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About the designated safeguarding lead role

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What does the role include?

As the designated safeguarding lead (DSL) you act as the main source of support, advice and expertise for safeguarding in your organisation. The details of how you carry out your role will have some differences when your organisation primarily works with adults at risk or children, but the overall responsibilities will be the same.

  • Advise and support the senior team in developing and establishing your organisation’s approach to safeguarding.
  • Play a lead role in maintaining and reviewing your organisation’s plan for safeguarding.
  • Coordinate the distribution of policies, procedures and safeguarding resources throughout your organisation.
  • Advise on training needs and development, providing training where appropriate.
  • Provide safeguarding advice and support to staff and volunteers.
  • Manage safeguarding concerns, allegations or incidents reported to your organisation.
  • Manage referrals to key safeguarding agencies (eg social services or police) of any incidents or allegations of abuse and harm.

Who can be a designated safeguarding lead?

  • Someone with resources and capacity to act
  • Not the most senior person in the organisation
  • One person with overall responsibility
  • Available when the organisation is active

In some organisations the DSL will be a member of the senior management team, reporting directly to the chief executive. They must have the resources and capacity to act and to influence others.

Star Mentoring matches mentors with young people in the community. They don’t work directly with young people themselves, but through business partners. They decided the DSL should be their director of services, as they don’t need someone to do the role full time. The director is already part of the senior team, so they have the power to influence others as well as having the capacity to take on the role. 

In other organisations, the DSL might be an operational manager (staff or volunteer) reporting to a member of the senior management team. 

The manager of helplines and support at Help4Dads leads a team who work directly with fathers, both face to face and online. They already deal with concerns because staff report to them on a day to day basis. Help4Dads have checked they have the capacity and agreed they should be the DSL. They report to the director of operations and make sure they have regular meetings. They also go to senior management meetings when asked to make a report. 

Some organisations recruit a separate specialist to do this role. For example, this could be a larger organisation that deals with a lot of concerns, or one that works with children, young people or adults with complex needs.

Building Better Futures runs a befriending service for young people aged 16–20, who are leaving care and entering employment or higher education. The young people it works with often have complex support needs. They need help with their physical and mental health, and with learning how to be independent. Building Better Futures decided it would be a good idea to recruit a DSL who had previous experience of working with similar young people. It wanted someone who could be just focused on safeguarding, with no other responsibilities. 

The most senior person in the organisation should not be the DSL unless there is no other choice. If a safeguarding concern needs to be escalated or a decision appealed, you’ll need a more senior person to step in. This should be someone who’s not been involved in previous decision making.

If you have a small staff or volunteer team, you may not have a choice. In these circumstances, you should have a nominated trustee who can act as the escalation and appeals person instead.

There should always be one person who acts as the most senior DSL, but the responsibilities can be shared by more than one person. 

The Creative Family runs an art-based project in the local community. Their service manager does not have the capacity to do the DSL role on their own. They decided to make their team leaders into deputies. They’re trained to assess and manage any safeguarding concerns and escalate to the DSL when appropriate. This means the DSL can focus the strategic parts of the role and manage serious cases. 

There should always be a designated safeguarding lead available when your organisation is active. This includes during activities delivered outside of normal hours, online, and cover when you’re not available. It’s a good idea to set up a separate, generic email address and telephone number which can be accessed by whoever is acting as DSL. This helps avoid confusion when people need to report a concern and means you’re not giving out your personal details.

The DSL does not need to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, only when your organisation is active. You should make sure everyone knows what to do if they need emergency help when you are not working. 

At Elsewhere Youth, there is a team of DSLs who work on a rota basis. They use safeguarding(at) as their team email address, so whoever is on duty can answer concerns. They also have a shared mobile phone so people can call a ‘safeguarding’ phone number. They ask all youth workers to submit a request for any activities which are outside of normal hours, so they can make sure someone is on call. They have also set up an out of office reply and voice mail message which tells people what to do in an emergency

Skills and abilities needed for the role

You don’t always need to have previous experience or qualifications in safeguarding. Knowledge of safeguarding guidance and procedures is helpful, but you can learn this through training. You do need to be confident to lead and influence others and be prepared to deal with difficult situations and people. You also need to be organised and able to create clear systems and processes, as managing safeguarding concerns and tracking actions is the main part of your role.

Cam had been working as a service manager for many years, when asked to become the DSL. Cam’s manager thought it would be a good idea as Cam was great with people and had dealt with several challenging situations with a calm approach. Cam was also brilliant at managing case work. Although Cam was worried, training was booked immediately and Cam did a lot of research to prepare for the role. Cam had regular meetings to review progress, talk about challenges and quickly felt confident in the DSL role. 

Skills and abilities

  • Ability to build effective working relationships with staff and others
  • Ability to advise and support individuals at all levels within an organisation
  • Act with integrity and respect when working with others
  • Administration management skills
  • Communication skills
  • Influencing skills
  • Ability to work with conflict and emotionally distressing matters 
  • Ability to produce and develop guidance and resources


  • The role voluntary organisations have in safeguarding
  • Types of abuse and harm
  • Legislation, government guidance and national frameworks for safeguarding children and adults at risk
  • Role and responsibilities of local key safeguarding agencies, including social services and the police
  • Local social services processes for the assessment and referral of safeguarding concerns
  • Local and national agencies that provide support for children, adults and their families

Training and development

There is specific training available for designated safeguarding leads. This training can provide you with new knowledge and skills and the opportunity to network with others in a similar role to you. You should update your training every two years. 

You might also want to consider if there are any training areas which might help you understand specific safeguarding issues. This will depend on the risks your organisation may encounter.  

Eser works as a DSL in a community drop in centre and is often the first on the scene when dealing with safeguarding concerns. Eser decided mental health first aid training would be useful. This was because most safeguarding concerns involved people who were struggling with ill mental health. This was added to Eser’s development and training plan.  

 As well as training, consider how to stay up to date on all things safeguarding. You will find local safeguarding boards, partnerships or networks focused on safeguarding children and on safeguarding adults at risk that can be a great source of information. You may also find there are networking groups related to the type of activity your organisation promotes.

Supervision and support

Supervision can mean different things to different people but essentially it’s an activity that gives you an opportunity to reflect upon your practice. As a DSL, supervision is important because dealing with safeguarding concerns may have an emotional impact on you.

Your manager should provide supervision as part of your role. If you have a team of DSLs, you could run group supervision sessions together.  Or you could seek supervision from an external source. 

What to include in supervision sessions

  • A review of workloads.
  • An opportunity to be challenged supportively and constructively.
  • An opportunity to discuss issues relating to the workplace and working practices.
  • An opportunity to identify and celebrate achievements.
  • Reflection on emotional well-being/work life balance. 

If you ever feel worried about your own safety, or feel you can’t cope with the emotional impact of dealing with a concern, seek help immediately. 

Additional resources

Page last edited Sep 30, 2019

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