The CHW supervisor is an essential part of your community health worker program. The supervisor is responsible for providing administrative, and sometimes clinical, support.
They’re also the champion of the community health workers (CHW), promotores de salud, or other health advocates within an agency. They’re the ones who hold CHWs accountable, review their work and provide encouragement for growing their skills.
However, not all programs give as much thought to what kind of supervisor they should hire as they do the CHW.
At worst, the CHW is left to manage themselves. They can feel lost, solitary and misunderstood. This is the last thing you want of a person whose role is to bring together health providers and community members.
What does a CHW supervisor do?
A CHW supervisor provides day-to-day oversight and management of one or more CHWs. They are in charge of making sure that CHWs work well with other team members, whether it’s a community-, health- or faith-based program.
They’re also responsible for managing, planning and organizing daily and monthly functions of the team. A supervisor will direct, oversee, schedule and review the work activities of CHWs under the direction of their supervisor(s).
This can include understanding a CHW scope of work, roles and boundaries and internal policies and procedures. It can also cover more administrative jobs such as monitoring timekeeping, reviewing timesheets and providing training on systems to CHWs.
CHW supervisors also have an important role serving as a liaison between the CHW staff and leadership. This is especially important because many members of clinical teams don’t fully understand what a CHW does. Having a champion can help all staff members understand the unique strengths of a CHW and how they can all work together better.
Tips for hiring the right CHW supervisor
1. Think about where the supervisor and CHW are working.
Where your CHWs are working will affect the kind of experience their supervisor will need. So start by asking where your CHW will be working.
Will they be working mostly in a clinic? Find a supervisor who is experienced working with a multidisciplinary healthcare team.
Will they be working in communities? Then search for a supervisor who has experience working with community relations.
Will they be providing virtual outreach? Use a supervisor who has experience working on the phone and computer.
2. Hire more than one supervisor. Maybe.
If your CHW team is working in multiple locations, for example, out in the field half of the week and making in-office calls the rest of the week, you might want to hire more than one supervisor. It’s common for CHWs to need administrative and clinical supervisors for their job.
It could be difficult to find one person who’s an expert in more than one area. It’s common for all employees to have more than one boss, no matter what job they have. But because many agencies organize work around grants or projects, they might need separate supervisors to handle each one.
This strategy can give CHWs the best chance of succeeding in their job. However, if you’re not careful about laying out expectations and limits, it could be a way to confuse everyone. Overlapping management structures can become blurry and complicated.
Clearly define what kind of supervision each person is responsible for. This will help to make sure they’re coordinating with each other, so they don’t overload their hire. Coordination will also make it less likely they give the CHW conflicting instructions.
No matter what, there should be one person that each CHW is ultimately answerable to.
3. Provide management training for CHWs
You may be thinking of promoting a CHW into a supervisor position rather than hiring someone with a more traditional management background. This is an excellent strategy because no one understands what a CHW does better than a CHW.
However, before you promote someone into a supervisor position, provide that person with plenty of training and support before they go into their new role. Some CHWs are lost with the new responsibilities and don’t understand how to transition from fieldwork to more administrative work.
Supervisors need knowledge, skills and abilities to be able to help programs meet their goals and motivate CHWs. If they don’t come with those skills, which is common when promoting from within, you’ll need to provide the training so they can develop the skills.
Here are some key skills to provide new supervisors:
- People management – dealing with people who don’t show up for work, conflicts and recruitment processes.
- Remote teamworking – working from home or in remote areas has its benefits—but also its challenges. Give your new hires some skills for collaborating with people working from home.
- Leadership – CHWs are already leaders in the community, but leadership has different styles. Help your new supervisor learn different models and find the confidence to use them.
4. Assign a mentor to your CHW supervisor
Courses like those listed above can help a new supervisor only so much. They also need to learn how to manage specifically where they work.
That’s where a mentor comes in.
A senior- or management-level mentor can be a help for people who are promoted from within. They can bridge the gap between formalized training and internal policies and systems. Mentors can model the kind of behavior and skills that help them succeed, in addition to providing more systematic training.
It’s a good idea for mentors and proteges to meet regularly—at least quarterly and more often at the start.
With some smart planning, you’ll be on the road to a solid community health worker program. Build value in your supervisors the same way you do with CHWs.