This profession of “social work” has a remarkable history of leadership. From Jeanette Rankin to Barbara Lee, several social work leaders emerged who guided national change in the United States. How did these individuals turn into larger-than-life leaders eventually? They all began their humble journeys from the grassroots. Dorothy Height initiated her career as a common caseworker in the welfare system, while Delwin Anderson was merely a field worker. But these individuals possessed skills required to climb the figurative ladder and achieve excellence in one’s profession. So, we’ll review some skills social workers must develop to pursue leadership positions within this discipline.
Skills needed by leaders in social work
Why is leadership necessary for social workers? It ensures that organizations function correctly. Not just in social work but also in other professions, effective leadership contributes to the wellbeing of countless families. Leaders empower the workforce while encouraging other social workers to take control of their status as caregivers for multiple individuals and households. Also, effective managers promote innovation and facilitate creativity. That’s why we need more leaders in the profession of social work right now.
Social workers should practice the transformational leadership model that allows them to inspire/guide subordinates. For example, social workers in an academic setting can develop leadership capabilities for helping students achieve their educational objectives. These skills will enable you to fulfill the archetypal responsibilities of a school social worker, e.g., intervention when children are being abused/neglected. With that said, it seems proper to review the skills social workers should harness to become future leaders:
Communication – verbal/non-verbal – constitutes an essential capability for social workers and other professionals. You can’t help people without understanding them. Communication doesn’t involve merely having a dialogue with someone. It also includes your ability to understand peoples’ body language and other non-verbal cues to realize what they are going through emotionally and physically. To enhance your communication skills as a social worker or professional, consider incorporating questions for self-reflection into your practice. Ask yourself, “Am I actively listening to my clients and colleagues?” “Am I attuned to their non-verbal cues and emotions?” “How can I improve my understanding of others’ experiences and perspectives?” By regularly reflecting on your communication approach and seeking ways to deepen your empathetic connection, you can become more effective in supporting and understanding those you work with.
- Active listening
You can’t become an effective communicator without actively listening to other people’s problems. Active listening enables you to engage people in a conversation and establish trust with them, allowing social workers to discover hidden details about the people they help. People are also more receptive to solutions/referrals offered by social workers if they feel valued/respected by them.
Social workers are tasked with empowering individuals and motivating them to take the right action. But specific challenges always hinder this progress towards wellbeing. Thus, social workers must find methods to remove these hurdles while finding the correct solutions for individuals/communities. A social worker may also have to fight against limited resources to achieve their goals.
This ability allows social workers to identify with other people’s misfortunes and comprehend their experiences. Experts define it as the capability of perceiving someone else’s emotional states/ideas. Understanding another person’s perspective/worldview enables social workers to respond better to her/his situation. It helps you decide the client’s needs based on the client’s experiences.
As a social worker, you’re expected to advocate for your client and represent their best interests. It allows you to empower those who have been weakened by the system or other circumstances. You can help a disabled person protest against discrimination or victims of domestic violence to pursue justice. Thus, some social workers acquire expertise in legal affairs to become advocates.
- Cultural sensitivity
Don’t forget that, as a social worker, you must work with people from various backgrounds. So, you should learn to respect diversity while demonstrating sensitivity towards people’s beliefs/practices. Learn about clients’ cultural backgrounds and understand their experiences based on sex, race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. That’ll make you a successful social worker.
It’s sometimes difficult to persuade someone to accept a situation beneficial for them. So, social workers often find children resistant to any change in their domestic settings. Therefore, a social worker should possess the power of persuasion. This ability allows them to motivate others and make them readily accept the solution suggested by social workers, thereby eliminating delays.
Social workers don’t always encounter similar situations. Instead, they’re battling against many odds to achieve their objectives. Critical-thinking skills allow them to make informed decisions for serving peoples’ needs in the best manner possible. This ability also enables them to gather information open-mindedly and utilize available resources to avert a crisis effectively for your clients.
Being a social worker isn’t an easygoing job. Therefore, professionals must develop resilience if they wish to tolerate the sufferings associated with the people they help. You’ll encounter situations considered unbearable by many people and individuals being subjected to inhumane conditions. So, as they say, you must toughen up and harness resilience to focus more on helping the powerless.
Lastly, a social worker shouldn’t neglect her/his mental and physical wellbeing. Social workers have a lifetime burnout rate of 75%, as per some studies. This profession can be physically and emotionally demanding. Self-care enables social workers to reduce stress and improve their health. Don’t forget to spend some time on personal grooming and wellness. These practices prevent burnout.
Statistics show that approximately 700,000 social workers were employed in different sectors last year in the United States. Most of them were working with children/families and help with their rehabilitation. In 2020, BLS reported an 11% expected growth in this profession, thereby predicting 81,000 new jobs for the current decade. Though – with the emergence of COVID-19 – this number seems insufficient! Social workers must develop leadership capabilities to become eligible for these jobs. These skills include your ability to build consensus, respect for diversity, understanding of human behavior, the ability to assist others, and the capacity to look at matters from various perspectives.