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Social Workers Are Everyday Heroes

Hero

By Holly A. Hartman, MSW, LSW

     As social workers, most of us are neither rich nor famous. Our efforts on behalf of others rarely, if ever, make the headline news. Yet to the clients we serve each day, we are heroes.

     To those who are in distress or pain, we are the compassionate ears that empathically listen as they share things with us that others are unwilling or unable to hear. We are their heroes.

     To those who have been stigmatized we are the discerning eyes that see the worth, dignity, and beauty of the person they really are beneath surface appearances or behaviors. We are their heroes.

     To those who have been marginalized and who are voiceless - who feel like no one cares -  we are the loving heart that radiates unconditional acceptance, caring, and concern. We are the strong voice that advocates on their behalf and the empowering champion who teaches them how to self-advocate. We are their heroes.

     To those who have been traumatized, we are the healing presence that restores their sense of safety and self-efficacy by providing them with crisis intervention, therapy, and corrective emotional experiences. We are their heroes.

     To those with mental illness, we are the supportive case managers and therapists who provide them with services and treatments that facilitate their recovery and that enhance their quality of life. We are the advocates who work to ensure that their human rights are respected. We are their heroes.

     To those recently released after incarceration, we are the helpful counselors who assist them with reintegration into family and community life. We are their heroes.

     To those who are disadvantaged, we are the teachers who help them learn life skills that move them beyond what seemed to them to be insurmountable obstacles. We are their heroes.

     To those who are desperate and who require assistance to get their basic needs met, we are the kind hands that reach out and lift them up by connecting them with life-saving and life-enhancing resources. We are their heroes.

     To those who feel overwhelmed, helpless, and hopeless, we are the gentle guides who lead them to discovery of their strengths, their greatness, and their true potential. We are their heroes.

     To those who are isolated and immobilized, we are the patient and persistent partners who help them find ways to connect with others and to share their unique gifts – the gifts they were born to bring into our world. We are their heroes.

     To those who rely on our social service systems and institutions to provide them with the resources and services they need, we are the dedicated administrators, managers, supervisors, and workers who ensure that high quality services are delivered to them. We are their heroes.

     For those to whom this world seems to be a cold, cruel, and harsh place, we are the living proof that compassion, kindness, and caring are alive and well on this planet. We are their source of help and we are their beacon of hope. We are their heroes.

     As social workers, we are someone’s hero every day. We’re EVERYDAY HEROES. And as such, we are proud of our profession.

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Characteristics of a Successful Social Worker — The Traits, Skills & Education You Need To Succeed

What makes a successful social worker?

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TRAITS SKILLS

Social work professionals are some of the best and the brightest. They intuit the needs of the people they serve and work to secure a better life for every individual who walks through their door.

Maybe you are considering a career in social work and are entertaining the thought of returning to school to earn your Master of Social Work degree . Or maybe you are drawn to a career in social work but are unsure if you have the personal qualities of a good social worker . Whatever your situation — check out these eight social worker character traits that will help you be a good social worker.

Explore Baylor University's digital resource page: Master of Social Work

The MBA of the Helping Professions!

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What Does it Take to Be a Good Social Worker?

If you’re feeling called to a career that’s dedicated to helping those in need, then you’re in the right place. At its core, being a social worker is all about empowering others, influencing change, and making a difference in the lives and communities you support.

  The primary role of social workers is to advocate on behalf of underrepresented communities and help them navigate through challenging situations, including:

But what does it take to be a successful in social work? What skills and characteristics do you need to thrive in this profession? Let’s take a closer look.

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Table of Contents

8 Characteristics of a Good Social Worker

2 skills good social workers need, how to become a good social worker, 5 things to look for in an msw program, begin your journey in social work.

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Characteristics are the distinguishing features or qualities of something or someone — the qualities that make a person or thing different from others. While there’s no specific kind of person who makes a better social worker than others, you might find more success in your career if your friends or family would use some or all of the characteristics below.

