Community Health Worker Supervisors: A Look at Their Role, Skills and Training

Behind every successful community health worker is a supportive community health worker supervisor.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the people who supervise CHWs. We’ll spotlight their important role, the skills they need, and the training they should they receive.

At least in an ideal world. Not everyone thinks enough about what a supervisor should know and do.

CHWs are becoming more widespread in the world of healthcare. They work in ever more communities helping people get the care and support they need.

Some CHWs work alone or with supervisors who don’t understand their role very well. But this is what you’ll need if you want to create an environment where CHWs have the guidance and support they need.

So, read on and discover how CHW supervisors contribute to the well-being of communities everywhere.

Here is your Job Description Template For Hiring A CHW!

Supervisors Who Keep Up with How CHWs Are Included in Healthcare

CHWs are becoming more and more a part of healthcare systems all around the world, and especially in the US. With Medicaid coverage of community health worker services, now they’re officially included in how healthcare is provided as a reimbursable expense in many areas.

As integration of CHWs in healthcare keeps evolving, and agencies like the World Health Organization asking for more research on how to make this work better, it’s time to implement some of these strategies.

Stronger Supervision Tools and Methods

Some helpful tools and methods have been developed to uncover how to define how to support and supervise community health workers.

One useful tool is the Perceived Supervision Scale, an internationally validated tool that measures the experience of supervision from the perspective of community health workers (CHWs). This scale is designed to assess how CHWs perceive the supervision they receive and how it impacts their work and well-being.

Another concept is supportive supervision. Supportive supervision is when supervisors help and guide CHWs in a friendly and helpful way. It’s like teamwork between supervisors and CHWs.

This strategy works well with CHWs by boosting motivation and connecting CHWs to their work. Supervisors are there to lead but also to be cheerleaders when they most need it.

Supportive supervision is all about teamwork. Supervisors and CHWs work together to solve problems, like teammates. Mentoring is a big part of this, as are talking and sharing ideas.

For example, instead of telling a CHW what to do, a supervisor would sit down with them they’d brainstorm together. Or a supervisor might pair a less experienced CHW with a more experienced worker.

The Role of CHW Supervisors

Supervisors of community health workers have a wide range of tasks and an expansive role. They need to make sure CHWs are doing their jobs, help the community, filling in if necessary, keeping CHWs on track for their job duties and keeping the community health worker initiative in line with the program’s goals.

This can be a tough job with a delicate balance. They need to be firm about the rules but also be understanding and caring when dealing with CHWs. They need to find the right balance between making sure everything is done correctly and showing compassion.

Essential Skills for CHW Supervision

This kind of balance needs the right kind of skills, which should lead your training efforts. Read more about supervisor leadership skills here.

Some of these baseline skills are:

  • Cultural Awareness and Sensitivity: Understanding diverse cultures and communities to connect effectively with CHWs and the people they serve.
  • Effective Communication: Being able to communicate clearly and in languages spoken by CHWs to provide guidance and support.
  • Time Management and Flexibility: Balancing various tasks and adapting to CHWs’ non-traditional working hours.
  • Problem-Solving: Finding solutions to challenges that CHWs face in their work and helping them overcome obstacles.
  • Supportive Leadership: Providing guidance and mentorship while also advocating for CHWs within the organization and larger community.

CHWs often work with people facing difficult situations, and they’re members of those communities. So supervisors should also have some in-depth training to help support CHWs who need help, especially with burnout and trauma-informed supervision.

CHWs are at a fairly high risk of burnout. Supervisors need to be on the lookout for any signs of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. Supervisors can recognize signs of burnout by lookout out for:

  • Decreased motivation
  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Reduced performance
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Decreased empathy
  • Physical symptoms, like headaches or fatigue
  • Cynicism
  • Lack of self-care

Training and Resources for CHW Supervisors

Even the best supervisor will need some targeted training to excel as part of a CHW program.

One example is the Growth Learning Track from CHWTraining. This program is designed to equip CHW supervisors with the tools they need to excel in their roles. By focusing on key areas identified by experienced CHW supervisors and subject matter experts, this training empowers supervisors to navigate the challenges of their positions and enhance the performance of their CHWs.

Understanding exactly what it means to be a community health worker supervisor will put you on the right path to having a better overall program. Set up the systems, give the right training and offer support. You’ll be able to have successful community health workers and supportive supervisors working as a team.

CHW Core Competencies

Find out all about what the CHW Core Competencies are, CHW roles, CHW careers, how to cross-train your staff, and how to get state certifications for the CHWs on your team