Social Work Competencies

Social workers are an important part of our society. Centrally, they do work that is often challenging, but rewarding. Furthermore, their work is also of a sensitive nature and is in many different communities. Additionally, they frequently deal with complex situations and are expected to navigate and handle these situations. Subsequently, social workers are held to a higher standard and are expected to follow a certain conduct. There are Social Work Competencies that many now refer to as a guide. Anyone pursuing a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) should be sure to understand and put them into practice.

What are the Social Work Competencies?

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is a nonprofit national association in the United States since its founding in 1952. It is the only organization that provides accreditation for social work education in the U.S. In their guide on Education Policy and Accreditation Standards, they list nine Social Work Competencies:

  1. Demonstrate Ethical and Professional Behavior
  2. Engage Diversity and Difference in Practice
  3. Advance Human Rights on Social, Economic, and Environmental Justice
  4. To Engage in Practice-informed Research and Research-informed Practice
  5. Engage in Policy Practice
  6. Engage with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities
  7. Assess Individuals, Families, Group, Organizations, and Communities
  8. Intervene with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities
  9. Evaluate Practice with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities

As you see in their Social Work Competencies, social work involves working with individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities. Social workers work to better communities whether dealing with individuals or various groups.  

Embodying the Social Work Competencies

In the CSWE handbook, they note that organizations are able to add competencies. They do so with competencies that are consistent with goals unique to them. Naturally there are many different types of organizations with a need for social workers. Thus, the competencies will vary to match their work. Still, many are likely to match what is listed above.

Social workers in the United States are clearly not lawyers, but they are expected to be familiar with law, policies, and regulations applicable to their work. Further, there is an expectation to follow a high standard of ethics. Social workers deal with sensitive information. This often involves information regarding healthcare and personal information among other issues. Someone engaging in continuing education and open communication with colleagues will be doing a lot to ensure they continue to meet these competencies.

Diversity in Social Work

Social workers advocate for people who are unable to advocate for themselves or lack the resources. This means they will deal with people from incredibly diverse backgrounds. It is important to always continue education and especially in this regard. Understandably, people from different backgrounds will have different needs. Even people with similar circumstances, but far different backgrounds will still need tailored service in some areas. When a social worker takes the time to thoroughly understand diverse backgrounds, they are ensuring the best help they can give to their clients. 

In their listed Social Work Competencies, CSWE emphasizes the need to advocate for human rights. They explain, 

“Social workers understand strategies designed to eliminate oppressive structural barriers to ensure that social goods, rights, and responsibilities are distributed equitably and that civil, political, environmental, economic, social, and cultural human rights are protected.”

As social workers help those who are at a disadvantage, their work is naturally complex. If you are passionate about helping others and ensuring the protection of human rights, an MSW is an incredible step to take. It is a challenging path, but absolutely a rewarding one.

Individual Characteristics

Social work is all about helping others. Thus, it is of course helpful for social workers to embody certain characteristics. One of the most important is empathy. The ability to put yourself in another’s shoes and understand their point of view is important.

Additionally, it is important for social workers to set boundaries. The work is difficult and potentially time-consuming. Social workers need to set boundaries to help themselves and their clients. In some cases, clients need long-term help. It is important to remember you do not have to accomplish everything right away. Setting smaller goals is helpful in managing expectations. This way social workers have a sense of accomplishment. Moreover, they should not feel that they are failing or behind if a case/client is not entirely taken care of. Boundaries are important for both the social workers and everyone they are working to help.

Perceptiveness is another important characteristic. Social workers need to be able to listen carefully as well as to pick up on visual cues. Many of their clients are potentially reluctant to open up about issues or needs they have. The ability to understand things that are not necessarily directly said and to provide solutions is an incredible tool.

Getting a Master’s in Social Work

On the whole, it isn’t a secret that social work is often challenging. However, for the right people it is a challenge that is incredibly rewarding.

Unfortunately, the reality is that there is inequality in the world. Social workers play an unbelievably important part in helping overcome barriers and establish equality. If you are looking for more information on pursuing an MSW read more on our blogs here.