Influencing the Practitioner’s Organization 157 in the hierarchy have different priorities and interest groups to please, which can create tensions and turf struggles. Social worker often occupy the lowest posi- tions in the hierarchy, providing them with limited authority, insufficient infor- mation, and inadequate opportunities to influence organizational processes. Rigid authority structures prohibit the flow of communication between those lower in the hierarchy and those higher up, or they may be unidirectional (communication flows from the top down, with little or no explanation). This stifles initiative and creativity. A rigid authority structure also may discour- age staff differentiation and specialization, which undermines their ability to respond to clients’ unique needs. In contrast, ambiguous or loosely organized authority structures leave unclear who is in charge and discourage coordina- tion and accountability. Organizations also require a division of labor to coordinate service activities. When role assignments are rigid or too specialized, this can lead to preoccupa- tion with developing and maintaining one’s niche. Client needs are held hostage to turf interests as professionals disagree over who “owns” the client. Professional interests do not always match client interests. Practitioners’ need for job security and protection of reputation may prevent them from challenging the organization when clients’ interests are ignored. These tacit agreements often lead to identification with the organization and its practices and procedures. Agency and professional definitions of social work purpose have a strong impact on clients. When agencies view clients’ life stressors as located in the per- son, external forces are likely to receive insufficient attention. This results in ser- vice definitions and styles that are unresponsive to the full range of client needs. 2. The Social Worker and Life-Modeled Organizational Practice: Tasks Some social workers maintain a distance from their organization, as if they were in private practice. They see clients, do their jobs, and go home at the end of the day. Other workers identify completely with their organizations. Either of these extremes compromises clients’ interests. Still others overiden- tify with the client, as if the agency were their mutual enemy. This stance is sustained at the risk of alienation—or even dismissal—from the agency, which also undermines clients’ interests. We propose that social workers identify simultaneously with their organization, their clients, and the profession, in a three-way mediation among clients’ needs, organizational requirements, and professional purpose. The social worker influences employing organizations through preparation, initial organizational analysis, entry, engagement, imple- mentation, and institutionalization. Preparation begins with identification of an organizational problem. Workers obtain data about problematic organizational arrangements and practices by
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