Social service programs have existed in society for decades, with many contemporary services tracing origins in Elizabethan times and practices to assist the vulnerable and poor. Philanthropic and government dollars have funded many of these programs. And while programs and social problems have changed over the years, the core of the system to address these issues has not. And while the services and programs have changed over time, the goal and purpose of these have always been to assist clients to change and improve their lives.
These services and programs are provided under the umbrella of many nonprofit social services agencies by front line workers. These front line workers provide a myriad of tasks within the structures of both the funding entity, the organization that employs them, and the supervisors and leaders who provide leadership to guide the process. The purpose of this study was to explore the relationships between the front line workers' perceptions of their supervisors' styles of leadership and the self-efficacy level of those front line workers who motivate social service program clients to change and improve their own lives. The research question generated the following hypotheses: Perceived leadership styles relate to the front-line social service worker's levels of self-efficacy; Transformational and Transcendental/Spiritual leadership styles will have a stronger relationship to front-line worker levels of self-efficacy than transactional and Laissez-faire non-leadership styles; and there will be differences in levels of self-efficacy between subgroups based on gender, age, years in relationship to the supervisor, and education level.
Through the integration of several conceptual frameworks, including leadership theories and self-efficacy, this study used a random sampling method of United Way funded partners in major metropolitan cities in several Midwestern states. United Way funded agencies were invited to participate because of the Live United branding which suggests some degree of philosophical and missional consistencies. Permission from a number of regional United Ways was granted to access the chief executives of funded partner agencies identified as part of the United Way Agenda for Change Education Change Initiative. Chief executives were invited to share an integrated survey instrument composed of the General Self-efficacy Scale, Bass and Avolio's Multi-factor Leadership Questionnaire to measure Transformational, Transactional, and Laissez-faire Leadership, and Transcendental/ Spiritual Leadership Assessment with front line workers in these social service agencies. From the random sample of front line worker participants, 103 completed the survey.
Results of descriptive statistics showed that front line workers have a high level of self-efficacy, which was not related to any demographic variables as shown by Analyses of Variance (ANOVA) tests. However, review of the descriptive statistics revealed remarkable characteristics of these front line workers including length of service and age which demonstrated commitment and dedication to their work. Results of Pearson-r correlation tests showed that self-efficacy levels were positively correlated to Transcendental/ Spiritual, Transformational, and Transactional Leadership styles. However, self-efficacy was shown to have a negative correlation to Laissez-faire/ non-leadership.
Conclusions that were drawn by this study were that front line workers showed high levels of self-efficacy for each of the three major leadership styles, with Transcendental/ Spiritual Leadership showing the strongest correlation. This suggested that perhaps front line workers in an organizational culture with a leader who articulates spiritual values may have a higher level of self-efficacy. Results also suggested that front lines workers have a high level of self-efficacy independent of leadership, indicating that perhaps their own professional and personal skills and individual resilience serve to complete the leadership experience rather than depend on it for their self-efficacy.
Implications for practice encourage leaders to seek out training opportunities to expand their own leadership skills and integrate the best practices of each of the three major leadership styles, and to seek out training that explores leadership styles and self-efficacy of workers in a simultaneous study. Further, recognizing the importance of self-efficacy for front line workers, leaders may wish to provide in-service training, professional development and personal reflective opportunities for their workers such as the ones they take for themselves. Lastly, important considerations for recruitment and retention of leaders and managers was offered, including identification of skills, attitudes, and behaviors consistent with Transcendental/ Spiritual and Transformational Leadership to assist organizations transitioning from periods of great difficulty and dysfunction.