Frequently, social workers handle cases involving an ethical or legal component. A strong ethical compass is one of the most important strengths to have as a social worker, and it speaks to the core values of social work. It is important that these professionals take the time to follow the proper protocols and ensure that they do their due diligence in order to best serve their clients. Every social worker is held to a professional code of ethics, as described by the National Association of Social Workers. By operating from a strong ethical base, social work professionals operate with integrity, enact social justice, and serve their fellow man by honoring and preserving the dignity of the human person.

Want to learn more about the ethos of social work?

Explore our guide - what do social workers actually do?

Is a Master's Degree in Social Work Worth It? Exploring the value of an MSW

2. Organized

Social workers fill out paperwork for each client they see and maintain a file of their interactions, observations, notes, and each plan of action they develop. Social workers must be organized in order to stay on top of all their work and the numerous cases they are juggling at any given time. These essential characteristics of social work professionals help them to be fully present with each client they serve and to provide them with the best and most attentive care possible.

3. Empathetic

What makes a good social worker is their ability to understand and share the feelings of others — also known as empathy. For an individual approaching a social worker, it can often be a humbling experience to reach out and ask for what they need. When social workers respond with empathy, it helps their clients to feel validated and not judged.

Social workers who have a strong ability to empathize will be able to form strong connections because their clients feel they understand them and can relate to the things that are difficult for them. Similar to compassion, empathy is at the very heart of social work and is essential for any effective professional.

4. Respectful

Social workers deal with complicated and sensitive cases every day. An attitude of respect is one of the most essential personal qualities of social workers. Respect is required in order to maintain proper professional boundaries, and adhere to a code of ethics. In short, respect for the client, their personal information, and their personal challenges is essential to being a professional and successful social worker.

Social workers often work with diverse, and in many cases underprivileged, populations so it is imperative to keep an open mind. Respect for their client’s culture, ethnicity, religion, and beliefs are key components of a successful relationship. If a client does not feel that they are respected, they will likely seek the help they need elsewhere.

Sometimes social work is a slow-moving process. Often, the results you and your clients want to see take time. Especially when working together with other agencies and organizations to provide for the needs of your client, patience in social work is essential.

Social work professionals also need to have heroic patience when dealing with clients. Particularly when clients are working through difficult situations, they might not always be forthcoming with the information you need to do your job. Patience will help you to maintain your calm and sense of control, allowing you to serve your clients with a collected, mindful, and level-headed approach. Even when the situations are difficult, patience reassures your clients that you are in their corner fighting for them.

6. Trustworthy and Dependable

Social work is entirely based on relationships. If those you work for and those you work with do not perceive you to be trustworthy or dependable, it can be difficult to do your job effectively.

Social workers can demonstrate to their clients that they possess these qualities by listening to their needs, assuring them that they will work to find an effective solution, taking initiative in getting things done, and walking with them each step of the way. Social work professionals who have these characteristics will find it easier to build and maintain strong reciprocal relationships with those they serve.

7. Passionate

Passion is necessary to do any job well, but it is particularly important in the field of social work. Because of the fast-paced and intense nature of the job, it's not unusual to experience social work burnout . Passion for the work that they do and the difference they make in the lives of the individuals they help drives social workers to give their best to each client and case.

Clients and colleagues can tell if you are passionate about your work. Passion for your profession inspires hope in those you help and motivates those you work with to do their job to the best of their ability  as well. It is important to build up your fellow social work professionals, and passion for your craft can help them desire to work to their fullest potential.

How to Avoid Burnout

To make a career out of helping people when they’re hurting is one of the most challenging, rewarding, inspiring, and emotional paths that one can take. As a social worker you’ll be helping people deal with some seriously heavy topics. It can take a toll on your mental health, too. It’s common among social workers, who are often caring and empathetic by nature, to sometimes try to do too much. The result is mental, physical and exhaustion — also known as burnout or compassion fatigue.

