When I started college I had no idea what career I would choose.  Then, my first semester, the Psychology class I tried to add to my schedule was full.  Disappointed, I signed up for a Sociology class.  I’ve always thought it fateful I ended up in that Sociology class because it became the foundation for my entire career.  I told a woman in my dorm about my Sociologist dream and she said “I don’t know if there are jobs in Sociology.   You should go into social work instead.”   With that push, everything came together.  My qualities and experience meshed so well with the values of social work.  I found what I was born to do.

Are you curious about your fit as a social worker? Are you wondering what qualities are beneficial to have?   These are a few of the skills I believe are essential for a modern social worker.

Passion – The number one quality I want in an employee is passion. Whatever part of social work you end up in, it is imperative to develop a passion for it.  Don’t worry if you are unsure what you are passionate about.  As you develop your career you will find you are drawn to different things.

Be Ready for anything – I started in social work over 20 years ago.  I have worked with all ages of the spectrum from birth to end of life.  I have met and witnessed thousands of individual’s precious stories.  You might think there is nothing I haven’t heard but I am still consistently surprised.

Be able to honestly identify your own bias – Know yourself.  Social work is one of the jobs where you have to be willing to really look at your own values and beliefs.  Since a social worker influences people and systems our own beliefs can get in the way.  We want to support and assist people in finding their own way – not pass our own judgments on the way we think they should live.

Meeting People Where They are instead of where we think they “should” be –  As a social worker you often have to watch people struggle, fail and find their own way.    Your job is to guide and provide unconditional positive regard, not fix them.hands

Ability to not be liked – I had a professor say “if your clients like you all the time then you probably aren’t doing your job.”  As a social worker, we often work with people at their most fragile times.  We will touch nerves with our clients.  It is likely people will become frustrated with us.

You will have to speak up – even when no one will agree with you. –  Social workers look at the person in their environment.  In addition to an individual’s internal voice, a social worker looks at how their relationships, work, school and other systems interplay with the individual.   To be an ethical social worker you will likely have to speak up with people who may have more degrees or perceived power than you.  For example, when I worked in medical social work, a doctor might say a client is being non-compliant because they are not taking medication or missing appointments.  As the social worker, you might know the individual is struggling with finances and has no money to buy medication.  You might know the individual has no transportation or childcare so struggles with getting to appointments.  To be a social worker it is essential to be comfortable speaking up!

Ability to live in the gray. – A social worker is dealing with people.  The thing about people is that we are complicated.   Situations won’t necessarily be clear cut and it is important you can be comfortable with ambivalence.

Ability to take care of yourself – A social worker’s job is never done.  Very few times in my career have I had moments where everything was checked as completed on my task list.  If a social worker is unable to say no sometimes or unable to take time for themselves they will burn out quickly.  Unfortunately, this means talented and wise social workers leave the field while they still could be catalyst for change.

If you are reading this list and know this is the calling for you – welcome!  The journey and rewards will be more than you can even imagine.