Important Skills and Traits of Social Workers
Successful social workers connect with their clients and act as effective advocates. Social work degree holders require strong communication skills, the ability to listen, and organizational abilities. Social workers also rely on their empathy and patience to build meaningful relationships with clients.
How do social worker traits and social worker skills differ? Traits typically comprise a person's character, while skills get acquired. This page introduces the most important skills and traits of social workers. Prospective social workers can use this resource to strengthen their skills.
Becoming a Social Worker
Becoming a social worker requires education, experience, and licensure. Social workers typically spend 4-6 years in school before entering the workforce.
Social work careers require at least a bachelor's degree. Many social workers hold a master's degree and a clinical social worker license. Clinical social workers can diagnose and treat mental and behavioral issues. In every state, social workers must hold a license to practice. A social work license typically requires a degree, a supervised practicum, and passing exam scores.
Social workers conduct client assessments, refer clients to community services, and offer individual or group therapy. They create case files, evaluate social service programs, and advocate for clients. Social worker tasks vary by specialization.
Social workers can specialize in mental health and substance abuse, school, children and family, or healthcare social work. Some pursue careers in forensic, geriatric, or military social work. Social work students often choose a concentration that shapes their career path.
Social workers practice in many settings, including schools, community health centers, behavioral health clinics, and child protection agencies. A social worker's specialization typically determines their work setting.
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Traits of a Successful Social Worker
Successful social worker traits include empathy, passion, and patience. Social workers bring these traits to their career as core parts of their character.[tabs] [tab-item title="Empathy"]
Many social workers primarily work with people below the poverty line and clients with mental health disorders. They assist vulnerable children and people with substance use disorders. A third of social workers reported that they primarily work with clients in the child welfare system.
Social workers need empathy — one of the top social worker traits — to work for these vulnerable clients. Only social workers with empathy can connect with clients and assist them.[/tab-item] [tab-item title="Patience"]
Social workers often help clients at their low point. They assist children in foster care, people with mental health disorders, and families needing vital social services. Patience helps social workers prioritize their clients' emotional state and needs, even when clients might resist help.
Successful social workers bring patience to their role. Staying calm in stressful situations and managing challenges with patience helps social workers succeed.[/tab-item] [tab-item title="Communication"]
During an average day, social workers communicate frequently. Examples include meeting one-on-one with children to assess their welfare or discussing treatment options with social services organizations. They may also discuss client needs with healthcare providers or other social workers.
Communication helps social workers connect with clients and coordinate with a team of professionals. Over 60% of social workers say they work as part of a team. Successful social workers draw on their active listening, interpersonal, and communication skills daily.[/tab-item] [tab-item title="Respectability"]
Successful social workers rely on their professional reputation. An ethical social worker who upholds the profession's values earns respect from clients and colleagues. Respectability encompasses many social worker traits. These include respect for others, a commitment to core social work values, and an ethical approach to professional challenges.
Social work programs help students develop a strong ethical and moral approach to the field, which strengthens their respectability.[/tab-item] [tab-item title="Passionate"]
Social workers face stressful situations in their career. They also earn relatively low salaries related to the profession's education requirements. As a result, passion is one of the most important traits of social workers.
Empathy, patience, communication skills, and respect help social workers advance. Passion fuels commitment to the profession, from entering a social work program through decades of work experience. Passionate social workers stand out because of their commitment to their job.[/tab-item] [/tabs]
Skills of a Successful Social Worker
Certain social worker skills distinguish the most successful social workers. By strengthening these skills in school and through work experience, social workers can improve their job performance.[tabs] [tab-item title="Organization"]
Social workers often work with multiple clients at once. The ability to organize case files, manage a large volume of cases, and meet deadlines helps social workers succeed. Along with organization skills, social workers must accurately document treatment plans and interventions for their clients.
Organization also ranks among the most useful social worker skills for macro-level social workers. These social workers manage programs and oversee complex social services operations.[/tab-item] [tab-item title="Active Listening"]
People facing poverty, mental illness, and substance use disorders rely on social workers to connect them with services. Active listening is one of the most important traits of social workers. To help clients access treatment and manage challenges, social workers must listen closely to their needs.
Nearly half of social workers work with children. For these professionals, the ability to listen comprises an important part of their job. When advocating for children or recommending school policies, social workers rely on their listening skills.[/tab-item] [tab-item title="Time Management"]
Some social workers help 50 or more clients. Others work in fast-paced settings like outpatient healthcare facilities. Strong time management skills allow social workers to successfully transition between tasks, manage deadlines, and divide time between responsibilities.
Many social work students strengthen their time management skills during a social work degree. While completing courses and supervised practica, students learn core skills for their future career.[/tab-item] [tab-item title="Dependability"]
Social workers advocate for vulnerable children, connect people with substance use recovery services, and offer individual and group counseling. Clients must be able to depend on social workers.
Successful social workers demonstrate their dependability in several ways. Social workers follow through on promises, stay present for clients, and build long-term, trusting relationships with coworkers and colleagues. Dependability distinguishes exceptional social workers from others in the profession.[/tab-item] [tab-item title="Flexibility"]
In one day, social workers might meet with clients, recommend treatment strategies, and evaluate social services programs. Flexibility helps social workers manage their workload while prioritizing their own mental health.
Flexibility lets social workers handle changes in routine and adapt to new responsibilities. Flexible social workers more easily manage new clients or challenges. Some social work includes irregular hours, such as on-call hours, requiring a flexible schedule.[/tab-item] [/tabs]
Genevieve CarltonGenevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University and earned tenure as a history professor at the University of Louisville. An award-winning historian and writer, Genevieve has published multiple scholarly articles and a book with the University of Chicago Press. She currently works as a freelance writer and consultant. See more articles by Genevieve
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