5 Important Qualities of a Social Worker

Five Social Worker Qualities

  • Social Justice Awareness
  • Objectivity
  • Empathy
  • Resiliency / Self-Care Skills
  • Professionalism

If you're considering earning a degree in social work, you might be asking yourself which qualities are important for social workers? Before you sign up for classes, read through this list and see if you're a good fit for the field. It takes a special type of person to thrive as a social worker.

1. Social Justice Awareness

So many of the services a social worker provides can be directly linked to social justice issues. Whether clients are former convicts, people of color, LGBTQ youth or anyone else experiencing marginalization by society, it's important for social workers to understand the complexities of building strengths in a hostile world. Social workers with social justice awareness can help clients develop plans to overcome structural barriers or work in advocacy at a macro level.

2. Objectivity

It might feel strange to see objectivity on a list of characteristics of great social workers, but this is an important trait. Getting too wrapped up in a client's life story or challenges can leave you acting like more of a friend than a catalyst. You need to be able to take a step back and analyze things objectively. Your clients need an outside perspective, not an enabler.

3. Empathy

You also need to empathize with clients. Finding the right balance between clinical detachment and warm empathy can be challenging, but it will become easier with experience. If you can show appreciation for the difficulties clients face without getting lost in a complaint session, you're on the right track. It takes a high level of social intelligence to balance between empathy and objectivity. If social work is the best career for you, you'll find a way to walk that tightrope.

4. Resiliency / Self-Care Skills

Burnout, compassion fatigue, stress: Whatever you call it, emotional overload is a serious problem for social workers. Whether you're working with victims of sexual assault, disenfranchised youth or senior citizens unable to care for themselves, you'll find yourself emotionally exhausted at the end of the work day. You need to have the mental strength to go home and take care of yourself, or you risk becoming jaded. If you're headed back to school for a social work degree, now is the time to build up your resiliency skills — before you're overwhelmed with a heavy caseload or demanding schedule. The American Psychological Association has published some tips on how you can start increasing your resiliency.

5. Professionalism

It's easy to let boundaries blur as a social worker. Ethical guidelines seem less useful in the field, you develop close bonds with clients and your life would be a lot easier if you took some shortcut with all the paperwork you have to complete. Those bad habits will eventually burn you. A strong sense of professionalism lets you maintain standards and avoid trouble down the road.

Related Resource: Top 10 Affordable Online Masters in Social Work 2018

These aren't the only important qualities for social workers. You also need listening skills, self-awareness, organizational skills, persuasive speech and patience. If you have most of these key traits for social workers, it might be time to reach out to a college or university and see how you can start your new career in social work.