Hiring a supervisor for your community health worker (CHW) team can be an intimidating task. The CHW supervisor is an essential part of your CHW program. It’s important to take the time to select the right candidate who has the skills, knowledge, and experience necessary to lead them successfully. The supervisor is responsible for providing administrative, and sometimes clinical, support.
They’re also the champion of the CHWs, 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.
To make sure you find the best supervisor for your organization, follow these steps to ensure that you hire the right person for the job.
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. Establish Clear Goals and Objectives.
Before you even begin to look for a supervisor, you should determine your team’s exact needs and create a job description that outlines what qualifications they must possess. It’s essential to set expectations and clearly define the role to make sure you get the right candidate.
Think about the goals and activities that you set for your CHWs. How do those fit in with a supervisor? You can also ask your CHWs for suggestions about where a supervisor might fit in with your organization’s structure. If they’ve been working for a while on a program, they’ll likely have very clear ideas.
Consider listing the desired skills, responsibilities, and any other qualities you wish this person to have. Once you have established clear goals and objectives, use those as the basis for all conversations with prospective candidates.
2. Think about where the supervisor and CHWs 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.
3. Consider Hiring more than one supervisor.
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.
4. Verify Their Qualifications and Evaluate Their Experience.
The most important step in finding and hiring a supervisor is verifying the candidate’s qualifications. Check that they have the credentials, certifications, and educational background that meet your standards.
It can be very helpful if they’ve already worked with CHWs or if they were CHWs previously. They should have a sense of what CHWs need to know in any case. This can include knowing the CHW core competency requirements and scope of practice.
Also make sure to ask potential candidates about their experience managing teams, or other related work. Not only should you assess their proficiency in dealing with different personalities, but also learn how they typically handle difficult situations and decisions. This will give you an indication of their leadership skills which can be critical to the success of your team.
5. Assess Leadership Skills Through Interviews and References.
Before making any hiring decisions, it’s important to assess the candidate’s leadership skills. The best way to do this is through a combination of interviews and checking references. Ask about:
- Their experience managing teams
- Leading previous projects
- How their current or former employees would question their abilities as a supervisor
Pay close attention to how they answer these questions; the response should give you an indication of the person’s attitude towards supervision and management. Checking references can also be helpful in getting another opinion on the applicant’s qualifications and supervising style.
6. Consider Cultural Fit When Making Your Final Choice.
When it comes to hiring a supervisor for your team, finding someone who is the right fit for the agency’s or program’s culture should be a priority. Consider factors such as their values and beliefs, how well they collaborate with others, what drives them in work-related tasks, and even how open they are to feedback.
If the potential supervisor lacks enthusiasm or appears too rigid, it could affect their performance on the job and have a negative impact on team morale. Making sure that your chosen candidate has shared values is key to creating an environment where people feel respected and supported.
7. 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.
Once you have chosen the right supervisor for your team, ensure that they have all the necessary skills, knowledge and support to be successful in their role. Invest time in training, so that they know how to respond to emergencies or challenging situations. Good training also helps them understand the nuances of their new role and the dynamics in your particular work environment.
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.
Finally, make sure that your managers get ongoing support such as seminars and workshops to remain well informed about changes in policies or workplace responsibilities. This ensures that supervisors maintain a high level of professionalism and deliver exceptional results for their teams.
8. 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.