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10 Essential Skills and Traits Every Social Worker Needs to Master.

For those looking to make a lasting difference in the lives of others, social work offers an incredibly rewarding role. Everyday may bring something different – be it providing support for clients navigating day-to-day challenges or protecting vulnerable people from harm. But before you consider making this commitment there are certain qualities that all successful social workers must possess. Are you empathetic and passionate about helping? Do have strong problem solving skills and persistence when needed? And perhaps most importantly do understand your own resilience amidst difficult situations? If so, then being a Social Worker could be perfect fit!


Social work is a highly compassionate field that requires workers to always have empathy and understanding of clients’ individual needs. Being able show compassion not only helps build trust between social worker and client, but also encourages vulnerable individuals to open up about their worries or concerns without fear of judgement. Empathy allows the professional to connect with those they serve on an emotional level so the best possible support can be provided throughout tough times in order for healing or progress towards recovery to occur.


Any social worker will tell you that it’s vital to have excellent communication skills in this role. On a daily basis, you will be interacting with clients, their families, colleagues, and agencies such as the police, schools, and local authority departments. This means it’s essential you know how to engage with others to get your points across. Both verbal and non-verbal communication are mandatory skills for all social workers.

Regardless of age, cultural background, literacy skill, or gender, social workers must communicate effectively with their clients and advocate for them. Good communication skills allow you to understand information more quickly and accurately. Should communication breakdown, this can lead to constant frustration and misunderstanding.

Active Listening

As a social worker, you must possess active listening skills. When interacting with clients, they will put their full faith and trust into your hands. You need to listen to what your clients say and take everything on board. If clients don’t feel like they’re being listened to, they may become withdrawn and reluctant to speak. You need to show that you value your clients’ thoughts and opinions. This will help them feel more comfortable and relaxed when talking to you.

Make sure that you listen carefully, fully concentrate, and ask the right questions to clients. Doing so will instantly build trust and respect. Even if you don’t necessarily agree with what a client is saying, you shouldn’t cast judgment. Instead, try and understand their perspective before you respond. When clients know they’re being heard, they’re more likely to open up to you.


Like with most jobs, being organized is essential for performing at your best. However, when it comes to social work, being in control of your workload is more important than ever. When you qualify as a social worker, prepare for a busy schedule ahead. There will be all kinds of responsibilities expected of you from day one, so you need to be organized and prepared for any duty.

To ensure clients are getting the best support possible, you need to be very organized. This will allow you to manage cases effectively and reduce the risk of error. Time management skills enable social workers to prioritize their workload, stick to deadlines, and ensure their client’s wants and needs are put first.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking in social work is all about looking at a client or situation from a neutral and objective standpoint, without making assumptions or jumping to conclusions. On a day-to-day basis, you will be observing, experiencing, and reflecting on what is happening to your clients. Therefore, you need to think critically and without prejudice as this will help you make informed decisions that benefit those you are helping.

Understandably, you will be put in tough situations as a social worker and your emotions may get the better of you. However, you need to keep cool and collected and analyze the situation from every viewpoint, before going any further.


In social work, no two clients are the same. This means one day you could be helping someone who is happy for the help, while the next may be agitated and not willing to cooperate. To flourish as a social worker, you need to have patience with your clients and understand the reasoning behind their behavior. In many cases, all clients need is a bit of time and understanding to feel comfortable in your presence.

Should you lose patience with clients, this can cause costly errors and poor outcomes for those you’re helping. Many of the cases you handle will be complex and could involve numerous parties with disparate goals. You must remember that change rarely happens overnight. Having patience will stop you from getting frustrated both with the serious problems you and your clients encounter, as well as those you encounter.

Work Well Under Pressure

In addition to having patience, all social workers need to know how to work well under pressure. There will be instances in your work that test your abilities to the limit. Therefore, you must know how to keep your stress levels at bay. If you struggle to stay calm, high stress can affect how you perform your job, and cause you to burn out.

Lots of social workers practice relaxation techniques including yoga and meditation that can be useful before and after shifts to help you calm down. There are deep breathing techniques you can practice while at work that will bring you a sense of peace and calm. If you struggle to get a hold of your stress, a career in social work may not be right for you.


In social work, you will read, see, and hear things that can be distressing. Once your shift is over and you return home, you may struggle to get certain thoughts out of your head. All social workers need to prioritize self-care above anything else. While your role will be primarily helping others, if you aren’t looking after yourself in the process, this will affect how you perform your job. There is no shame in putting yourself first as if you fail to do so, your client’s safety and wellbeing may be in jeopardy.

Make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep each night and factoring in time to see friends and family. Regular exercise is also key for keeping your mental and physical well-being in check. You will go through a lot emotionally as a social worker, so having sports and activities to focus on outside of work is important. If you’ve had a tough day with clients, make sure you have a strong support network around you. Knowing you have people supporting you can make all the difference.


In social work, you may be expected to work as part of a team on cases. While some people are happy to follow the crowd, others are born to lead and guide others. If this sounds like you, becoming an effective leader in social work will give you the ability to communicate well, inspire your team, and handle and delegate roles correctly.

Social workers who have ambitions to climb the career ladder and enter leadership and management roles can study for an MSW degree (Master of Social Work). This degree teaches the importance of leadership and also gives you the credentials needed to apply for such roles. Once you master the art of leadership, you will feel more comfortable in your duties and have the confidence to guide other social workers to success.

Problem Solving

If you aspire to become a social worker, you need to be aware that there will be challenges and obstacles you’ll face on a daily basis. This role isn’t for the fainthearted, so if you aren’t prepared to work hard and overcome problems, it may be wise to look into other career paths. Social workers need to problem solve in order to ensure clients are receiving the best help and support available.

When presented with an obstacle, it’s how you handle the situation is that matters. As you will be helping clients, you must help individuals work through their own challenges too. Unfortunately, social workers frequently work with tight budgets and limited resources. This means problem-solving skills are critical if you hope to overcome budgetary obstacles.

If you’re passionate about helping others and want to do what you can to relieve people’s suffering and improve livelihoods, a career in social work may be the right route to take. To perform at your best and help those in need, learning and mastering the skills above will help you become the best social worker you can be.

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