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What Skills Are Needed for a Career in Social Work?

by Gerald Hester

Social work is a very demanding profession. It directly involves you helping individuals with respect to how they are affected by social policies — especially people who are disadvantaged.

Considering this, it is understandable that social work should be dynamic in nature, and to practice this profession properly, you need some emotional and cognitive skills that will be useful throughout your time as a social worker.

If you have intentions to make a real social change in the world, social work is one of the best career paths you can take. And your success in this field will be largely dependent on both your innate skills and the ones you develop with time.

As you read on, you will get a better understanding of the functions of social work as well as the skills you need to be a great social worker.

The Functions of Social Work

Before we go into the skills required to succeed in your career as a social worker, have a look at the main functions of the profession:


social workers Engagement with clients

Source: herzing.edu

This is the first step a social worker takes. It is meant to promote a good relationship between you and your client and lay a solid foundation for the work ahead. For the clients, this is where they become active and officially begin their treatment.

During engagement, you may encounter clients that are unwilling to open up. This is common if the client was mandated by law or was forced through any other means to get professional help. You will need special skills to handle such resistant clients.


As a social worker, when you engage a client, you also need to have records to help you draw out an action plan for helping the client. This is one of the core functions of a social worker.

To properly assess a client, a social worker usually needs to interview other people who are connected to the situation. This will help you write a detailed report to evaluate your client’s health, education, and other important factors.


At this stage, the social worker and their client are meant to work together and agree on the best way to address the problem. The client is usually more comfortable at this point, so they will be willing to work with you to develop an action plan.

During the planning phase, the idea you develop will have goals and objectives, and they will be directly aimed at fixing the issues you discovered during assessment.


Source: fisher.osu.edu

This is where real action starts to take effect. You, as the social worker, will use different strategies to adopt and combine evidence-based practices and involve the clients in taking the necessary steps to solve the problem at hand.

If the client was actively involved in the planning phase, execution will not be so difficult for them. For this reason, you should learn the skills needed to involve clients in every step.

Monitoring and evaluation

Here, you will be doing follow-up activities to monitor the progress of the implementation of everything that you and the client came up with in the planning phase.

It involves data collection and analysis, which is going to help you see how well the plan is being carried out and the extent to which the client is matching the goals you have set together.

Supportive counseling 

Source: training.com.au

Most people refer to this phase as therapy, and they are correct. Through supportive counseling, you can help the client feel understood and cared for. This will make them feel comfortable and encourage them to continue getting better.

To be a supportive counselor, you need to be able to build a smooth relationship with your client, especially the resistant ones. It is one of the major skills you need for your social work career.

Graduated disengagement

This final stage involves your slow disengagement from the client. Your place in the client’s life will be replaced with a naturally occurring resource.

The skills you need to be a great social worker

Source: peoplesafe.co.uk

From the functions of a social worker listed above, it is obvious that you will need different skills in order to carry out your duties properly. Here are the ones that are vital to your career as a social worker:


Your ability to communicate clearly and unequivocally with different types of people will take you far as a social worker. One of your major duties would be to advocate for your clients, and you cannot do that properly if you do not have a clear understanding of their needs.

For you to communicate well, you should also understand body language. Even if a client has a disability, you should still be able to adjust and communicate with them perfectly.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence

Source: simplypsychology.org

For you to even desire a career in social work, there is a high chance that you have a good level of emotional quotient. You need to be aware of your own emotions and master how to handle them in the most stable way.

With this skill, you will be able to understand and manage the emotions of your clients. Sometimes, they can get very emotional, and you are expected to handle it in the most professional way possible.

When you master emotional intelligence, you will be able to help your clients by striking a balance between what they tell you and what you can intuit.

Active listening 

Being a good listener has always been a vital part of social work, and with active listening skills, you can be more helpful to your clients because it involves more than just the words your client is saying.

You will be able to also notice what your client is not saying. If they are passing non-verbal messages, you will quickly take note of them. This will help you ask the right questions and promote good communication between you and your client.

Professional commitment

For you to be a successful social worker, you need to dedicate yourself to a lifetime of learning. What this means is that you should be constantly updating your knowledge and skills, which will make you more relevant to clients.

You can do this by getting higher education, like a master’s of social work, via the online MSW degree program. The College of Social Work has a flexible schedule, so you can run the program while you work.

Critical thinking 

Critical thinking

Source: forbes.com

With this skill as a social worker, you will be able to see things from an unbiased perspective and give a fair assessment of all the cases you encounter.

It is no news that humans are naturally complex, so you will need your critical thinking skills in order to properly evaluate the details you get from observation, your personal research, interviews, and any other reliable source.

No matter your personal beliefs, you must be able to act without prejudice in every case — this is the best way to help your clients.


This skill will help you grow your career as a social worker because you will have a better understanding of other people’s situations. By getting a clear understanding of their intellectual, cultural, and emotional points of view, you will be of immeasurable help to your clients.

As a social worker with empathy, you will be able to put yourself in your client’s shoes, and this will help you make better decisions because you will be able to picture yourself experiencing their problems.


The job of a social worker is usually bulky. Even if the clients are the focus, your job does not start and end with your sessions together. So, you need to have organizational skills for the sake of maintaining order in your work.

Apart from sitting down and having sessions with your client, you will also be doing a lot of networking to compile information and complete your personal research. Client management skills such as maintaining relationships, billing, making a lot of phone calls, and reaching out to other service providers will also be in your job description.

If you do not master how to organize yourself, you will feel stressed, and this will affect your ability to take proper care of your clients. Unlike empathy and emotional intelligence, organizational skills are not innate for most people, so do all you can to master them and watch your career grow.


The job of a social worker is truly complex, so you will need unwavering willpower, a lot of patience, and a burning desire to keep learning if you want to go far as a social worker.

And as you continue to care for others, do not forget to take care of yourself. Many social workers who love their job go through a lot of stress in the profession because they do not set boundaries.

If you want to grow your career and also live a happy life, leave work at the office and pay attention to your personal life.

Learn how to start career as adult social care worker.

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