to occur: Management roles are granted to people with a business background, who understand the financial aspects of running a department or agency but not the unique needs of work with people. Or management roles are given to seasoned, qualified clinical staff. In fact, in clinical supervision roles this it’s mandatory that said person has independent clinical licensure. All too often, however, these clinicians do not have the training and skill set necessary to be successful as a supervisor of other staff. There is this assumption that because a clinician can work with clients they will be successful as a supervisor or manager. And all too often that’s just not the case.


It’s vital now more than ever that leaders in helping professions be well rounded.  Supervisors need to be able to utilize a similar level of empathy, compassion, understanding and strengths based problem solving employed with clients. When people at all levels inside the agency are engaged in the organization they work for or seek services from, there is a direct impact on retention of employees, which reduces the cost associated with hiring and training staff. The reputation of the organization within their service community improves dramatically, which in my experience is more valuable than any money spent on branding and marketing. When clinicians can successfully transition into supervising roles with adequate training, they feel more confident and experience less burn out. Direct reports feel supported and connected and are less likely to leave.

Business decisions should be informed by the work going on at the ground level and the needs of the people being served.


When we look at issues like retention and branding and personnel management, we tend to look top down (the use of policies and communication) or bottom up (enforcing policies and holding people accountable)- but to also look middle out may be a new paradigm that we have not explored. Middle out, or preparing and supporting managers, may be a new approach to consider with far reaching effects on your workforce.


For the past 16 years I have built my education and career around the premise that you cannot look at or operate social services either from the human perspective or the business perspective. Rather, teach clinicians to understand and value the business needs of an organization and teach operations staff to grasp the tenants of community organizing and strengths based approaches. Bring a macro social work perspective to how we support people. And apply psychological principles to complex problem solving.


I have created Maine Insight expressly for this purpose. To help social services agencies of all kinds improve their internal operations and management strategies to improve service quality, employee satisfaction, retention and thereby reduce administrative costs- and stress! Changes don’t need to be drastic or costly, sometimes a few small tweaks to culture or policy can yield huge results to morale and your bottom line. Maine Insight offers a variety customized of training and consultation options tailored to meet your organization’s needs that will allow you to get back to meeting your mission- which is probably more in line with why you got into your profession in the first place.


Rebekah McIntyre is a licensed social worker, management professional and owner of Maine Insight Consulting. With more than 16 years’ experience, Maine Insight assists organizations in helping professions organize and clarify internal operations so you can focus on your mission. To find out more or schedule a free initial consultation visit MaineInsight.com or send an email.


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