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Ten Essential Skills for a Social Worker

Dr. Obi Igbokwe

Last Updated: Monday, May 20, 2013
We look at ten of the most essential skills a social worker would need to have a great career.

Social workers hold degrees in their field, plus additional degrees or training or the carious areas in which they specialize. If you’re thinking about entering this rewarding, challenging profession, there are a number of skills that you’ll need, skills that are essential for success as a social worker:

1. Therapy skills. Social workers help children and families deal with domestic violence issues, neglect and substance abuse problems. They must be able to approach these interactions using the training they’ve received in social, psychological and emotional counseling.

2. Assessment skills. You’ll need to be able to assess different clients’ problems and apply proper intervention strategies, and prepare treatment plans for implementing them.

3. Interpersonal skills. Social workers must be able to show compassion and understanding while counseling clients. Warmth, compassion, honesty and integrity are key skills in social work.

4. Discretion. Many of the clients’ problems are of a sensitive nature, and in many cases there are legal restrictions on what you can share about confidential matters. As a social worker, you’ll need to be able to handle confidential information in an appropriate manner.

5. Verbal and written skills. There’s a lot of paperwork in social work, much of it reports and notations in files on clients, as well as written communication to clients and various social agencies. You’ll need to talk to clients, of course, but also make phone calls on clients’ behalf, and negotiate with service agencies to help children and families.

6. Flexibility. In addition to needing to adapt to different situations and personalities, you’ll need to be able to make home visits and go to service facilities. A driver’s license is an important tool in this job – you’ll need to go to your clients.

7. Appreciation for diversity. Social workers deal with children and families from diverse social, racial and ethnic backgrounds. You’ll need to be able to comfortable travel between social strata, and treat all clients with respect and dignity.

8. Limit setting. While compassion is important for a social worker, it’s also important to maintain the client-counselor relationship. Understanding boundaries with clients and being able to maintain those boundaries is essential.

9. Knowledge of community resources. A good social worker is plugged into the community resources that will be needed to help the children and families that they assist. You’ll need to know where to turn for medical care, food and clothing, psychological counseling, help with legal matters, and who to turn to when you need to untangle bureaucratic red tape.

10. Understanding of environmental stress. Social workers need to be able to comprehend why people have the problems they do, why they react the way they do, and how the combined pressures of money, family and societal needs can affect families and individuals. Understand breeds compassion – and compassion is the most important trait that a social worker must possess.

Social workers have an essential role in society, but evaluate your abilities in these areas before you consider a training program.