Professional curiosity for front-line managers

Look Further, Think Wider, See More

What is professional curiosity?

Professional curiosity is where a practitioner seeks to explore and understand what is happening in someone's life, rather than making assumptions or accepting what they are told at face value. It involves looking out for signs that things are not right and seeking out the evidence of what is really happening.

The importance of professional curiosity and managing difficult conversations has been identified within Safeguarding Reviews in Leeds. In one review for example, a relative/carer was able to explain away suspicious injuries of the person that they were caring for, with little or no challenge. Only after the person died, was the abuse identified. The review identified the importance of professional curiosity and the ability of practitioners to have difficult conversations that reveal someone's real circumstances.

Greater professional curiosity may not have changed the outcome, but greater consideration of other possible explanations for the injuries would have improved the chances of the abuse being discovered. 

Enabling professionally curious practice

Reflective supervision

An important message from research is that often supervision can be focused on management processes and task completion, and not enough time is given to reflection and critical thinking.

Reflective supervision is important in enabling staff to question their practice, critically analyse and evaluate experiences, and debrief after challenging or stressful encounters. This approach leads to a better understanding of the cognitive and emotional elements of practice.

Evaluating your supervision practice

Ask yourself: Is there more you could do to encourage your team members, to be professionally curious, to look further, think wider and see more?

  1. To what extent am I encouraging my supervisees to reflect on their work?
  2. Is the supervision I offer reflective, or is it mainly focused on workload management?
  3. Do I model a reflective, analytical approach?
  4. Am I giving my supervisees enough time to reflect on their work in supervision?
  5. Do I offer opportunities for discussion and reflection in team meetings?
  6. Am I offering challenge to support critical analysis in work?
  7. Am I confident my team members' training and learning is up-to-date and fit for purpose?
  8. How do I support my supervisees to hold difficult conversations. Including challenging other practitioners or the person / people they are working with effectively?
  9. Am I able to prioritise the needs of the person over and above performance data where necessary?
  10. Am I sufficiently skilled in the use of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 to be able to adequately advise and support my practitioners?
  11. Do I carry out thorough quality checks to assure myself that my team members are practising to the required standard(s)?[1]

Are there things you could do differently?

Could you use more time during supervision to:

  • Play 'devil's advocate' – asking 'what if?' questions to challenge and support practitioners to think more widely around cases?
  • Question whether outcomes have improved for the person and the evidence of this?
  • Present alternative hypotheses about what could be happening?
  • Present cases from the perspective of other family members or professionals?
  • Ask practitioners what led them to arrive at their conclusion and support them to think through the evidence?
  • Support practitioners to plan and reflect on difficult conversations?
  • Monitor workloads closely and encourage practitioners to talk about these and support them to address issues of stress or pressure?
  • Support practitioners to recognise when they are tired and need a fresh pair of eyes on a case?
  • Support practitioners to recognise their feelings in relation to a case and how this may impact on judgements and decisions?
  • Help people to think about culturally aware and sensitive practice, and support to practitioners to seek expertise?
  • Provide opportunities for team discussion which can help practitioners to learn from one another's experiences?
  • Help practitioners recognise signs of unconscious basis within their practice

What else can I do?

Reflective supervision models and other useful resources
  • Your organisation's supervision policy
  • Your organisation's training / workforce development guidance and resources

A Professional Curiosity Power Point presentation has also been developed to support training which includes reference and links to reviews whereby professional curiosity was a key theme. This could also be used to support practice discussions and reflection in team meetings. Please email the LSAB Strategy Unit for a copy;   

[1] Anke et al: Reported in Research in Practice (2020): Strategic Briefing: Professional curiosity in safeguarding adults