Read more about how you can avoid burnout and compassion fatigue in a career that requires you to give a lot of yourself. 

8. Educated and Professionally Trained

To be an effective social worker requires professional training and a solid education in the principles and techniques used to manage cases. To begin your career as a social worker, you will need to hold a minimum of a bachelor’s of social work degree. With this degree, you can hold entry-level positions within the field.

If you want to have more responsibility and advance further in your career, you will need a Master of Social Work degree. While bachelor’s degrees provide a fundamental understanding of the field and how to interact with clients, a master’s degree allows you to dive deeper into the profession and work with clients on a more personal level to address their needs.

Skills are those things that you can generally learn or be trained to do. For social workers, there are two skills in particular you should hone to make your job more enjoyable and reduce day-to-day to stress.

1. Interpersonal Skills

Simply put, to be a good social worker you must work well with others, regardless of their background or experience. Strong interpersonal skills will help you form stronger connections with your clients and better understand their needs.

Here are some questions you should consider to determine your interpersonal strengths, and where you might need improvement.

  • Are you an insightful person?
  • Are you good at reading body language?
  • Are you a good listener?
  • Are you the type of person others come to when they need help?

2. Project Planning and Management

In your role, you’ll be managing schedules and appointments, planning goals for your clients, and tracking progress and success. If you plan to open your own practice, then you’ll also need to be solid on business fundamentals such as budgeting, marketing, and financial planning.

Successfully managing your many competing priorities as a social worker will not only help reduce your personal stress, you’ll be more available and organized to serve your clients when they need you.

Get an Education in Social Work

The two most common routes through which you can pursue an education in social work are by earning a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and/or a Master of Social Work (MSW).

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)

If you plan to start your social work journey as an undergraduate, a BSW program will help you build the foundational knowledge and skill set you’ll need to start your career. Your curriculum will teach you fundamental skills like social work methodology; theories of individual, family, and community development and functioning; advocacy; social justice; and research.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

The MSW is an opportunity for social work undergrads to build on their foundational knowledge and expand their skill sets to tackle more advanced topics. It’s also a great entry-point into the profession for career changers and compassionate people of all backgrounds!

In most programs, you can choose between different social work areas of specialty, such as clinical practice and community practice. You’ll also get the chance to determine which level of social work you’re feeling called to: 

  • Micro (family, individuals)
  • Mezzo (communities, churches, schools)
  • Macro (government, legislation/policy)

Is an MSW Worth It?

One of the most common questions asked by prospective graduate students is whether or not their degree will be worth their investment of time and money. While only you can decide if your degree is “worth it”, it may help to consider both the tangible aspects, like career advancement or increased earning potential, along with whether or not an MSW will lead to increased satisfaction with your career.

Average Salary for a Master of Social Work

Depending on your area of specialization, career track, and job location, you can expect a salary in the range of $45,000 - $65,000. However, a lot more that goes into choosing a career path than your earning potential, especially for service-based careers.

Career Satisfaction 

Did you know that career satisfaction can have an impact on your finances? Studies show that unhappy workers experience higher levels of stress , which can lead to a myriad of costly mental and phsyical health issues.

In turn, some people choose to leave high-paying jobs for more meaningful work, like that of a social worker. If making a difference in the world is something that matters to you, that alone could make an MSW worth it.

Must Read Blog:

If you want to become a good social worker, it helps to earn your degree from a school with a good reputation and a high-quality program. Here are some things the experts at the Garland School of Social Work say make a program stand out.

1. A program that emphasizes research

Programs that place a premium on research are often the most forward-thinking and well-structured. Social work is an ever-evolving field and you want to be sure that you’re learning the latest and most advanced techniques.

2. Ethical and inclusive integration of faith

It’s important for social workers to recognize the role spirituality and faith play in the wholistic social, psychological, biological, cultural & spiritual framework that shapes a person, their family, & community. An MSW program that recognizes and honors diverse expressions of faith while teaching the ethical integration of faith and practice will prepare you to be a more successful and inclusive social worker.

