What is Professional Supervision?

Posted by Madeleine Hawkesby on 9 April 2019

What is Professional Supervision?

Professional Development and Support

When I talk about “professional supervision” with professionals, I am often asked “what is that exactly?”. I think it could be more accurately described as professional development and support ("PDS").

There are four key functions of PDS and the actual practice of supervision is a balance of these functions:

  • Facilitating professional development through the development of skills, knowledge and resources
  • Managing service delivery with a focus on quality, decision making and procedures and policies
  • Focusing on the practitioners work in order to promote reflection and learning 
  • Providing support.

One of the key purposes of PDS is to reduce stress and to support and encourage people engaged in demanding work. The role of the supportive function is to positively impact on the overall health and emotional functioning of the supervisee especially with regards to the effects of stress.

There are many different models and approaches to PDS. The model and approach will largely depend on the supervisor’s style and preferences and also the needs of the supervisee. For example, my supervision practice is based on a reflective learning model and is strengths based and solutions focused.

Reflection is central to learning. The reflective learning model is a combination of the ideas of reflective practice and adult learning, whereby use is made of the supervisee’s experience, in order to facilitate learning and development. It is a process of interactive dialogue that examines events or issues by looking at their impact and implications and works to increase knowledge and unsettle assumptions in order to improve understanding and future practice. It is a process of review and reflection in order to explore new ways of approaching the problem in the future and/or modify behaviours with the aim to focus, refresh and refine professional practice.

There are two forms of reflection, being “reflection on action” which relates to analysis of the event after it has happened, and “reflection in action” which relates to conscious evaluation and decision making during practice. Reflection “on action” assists the supervisee to internalise the process so the supervisee can access the process more readily when “in practice”.

The reflective learning model promotes a way of thinking. Essentially solutions that come from the PDS process are discovered and owned by the supervisee. The underlying premise of the model is that supervision is a learning process of guided reflection. It is a process which is driven by the experience of the supervisee, The supervisor role moves to that of facilitator creating an optimal context for learning.

While strengths based supervision has an emphasis on supervisee focused and directed supervision, it can be difficult for individuals to critique their own world view, as an individual’s own beliefs and values determine their perception and outcomes of their reflective process. This is where the supervisor can play a crucial role in assisting with this reflection and facilitating transformational learning. The supervisor can help apply different “filters” to a situation, so there are opportunities for new ideas and options.

The essence of solutions focused PDS relies on a focus on strengths that can be activated rather than deficits, attention to potentials rather than constraints, and acknowledgement that there are multiple perspectives instead of universal truths. Supervisors amplify the successful behaviours of the supervisee in order to highlight positive and productive work experiences. It assumes success and the potential of the supervisee to build further competencies. With the supervisor’s guidance, the supervisee will set goals in the supervision process. The setting of achievable goals and noticing achievements is a very key part of the solution focused process.

PDS is beneficial for people at any stage of their career. It provides support and has the power to focus, refresh and refine professional practice. It is a process of guided professional reflection and development. Learnings can be taken from success and “failures”, and “failures” or challenges provide extremely rich learning opportunities.


Madeleine Hawkesby LL.B., B.A., AAMINZ is a life-long learner who is committed to facilitating transformational learning and strategic change. She was admitted to the Bar in 1996, and since then has worked in many roles including as a solicitor, in-house educator, lecturer, Profs tutor, limited statutory manager, mediator and most recently in her own business specialising in employment law and human resource consulting. She has recently completed a postgraduate certificate in Professional Supervision and is now working with lawyers to facilitate professional development and wellbeing. Her practice is grounded in a reflective learning process, and is strengths based and solutions focused.