Important Skills for Social Workers: Beyond the Basics


In any career, there are personal qualities that allow some people to get ahead and blossom in their chosen field. Successful salespeople are quick thinkers. Successful accountants pay attention to detail. Successful teachers are patient and creative. The list goes on and on.

The field of social work is no different. Although many people understand that social workers need to be compassionate, good listeners and excellent communicators, there are other skills that can lead to a successful career in social work— and in some cases, are even mandatory for landing a job in certain areas.

Social Workers

Language Skills

By some estimates, in a few years there will be more people who speak Spanish as their first language in the U.S. than English speakers. As the second-most common language in the country, it’s no wonder, then, that bilingual social workers are in high demand; however, it’s not just Spanish speakers who need to communicate with social workers, so those who understand Chinese, French, Arabic and Farsi have an advantage in this field. Recent immigrants to the U.S. often need the services of social workers to make the adjustment to life here, and working with someone who speaks their language is immensely helpful. And in fact, it’s not just language skills that are beneficial; social workers who have a keen understanding of cultural differences will find their jobs easier as well.

Grant-Writing Skills

Ask any social worker, and she will tell you: Her agency is perpetually underfunded, and staff is always being asked to do more with less. Grants are an important source of funding for those who provide important services, and social workers who have an understanding of the grant-making process and how to successfully apply for funds have an advantage. When you study for your online degree in social work, you can expect to have a basic introduction to the grant-writing process, but it’s also wise to seek out other classes or workshops to build this valuable skill.

Problem-Solving

Some people are natural-born problem solvers. They see an issue, and immediately know exactly what needs to be done to correct it. Although this is a valuable skill in any field, in social work, it’s especially relevant; in fact, the field of social work is largely devoted to problem solving: Identifying the reasons why clients are having issues, and making suggestions or supplying resources to correct those issues. Although social workers may not wish to earn an advanced education,taking classes in those programs related to problem-solving and decision-making will better equip you with processes for helping clients and give you the skills you need to help them better solve their own problems.

Perceptiveness and Self-Awareness

While social workers get a great deal of information by actively listening to their clients and assessing reports of situations from other providers, they also need to have a good deal of perceptiveness — the ability to see how others are behaving and interpret the truth behind those behaviors. This means having excellent observational skills, since a good deal of communication is nonverbal, but also being able to make connections others might not immediately see. At the same time, it’s also important for a social worker to be aware of her behavior, particularly her motivations, biases and assumptions, so as to avoid making incorrect assessments based on her experiences.

These are just a few of the skills that allow social workers to enjoy a satisfying career and move up the ladder of success. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have excellent time management, organization and computer skills as well, in addition to the ability to think critically about situations and carefully document all information in a clear and concise manner.

The good news is many of these skills can be taught, through formal social-work-education programs and on-the-job training. Those who have a passion for helping others and a desire to make a difference shouldn’t rule out a social work career if they are lacking, but instead should understand that they may need to work harder and get more training in some areas.

Image provided by Evan Villarrubia from Flickr’s Creative Commons

About the Author:Social worker Lisa Singer has supervised more than two dozen student social workers during her career as the director of a child-and-family-therapy center.

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Category: Social Service Education Requirements

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