Important Job Skills for Social Workers

Image by Jiaqi Zhou © The Balance 2019

As the world of psychology and sociology develop, there is a fast-growing demand for experts in social services. While many consider this line of work to pertain to crisis intervention, much of social work is preemptive and community-centered.

Most social workers in mid to higher level positions have master’s degrees in social work or counseling. Often, local agencies will offer volunteer or internship positions to give you a chance to see if social work is right for you.

What Kind of Skills Do You Need to be a Social Worker?

Social workers help their clients function better in society. Some social workers help individuals or families identify and apply for the social services benefits 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.

Types of Social Work Skills

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.

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 courtroom or legislative hall. Being able to connect in conversation with many different people is critical to serving clients well.

  • Advising
  • Advocacy
  • Counseling
  • Establishing Rapport
  • Interacting Effectively with Diverse Clientele
  • Interpersonal
  • Interviewing
  • Persuasion
  • Presentation
  • Providing Constructive Criticism
  • Role playing

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.

  • Care Planning
  • Case Management
  • Coordinating
  • Customizing Treatment Plans
  • Documentation
  • Organization
  • Record Keeping
  • Resource Coordination

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.

  • Analytical Skills
  • Devising Case Plans
  • Evaluation
  • Identifying Issues
  • Prioritizing
  • Problem Assessment
  • Problem Solving

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.

  • Emotional Resilience
  • Ethics
  • Maintain Professional Relationships
  • Objectivity
  • Professionalism
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-evaluation
  • Time management

More Social Work Skills

  • Criminal Justice
  • Psychology
  • Sensitivity
  • Memory
  • Initiative
  • Lie Detection
  • Tact
  • Compliance
  • People Oriented
  • Attention to Detail
  • Attentiveness
  • Calm
  • Tenacity
  • Insightful Questions
  • Problem Sensitivity
  • Patience
  • Stress Tolerance
  • Bearing
  • Encouragement
  • Adaptability
  • Proactive
  • Confidence
  • Mandatory Reporting Laws
  • Quick Thinking
  • Articulate
  • Mediation
  • Accountability
  • Negotiation
  • Diplomacy
  • Research

Resume and Cover Letter Examples

Review sample resume and cover letters for social workers.

Key Takeaways

Add Your Most Relevant Skills to Your Resume: You can include relevant skill words in your resume summary or in your “Work History” resume section.

Highlight Your Skills in Your Cover Letter: 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.

Use Skill Words During Job Interviews: You can expand upon your skills in your interview as well. Provide anecdotes of times you have demonstrated some of the most essential skills for the job.