3. Flexibility without sacrifice

If you’re coming to social work as a career changer, it may not be realistic to drop everything for a residential program. Whether you want to attend full-time, part-time, in-person or online, it’s important that your program doesn’t sacrifice quality for flexibility. The curriculum, professors, and experiential learning opportunities should be fairly similar, regardless of the modality you choose.

4. Field placement

There’s no substitute for the real thing, which is why much of an MSW education is hands-on fieldwork — a result of placement with one of the school’s partnerships.

5. Faculty who are experts in the field

This is an accreditation standard — to be the best, you should try to learn from the best. Do your research on the faculty to see which program features prominent experts in their field.

Student Toolkit

For more insights on picking the right msw program for you, download the future msw student toolkit.

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Whether you want to help people one-on-one or influence change on a grander scale, earning a degree in social work will help you get the skills and knowledge to succeed.

At the Baylor University Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, our MSW program offers two specializations, Clinical Practice and Community Practice, and prepares students to serve as licensed professionals in their communities. The degree program is fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education .

If you don’t possess all of these skills, don’t worry! Many of the characteristics listed can be learned through time and practice. These traits are just the beginning of what it means to be a successful social worker. Your best qualities and greatest strengths will bring uniqueness to your work and allow you to relate authentically to your clients.

Do you have some or all of the qualities of an effective social worker? Are you looking to take the next steps in your social work career? Check out our guide, Master of Social Work — The MBA of the Helping Professions . 

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Master of Social Work — The MBA of the Helping Professions

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Home — Essay Samples — Life — Professions & Career — Social Work

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The Lessons I've Learned as a Social Worker with an Occupational Therapist and Nurses

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Social work is an academic discipline and practice-based profession concerned with meeting the basic needs of individuals, families, groups, communities, and society as a whole to enhance their individual and collective well-being.

Females account for around 83% of all social workers. Healthcare social workers and family, child, and school social workers are the highest paying social work jobs. Social workers helped decrease the number of juvenile arrests by 68% between 1996 and 2015. Social workers provide over 60% of mental health services.

Mahatma Gandhi, Jane Addams, Alfred Neumann, Frances Feldman, Ida B. Wells, Harriett Rinaldo, etc.

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Why relationships are key to good social work

Positive interactions between social workers and families are essential, but too often policies and practices act as a barrier

S itting around a table at a children’s centre in Essex are three families. With cups of tea in hand and their children playing next door, they share experiences of being parents and the role professionals have played in supporting them. In particular, who do they trust? Which relationships have made the difference?

The conversation was part of a project run by Essex county council , which aimed to enhance “relational capability” across the county’s early years, with support from us here at Innovation Unit and OnePlusOne .

Relational capability is the ability to have positive social interactions and relationships where all parties benefit. For social workers, it means thinking about how their own beliefs and behaviours combine with professional rules and regulations to influence the relationships they have with those they support.

The Essex project explored why relationships between families and practitioners matter, and strengthened understanding about what may help or hinder. We heard from people who needed extra help looking after their children. Their individual circumstances were very different but they mainly said the same thing: the quality of their relationship with social services was important. Families wanted to deal with one person who understood them and could help them in a way that worked for them.

Relationships matter. Our quality of life, our happiness, our ability to cope when times are tough are directly related to the degree we feel connected to others and can rely on them for support. It’s not just relationships within families that help them to thrive.

Research from the Harvard Centre on the Developing Child found the most important factor in the success of services provided by a care professional is the quality of their relationship with the family in question. When practitioners know how to connect with families, are able to listen and discover what’s really going on beneath the surface, build trust and find ways to explore solutions together, then life outcomes for children can be transformed.

It’s no wonder service users have a mixed experience – social workers manage a tricky balance. They do their best to support families to grow safer, more nurturing environments for their children, while at the same time assessing risk with a view to removing a child if they can’t reduce it. It’s hard to build relationships when your job it is to take a family to court unless things change.

