A concern is emerging in Ireland that social care managers and staff are moving too far away from the ‘care’ in social ‘care’ work. In this paper a discussion of the impact of the bureaucratic procedures and regulation within the social work and social care work sectors is presented along with an exploration of leadership approaches. It is argued that certain leadership approaches, in particular pedagogical leadership, could not only help social care managers to negotiate the complex issues they are facing but also facilitate putting the ‘care’ back into social ‘care’ work. Pedagogical leadership is globally supported across a variety of human service disciplines: it facilitates the creation of a learning culture within the workplace where social care managers facilitate conversations with their teams to encourage reflection, critical thinking and contributions to the professional wisdom required for quality service. The purpose of this article is to contribute to the dialogue within leadership practice for social care professionals. This discourse is necessary if lessons are to be learned from past experiences in this country and others about how to balance the need for care, learning and compassion with accountability.