Social Work Skills List and Examples

Social worker is visiting a senior woman at home
••• Eva Katalin Kondoros / Getty Images

Social workers help their clients function better in society. Some social workers help individuals or families identify and apply for the social services they need. Others provide counseling, assessment, and even clinical diagnostic services in schools or other group settings. Social workers also work as advocates for individuals or for the community, trying to make society a more functional, supportive place.

Social workers must be empathetic, yet objective, self-aware, engaged, and motivated by a genuine desire to help the clients. Social work is not a field where you can succeed without a real sense of mission.

When applying for jobs, reflect on some of the most important social work skills. Knowing these skills will help you learn to present yourself in your best light to potential employers.

How to Showcase Your Social Work Skills

A great way to show employers you can offer what they need is to highlight your skills throughout the job process. Some jobs require different skills than others, so review the job posting to see what the employer is seeking in applicants. Then take the time to match your credentials to the job requirements, so you can show the employer you're a strong match for the job.

For example, in your resume, you can include relevant skill words in your resume summary or in your “Work History” resume section.

In your cover letter, pick one or two skills that you have that are important to the job. Include examples of times you demonstrated each of those skills, and explain how you used those skills to benefit the organization or a client.

You can expand upon your skills in your interview as well. Provide anecdotes of times you have demonstrated some of the most important skills for the job.

Many of the skills necessary for social workers are also ones you can demonstrate throughout the job process. For instance, you can show your written communication skills by writing a clear, error-free cover letter. You can demonstrate your active listening and verbal communication skills in the way you interact with the interviewer. These are great examples of ways of showing the interviewer you are right for the job, rather than just telling them.

Top 5 Most In-Demand Social Work Skills

1. Active Listening

Active listening means paying attention to, and remembering, what others tell you. It also means demonstrating that you are listening through body language and appropriate responses.

As you listen, analyze what you hear in its proper context and ask clarifying questions to be sure you understand. Active listening is not only an important way to collect patient information, but it is also part of how you establish trust.

Related Keywords: Collaboration, Credibility, Empathy, Engaged, Observation, Receiving criticism, Teamwork , Trustworthy

2. Verbal Communication

Good verbal communication takes active listening one step further. By adjusting one's speaking style to the situation, a social worker can be effective in any setting, from a home visit with clients to a court room or legislative hall. Being able to connect in conversation with many different people is critical to serving clients well.

Related Keywords: Advising, Advocacy, Counseling, Establishing rapport, Interacting effectively with diverse clientele, Interpersonal, Interviewing, Persuasion, Presentation, Providing constructive criticism, Role playing

3. Written Communication

Excellent written communication includes not only email, but also record-keeping. Clear, accurate reports, progress notes, and other documentation are a critical part of teamwork at social services agencies. As a social worker, your written records are the primary tool your supervisor has for evaluating your skill. If a legal problem develops, reliable record-keeping could save your job, or even your career.

Good written communication skills also help you to stay organized, and to more effectively manage your clients’ cases.

Related Keywords: Care planning, Case management, Coordinating, Customizing treatment plans, Documentation, Organization, Record keeping, Resource coordination

4. Critical Thinking

Social workers must make important decisions based on a thorough understanding of the client’s needs and situation, the available resources, and applicable law.

Critical thinking is what allows you to make those decisions with intelligence, creativity, and kindness. Without this important skill, a social worker might miss clues, overlook opportunities, or act on personal bias.

Related Keywords: Analytical, Assessment, Devising case plans, Evaluation, Identifying issues, Prioritizing, Problem assessment, Problem solving

5. Boundary Setting

Social work is about giving, but if you give too much for too long, you will burn out. If you try to do too much too quickly for one client, you will fail—and you will not be available to help anyone else. Setting appropriate boundaries will protect you from burn-out and will also keep you focused as you establish goals and coordinate treatment.

Related Keywords: Emotional resilience, Ethics, Maintain professional relationships, Objectivity, Professionalism, Self-awareness, Self-evaluation, Time management