While many social work students arrive at graduate school with sophisticated levels of skill in observation, self-awareness, critical thinking, and verbal and written communication, the MSW@USC program will provide you with daily opportunities to sharpen these tools – in your classes, study groups, and field placements. But how can you use them?
As a lifelong student of human behavior in the social environment, a social work practitioner begins as an applied social scientist. Despite many MSW graduates’ dark memories of their mandatory research course, social work practice often starts with a primary research method – observation. Recall your most recent psychosocial assessment. Before, during, and after you asked a single question, you used your senses to observe and record not only the client’s verbal responses but also his or her nonverbal communication.
A social worker’s efficacy hinges on her level of self-awareness. As a social worker, my reliance on use of self within the context of the therapeutic relationship requires me to develop and refine awareness of my motivations, assumptions, expectations, and biases. Competence in observing, exploring, and articulating how my thoughts and feelings impact my behavior and how my behavior impacts others is a prerequisite for the conscious development and direction of a helping relationship to facilitate change.
A high degree of self-awareness facilitates a social worker’s ability to identify transference and counter-transference issues and utilize this information to assess quality of treatment interventions.
How a social worker interprets data obtained not only through observation, interviews, and case file/document review but also clinical supervision, research, and consultation influences the client’s assessment, diagnosis, treatment, evaluation, and termination. Critical thinking asks the social worker to consider how his motivations, assumptions, expectations, and biases (self-awareness) shape the lens through which he analyzes and draws conclusions from the available data.
Although I’ve identified observation, self-awareness, and critical thinking separately in this post, all three of these skills intersect and interact with each other to influence a social worker’s orientation and practice.
Verbal communication involves actively listening to understand and speaking to be understood by your audience. As a result, a social worker may alter her communication style multiple times during a single workday to maximize her effectiveness with clients, colleagues, supervisors, or community members. Social workers rely on the strength of their verbal communication skills in settings as diverse as advocating for a client in a public benefits office, providing educational presentations in a church’s fellowship hall, serving as an expert witness in a courtroom, or testifying before legislators.
“If it isn’t documented, it never happened” is one of the first lessons learned in almost any social work employment, particularly if programs are accountable to public or private funders. Micro-level practitioners gain legitimacy with their supervisors and colleagues by writing clear and concise progress notes, correspondence, and reports. As your leadership evolves, you are likely to be called upon to author grant proposals. As a service provider, you are better placed than an external grant writer to articulate a case for financial support to sustain your program. Proposal writing skills, including the ability to write program evaluation plans and reports, are highly desirable to potential employers.
Your time as an MSW student is precious. In addition to inviting faculty to offer their feedback, openly discuss your goals with your field instructor and develop a plan to assess and monitor your growth in these areas. Use this time to take risks and learn from mistakes while you have the support to mitigate their consequences.
An MSW@USC faculty member, Nadia Islam PhD, LCSW, teaches Policy & Practice in Social Service Organizations. She earned an MS degree in social work at Columbia University and a PhD in social work at USC. She currently lives in Los Angeles.
Learn More about MSW@USC.
With the continued growth of the social work field comes increased opportunities for social workers and human service professionals to improve the lives of challenged individuals. Before entering the field of social work, it is important to consider the core skills that are essential for successful career as a social worker.
1. Assessment Skills
According to the National Association of Social Workers, a significant number of social workers spend half of their time in case management. In order to be successful in case management, it is important to complete quality assessments. The assessment process reveals which clients need assistance obtaining resources, and it also allows a social worker to re-evaluate clients periodically in order to ascertain whether or not services remain effective and necessary.
2. Communication Skills
Communication in social work involves written and verbal correspondence with clients and other professionals. As an example, social workers considering grant writing careers must effectively communicate with elected officials to advocate for their causes and obtain necessary funding for programs. In any social work capacity, effectively communicating helps a professional advocate appropriately, remain clear and concise, appear professional and avoid or overcome crisis situations.
3. Advocacy and Leadership
Social workers frequently advocate for their clients. Well-developed advocacy skills allow social workers to properly represent their clients and obtain the services communities need. Excellent advocacy skills lead to positive change, and this helps clients to live empowered lives. These skills are used on the local, state and federal level to fight for existing programs, create new programs and remove or revise outdated policies.
4. Problem Solving Skills
One goal of social workers is to empower individuals. In order to empower someone, professionals must help that person work through challenges. Excellent problem solving skills are crucial in finding solutions for individuals and communities. In addition, social workers often work with limited resources and tight budgets. Problem solving skills are essential if one hopes to overcome budgetary obstacles and fiscal constraints.
5. Critical Thinking Skills
Applying social work theories and making informed decisions helps professionals to best serve client needs. In addition, professionals must act in an ethical and educated manner in order to best serve their organizations. This is where critical thinking comes in. Critical thinking involves searching for answers with an open mind and using information to best serve the present situation. When used correctly, these skills empower an individual during crisis situations and assist a social worker in best utilizing available resources.
6. Respect for Diversity
Social workers serve a diverse array of clients in many different sectors of society. Diversity offers many challenges, but it also offers strengths that can be utilized to overcome obstacles. A social worker who understands this can effectively serve clients, and this increases opportunities to improve communities.
7. Intervention Skills
Social workers regularly intervene in emergency situations to benefit the lives of their clients. Interventions are best offered in a way that empowers clients and draws on their available strengths. This allows clients to develop their own strengths and utilize them when future problems arise, so they can independently manage their lives.
8. Documentation Skills
All areas of social work require that professionals document findings about clients. As an example, many sources give a probation officer job description that includes the following: the ability to compile, analyze, evaluate and report to the court information obtained during an investigation. Without well-developed documentation skills, completing such tasks would be impossible. Social workers document assessment information, crisis interventions and any correspondence with their clients or other professionals. Documentation must be thorough, accurate and timely in order to benefit both the client and the organization offering services.
9. Organizational Skills
Social workers must keep resources organized, remain diligent in maintaining thorough and accurate records and utilize effective time management skills too. Excelling in organization requires learning how to simplify a work environment, prioritize tasks, use good decision making practices and keep a calendar of important events or projects.
10. Understanding of Human Relationships
Finally, social workers must understand that this field is about human relationships. Couples, families, friends and communities are all part of the support system an individual turns to in time of crises. If a social worker does not embrace relationship based practice, resources will be missed and problems often become impossible to resolve. Understanding this is key to becoming a competent social work professional.
Mastering important skills enhances a social worker’s abilities in this challenging field. Education, practice and personal discovery all assist an individual in excelling in these areas.
10 Skills Every Social Worker Needs was last modified: November 30th, 2016 by Ashley Dunlap