This is especially hard in a system that encourages box ticking rather than relationship building, and that often demands a focus on a family’s weaknesses rather than strengths. Frontline practitioners deal with large caseloads, under pressure to assess and monitor risk and comply with many rules and regulations. They are not incentivised or supported to build the mutual understanding upon which good relationships are based – relationships that can make all the difference for an individual or family, and reduce risk to a child.

So, what if we set out to create a social care system where human relationships are given a much higher priority and allowed to flourish – while managing risk at the same time? A system in which both social workers and those they support can thrive.

Our work with Essex county council showed the importance of creating the right culture and incentives across the system. This means demonstrating the importance of good relationships at all levels, from leaders to frontline practitioners. It means making the quality of relationships a priority for everyone, highlighted within the organisation’s vision, in service contracts, as part of recruitment criteria, and in individual performance and accountability frameworks.

Culture change must be underpinned by support for practitioners to change their priorities and practice – shifting emphasis from the speed at which someone exits the system, to relationship building and giving the individual or the family more power to be part of the solution. In Leeds, for example, the entire children’s workforce has been trained in restorative practice (pdf), working with and alongside families to repair harm. One of the ways they do this is to use family group conferencing to focus on what the family wants to happen, instead of professionals making decisions for them and without them.

Redesigned roles can give social workers the time and space to respond flexibly to the needs and circumstances of individuals. The Department of Health named social worker project , delivered by Innovation Unit with the Social Care Institute for Excellence , involves allocating a dedicated caseworker to adults with learning disabilities. When a professional is the primary point of contact for all care and treatment, more meaningful relationships can develop, and the social worker can ensure that person is able to access all the support they need, while continuing to assess risk.

In truth, this isn’t about innovation. It’s not about asking most social workers to do anything new or radical. It’s about incentivising a new balance between risk management and relational support by enabling social workers to do what they do at their best: to see and build on people’s strengths, head off problems before they become crises, show empathy, and offer creative and flexible support, focused on the long term.

Without this kind of human interaction there are no relationships. Without relationships, there is no trust. And without trust there is only so much a social worker can do.

Sarah Gillinson is a managing partner at the Innovation Unit

Join the Social Care Network to read more pieces like this. Follow us on Twitter ( @GdnSocialCare ) and like us on Facebook to keep up with the latest social care news and views.

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COMMENTS

  1. Bringing The Meaning in Life: Why I Want to Be a Social Worker

    Social work stands as a vocation that garners significant interest among students, primarily because it offers the promise of job satisfaction and the opportunity to contribute profoundly to the lives of others (Humprey, 2011). When contemplating my career path after high school, the allure of social work beckoned to me.

  2. Social Workers Are Everyday Heroes

    We are their heroes. For those to whom this world seems to be a cold, cruel, and harsh place, we are the living proof that compassion, kindness, and caring are alive and well on this planet. We are their source of help and we are their beacon of hope. We are their heroes. As social workers, we are someone’s hero every day.

  3. The Heart Of Social Work

    The origins of professionalization of social work date back to post Civil War era and the emergence of two opposing approaches to dealing with the needs and struggles of society: Charity Organization

  4. Characteristics of a Successful Social Worker

    Social workers who have a strong ability to empathize will be able to form strong connections because their clients feel they understand them and can relate to the things that are difficult for them. Similar to compassion, empathy is at the very heart of social work and is essential for any effective professional. 4.

  5. Social Work Essays

    2 pages / 964 words Social work stands as a vocation that garners significant interest among students, primarily because it offers the promise of job satisfaction and the opportunity to contribute profoundly to the lives of others (Humprey, 2011). When contemplating my career path after high school, the allure of... Social Work Career Goals 5

  6. Why relationships are key to good social work

    For social workers, it means thinking about how their own beliefs and behaviours combine with professional rules and regulations to influence the relationships they have with those they support ...