The MSW@USC Social Work Toolbox: 10 Skills Every Social Worker Needs
Social work is a demanding and varied profession, often requiring a practitioner to wear many hats on any given day: adviser, therapist, caretaker, administrator, clinician and many others. Though these diverse roles might seem to require an almost limitless range of knowledge and expertise, a social worker with a well-rounded set of basic social work skills will function well in most situations. Here are 10 qualities every social worker should practice and possess:
Empathy is the ability to identify with or vicariously experience another person’s situation. Empathizing is both an intellectual and emotional process that makes it far easier to understand and help others solve their problems. Most social workers are empathetic by nature; in fact, empathy is a major reason people enter the profession.
2. Boundary Setting
In addition to being empathetic, a social worker must also maintain the capacity to set boundaries and accept the limits of what can be accomplished during a specified period of time. The nature of this challenging profession can be all consuming, especially for those who sense their work is never truly complete. Establishing boundaries and setting milestones can help set expectations that are more easily accepted.
3. Active Listening
The ability to listen carefully, ask pertinent questions and retain verbally transmitted information is vital to the counseling aspect of social work. It’s how we establish trust, open doors and discover valuable details about the individuals who seek our help in understanding their unique circumstances.
4. Social Perceptiveness
In addition to receiving and processing verbal information, a social worker must be sensitive to body language, social cues, implications and cultural patterns of behavior. While some clients may clearly state their needs and work toward solutions in a focused manner, many others will find it more challenging to express themselves verbally, requiring a perceptive social worker to “read between the lines” in order to interpret the thoughts and feelings being held within.
Social workers routinely receive feedback on their performance from clients, supervisors and other sources, but there is no substitute for self-awareness. Being able to evaluate one’s own performance and work toward improving it (while also taking valid criticism and praise into account) is an invaluable skill.
Social workers are often required to deal with busy schedules, heavy caseloads and gratuitous paperwork. Successfully managing and prioritizing the logistical aspects of the job can help you maximize the amount of time you’ll have on your schedule to provide meaningful services to your clients.
The ability to coordinate communication and action among multiple parties is a vital part of a social worker’s role in connecting clients with services.
Whether it’s to help a client change behavior, motivate a healthcare worker to provide service or justify coverage of expenses to an insurance provider, the ability to influence, coax or invite others to take action is invaluable to any social worker.
Just as often as gentle persuasion might solve a problem, active cooperation can provide an alternative (and sometimes more efficient) route to a mutually satisfying solution. Being able to negotiate, compromise and work well with others is essential to the coordination of efforts required in social work.
10. Relaxation and De-compression
Social work is a deeply rewarding profession, but it can also be an incredibly stressful one. In order to remain engaged and effective at work, it’s imperative to take advantage of your personal time by focusing on and tending to your own needs. Leaving your work at the office and enjoying yourself is as important for your own well-being as it is for that of your clients.
By the very nature of who we are and what we do, most of the qualities and skills identified here are innate to our own personalities. Acknowledge their importance and maintain your capacity to leverage their advantages, and your future in the profession will most certainly be meaningful and satisfying.