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Social Work

6 social work skills you need to succeed

Social work is a broad profession with a variety of available roles. These range from one-on-one casework and counselling to community development roles and academic research or policy work.

By GlobalHealth Education Published 20/04/2023

As roles in the industry vary, the social work skills required may differ for each specialisation.

All social workers will require an essential set of skills that include emotional intelligence, communication and self-regulation. However, a social worker acting within an academic facility will also need to have highly developed research and writing skills. The more social work skills you acquire, the more opportunities you’ll have in this rewarding industry. Why would you make a great social carer? To answer this question, and to fully understand the core skills needed for social work, it’s important that we first answer another — ‘What do social workers do?’

What does a social worker do?

Social workers can be employed across a range of settings, including but not limited to private and public institutions and community organisations. Some examples include:

  • Private or public hospitals
  • Aged care facilities
  • Community health centres
  • Family support services
  • Schools and tertiary organisations
  • Employment and housing services
  • Non-government organisations and charities
  • Mental health and rehabilitation services
  • Private practice

The role of social workers and the social work skills required in these settings will vary, depending on the specific services being provided. Some of the more common responsibilities of a social worker include:

  • Providing one-on-one or group counselling and therapy
  • Creating and managing patient treatment plans
  • Referring clients to relevant services and providing them with the information and resources they require
  • Coordinating services and care
  • Advocating for individuals or groups experiencing hardship or discrimination
  • While each of these roles will require a unique skill set, there are some core social work skills that are essential for anyone working in the industry.

The 6 core skills needed for social work

Khadine Aharon is an experienced social worker who provides training to other social workers and counsellors. Helping us understand what social workers do in Australia, she says that regardless of the area you choose to work in, there are a few core social work skills everyone needs to possess.

1. Strong ethics

Aharon explains that while theory and ethics are a big part of most university courses in social work, the reality of the workplace can often present complex ethical challenges. “Regardless of what area you're going to work in, you need a really good understanding of ethics,” she says.

She believes one of the most important skills needed for social work is the ability to maintain strong ethics across a wide range of challenging scenarios. Social workers may often find themselves in complex ethical situations and need further support. Understanding when to collaborate with other health professionals, including counsellors and mental health professionals, to overcome client ethical challenges is also imperative.

2. Self-reflection

According to Aharon, self-reflection is an essential skill for all social workers. “It's very easy to become triggered when we're working with people,” she explains. “It's really important to work on ourselves, to work on our own stuff, and self-reflection is an essential part of that.”

She recommends having a personal practice of self-reflection, especially on any feedback received. This involves having a debriefing session with a qualified supervisor to review what worked well and areas for improvement. This allows for better patient care and increased professional growth.

3. Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence involves the awareness, understanding and management of one's own emotions, as well as the ability to recognise and empathise with the emotions of others.

Social workers need to keep developing emotional intelligence throughout their careers, says Aharon. Otherwise they will be at risk of taking things personally in the course of their work.

“It’s easy to forget that our clients’ behaviour is not an attack on us; it’s a reflection of what’s going on for them,” she says. “When we develop emotional intelligence, we're in a better space to actually be there for our clients rather than taking things personally.”

4. Communication skills

Active listening is an essential communication skill in social work and human services, as it helps professionals understand their clients' needs, builds trust and rapport, and develops appropriate interventions and support.

Social workers also need to adapt their communication styles, depending on who they are talking to, Aharon explains.

For example, while professional interactions with colleagues, managers and outside stakeholders might require industry lingo and a formal tone, interactions with clients will look quite different.

“When we're engaging with a client, we need to acknowledge that in that space, we're in a position of power,” she says. “So we need to try and create a bit of balance with that, for example, by using simple, clear language that isn’t intimidating.”

5. Advocacy and interpersonal skills

Being a strong advocate for social justice will usually involve advanced social work interpersonal skills, such as the ability to communicate diplomatically and balance competing interests at the same time.

“Social justice is at the heart of social work, so we need to be able to advocate and sometimes fight for change,” says Aharon. “We need to be able to negotiate creatively sometimes in order to call out issues and to be able to find a way forward.”

6. Strong boundaries

It goes without saying that what draws many people into social work is a genuine desire to help others. This is a great motivation, but Aharon says this also means social workers need to have very strong boundaries and expectations between their professional life and personal life.

“When you are working with a client, they need to know that they can’t walk all over you. They need to know that you are holding space for them and they're safe with you no matter what happens,” she explains.

The importance of ongoing training and professional development

Ongoing training and professional development is essential in most industries. But when it comes to social work, it’s imperative, given the ever-evolving practical and emotional social work skills required to succeed in the industry.

Another reason to maintain ongoing professional development is so that you can be eligible for full membership with the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW). To apply for and maintain Accredited Social Work status with AASW, you must maintain the minimum CPD (Continuing Professional Development) requirements each financial year.

“University is a great base,” explains Aharon, “but when you go out into the workplace, ongoing education is vital. We need to stay up to date with the current knowledge, otherwise we’ll get stuck. And we're using old therapeutic tools that aren't necessarily as effective as newer tools that we could be using.”

This is why a postgraduate qualification is a great way to grow your skill set.

Why choose GlobalHealth Education?

If you’re wondering how to become a social worker, how to study online or even how to find the best postgraduate courses for healthcare, GlobalHealth Education can help.

GlobalHealth Education connects professionals with postgraduate courses to help them thrive. Many professionals who are working within the health, counselling or community development space may already have some of the key social work skills they need to succeed.

GlobalHealth Education can help you discover how much additional study would be required in order to become a qualified social worker and to determine which social work degree program is right for you.

Take the next step

Wondering how to choose a postgraduate course in healthcare? GlobalHealth Education has done the hard work for you. We connect students to the online degree that’s right for them. If you’re ready to take the next step, speak to a Student Enrolment Advisor today.