Social workers strive every day to help other people in need. Social work has many variations and specializations, but all social workers draw on their education in psychology, interpersonal skills and the law to help people through challenging situations. These professionals are trained to help individuals recover from abuse, addiction and family dysfunction. They connect people with government agencies and resources. They educate communities on health and public policies, and advocate for people in court or government proceedings. While social workers' caseloads can be heavy and the situations they encounter are often heartbreaking, most find tremendous satisfaction in their work.

Day in the Life of a Social Worker

Social work is a broad field with many specializations, but there are some activities and tasks that are common to all social workers. On a typical day, a social worker will help clients identify and work through their problems, while offering them solutions and resources; create service plans and action steps; complete reports and keep track of case histories; and respond to clients' crises.

There are many career specializations and workplace settings for social workers. Here is a sampling:

  • Children, families and schools. Social workers might work with government agencies to assist and protect children, single parents, foster families, adopted children and families in crisis. In schools, social workers work closely with parents and teachers to enable children facing challenges to better reach their full potential.
  • Mental health and substance abuse. Social workers who serve this population provide support such as one-on-one counseling, group therapy, crisis intervention and residential rehabilitation.
  • Medical and public health. Social workers support patients and families in difficult medical situations. They may help people with disabilities as well as those who are seriously injured, chronically ill or terminally ill.
  • Administration, research and planning. These social workers create the policies, conduct the research and provide the guidance needed to reach more people through new and established social programs.

For some of the above scenarios, a social worker must have specific social work education and training. Certification is often required to qualify for some of the above-mentioned employment situations.

Important Characteristics for a Social Worker

What kind of person can become a successful social worker? Helpful traits include empathy, patience and dedication. Natural skill in conflict management and problem-solving can be strengthened with training and are critical in this profession. Social workers often manage rapidly changing situations and unexpected challenges, so it is important to remain flexible and "think on one's feet." Other key characteristics are a sense of humor, a thick skin, and the ability to work independently.

Typical Steps for Becoming a Social Worker

The path and education requirements for becoming a social worker — from the first steps to advanced and optional stages — are as follows:

  1. Earn a bachelor's degree in social work. First, check with the Council of Social Work Education to make sure the program you are considering is accredited. You will be required to do both coursework and a minimum number of hours (usually 400 for accredited programs) of supervised experience in the field.
        Tip: Find out what your state's licensing rules are before you commit to a degree program (see Step 2).
  2. Become licensed to practice social work in your state. Most states require two years or 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience for a license to work as a clinical social worker. Check with the Association of Social Work Boards regarding the licensing and testing procedures for your state.
  3. Consider becoming certified by the National Association of Social Workers and the Center for Clinical Social Work. While not usually required for employment, national certification demonstrates a level of commitment and competency that could give you a competitive edge in the job market.
  4. Take your career to the next level by earning a master's in social work or a doctoral degree. If, after being a social worker for awhile, you plan to go into private practice, work in schools or do clinical work, you will need an advanced degree. A graduate degree can also help you explore specialties such as mental health, public health or substance abuse. The Council of Social Work Education can tell you if the master's degree program you are considering is accredited. Doctoral education should be accredited through the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work.


  • Social Workers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm
  • Summary Report for Social Workers, O*NET OnLine, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/21-1029.00

Social Worker Skills

Below are the skills needed to be social worker according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

Skill NameImportanceCompetence
Active Listening4.624.62
Reading Comprehension4.254.12
Social Perceptiveness4.124.5
Critical Thinking44.12

Social Worker Abilities

Below are the abilities needed to be social worker according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

Ability NameImportanceCompetence
Oral Comprehension4.54.38
Oral Expression4.54.25
Written Comprehension4.254.12
Problem Sensitivity4.254.25
Speech Clarity4.123.88

Social Worker Knowledge

Below are the knowledge areas needed to be social worker according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

Knowledge AreaImportanceCompetence
Therapy and Counseling4.556.12
English Language4.044.06
Sociology and Anthropology3.733.38
Customer and Personal Service3.654.7

Social Worker Work activities

Below are the work activities involved in being social worker according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest).

Work ActivityImportanceCompetence
Getting Information4.754.59
Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates4.664.89
Resolving Conflicts and Negotiating with Others4.625.43
Organizing, Planning, and Prioritizing Work4.435.2
Establishing and Maintaining Interpersonal Relationships4.425.45

Social Worker Work styles

Below are the work styles involved in being social worker according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest).

Work StyleImportance
Concern for Others4.84
Self Control4.84
Stress Tolerance4.73

Metro Areas Sorted by Total Employment for
Social Worker

Listed below are the 10 largest metro areas based on the total number of people employed in Social Worker jobs , as of 2017

Metro AreaTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean Salary
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim2,180$66,950
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward1,540$74,650
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario1,500$65,650
San Juan-Carolina-Caguas1,230$33,050
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell650$56,380

Compare Total Employment & Salaries for Social Workers

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Total employment and salary for professions similar to social workers

Source : 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov; O*NET® 22.1 Database, O*NET OnLine, National Center for O*NET Development, Employment & Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, onetonline.org

Most Popular Industries for
Social Worker

These industries represent at least 1% of the total number of people employed in this occupation.

IndustryTotal EmploymentPercentAnnual Median Salary
Social Service15,85023%$35,460
Nursing And Residential Care4,0405%$37,590
Medical Office2,4603%$40,440
Business Management1,0001%$40,500
Professional And Technical Services8701%$38,410
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