Qualities and skills required to be a social worker

Social work requires a diverse and demanding range of professional, emotional, and cognitive skills. While many people who become social workers have a natural aptitude for these skills, it is essential to sharpen them throughout one’s career. In fact, becoming a life-long learner is an ethical requirement of professional social workers. While there is no definitive list, here are a few qualities and skills required to be a social worker.

Effective communication

This is vital in the world of social work. We need to be able to effectively communicate to do our job efficiently. We need to have the ability to speak appropriately to a wide range of people e.g. children, parents, supportive family members and professionals. These will all be tailored at different levels depending on their ability and understanding. From having this key skill we are then able to communicate effectively with a wide number of people who are also from different lifestyles and backgrounds.

Listening skills

Active listening and being fully present with others cannot be underestimated.  Every person has a story and every person wants to be heard. In today’s busy world of technology, doing more, and pressures to meet deadlines, a client’s need to be listened to is sometimes rushed. However, building a therapeutic relationship means listening, really listening, to the person sitting in front of you. Active listening validates one’s need to vent, one’s need to be understood, and one’s need to be heard. It helps with empathy as social workers put themselves in the shoes of another to try to understand what life is like for the client. The bonding formed through the use of active listening makes social workers the go-to persons for clients and colleagues alike.

Honesty and Empathy

Even for the most experienced professional, working with people who are different from ourselves can be both challenging and rewarding. It is often in our experience as an intern in field placement that we are initially faced with dealing with worker-client differences. It can sometimes be awkward or scary, but it is those experiences that will force us to break through boundaries and rely on the power of empathy to engage our clients and develop sound interventions with them.

Technical and academic skills

As a social worker we must be able to use a computer and have a reasonable speed for typing. We need to have the skills to be able to use the system that we document our reports and progress on. It is important that we can write reports to a professional standard. We need all parties to clearly understand what we have written and we should use clear language and avoid jargon as much as possible. This can take time when you first start but you soon learn what words or phrases are best to use. We need to have an analytical mind and be able to identify conclusions and required outcomes. Again, this takes time and is always going to improve.


Self-care is fundamental for everyone. It is part of self-regulation, the physical and mental processes through which we create inner and outer balance. If we cannot self-regulate, we are prone to overwork, overplay, burn-out, and unhealthy living. The need for balance is particularly important for social work students, who must manage their own stressors (for example: balancing their desire to pursue a master’s degree with other responsibilities), and the feelings they experience when working with clients.

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