13 Essential Social Work Skills List You Want to Master

Working in the social work field requires various essential skills. These essential social work skills can be acquired, learned with time, or innate.

There will be people born with these qualities because that’s what they’re meant to do in life, but anyone can learn.


What are social work essential skills?

Essential social work skills are qualities social workers need to have for their work, learning, and life. These skills are used in the workplace, the community, and in their personal lives and vary in complexity. 


The Essential Social Work Skills List: 13 Skills You Want to Master

Essential social work skills

Social workers can engage in different areas of practice using essential social work skills which include critical thinking, communication, listening, and time management among others.

For every person, family, and community, social work skills are very important and contribute to the overall wellbeing of individuals as it is required for effective engagement with service users and carers, and professionals.

What skills do social workers need?

Social work has a role to play in the prevention and early detection of problems, much as it can help in building self-care and resilience and help in reducing, delaying, or avoiding dependency.

Social workers take measures to enable individuals to take positive steps to promote their wellbeing.

There is also the need to master some techniques and skills social work case management.

Working with schools, community services, primary care services, and other organisations, social workers can help in the earlier identification of problems and support earlier intervention such as by prescribing primary psychosocial interventions.

Social workers may also act as counsellors in diverse settings.  You can also work on Progressing Your Career In Social Work. 

In this case, they listen to clients, analyse their situations, and help them make their own decisions.

What Skills are Important in Social Work?

Here are 13 essential social work skills;

1.0 Empathy

social work skills


Empathy is a very important skill that helps social workers to determine service user’s needs based on their unique experiences to effectively provide service.

Empathy is the ability to identify and understand another person’s experience, fully perceive how they’re feeling and what it’s like to be in their shoes. It’s something many people are born with, but unless a person has an antisocial personality disorder, anyone can feel empathy.

Simply put, it is the ability to identify with and understand someone else’s point of view and experience.

National Association for Social Workers defines empathy as “the act of perceiving, understanding, experiencing, and responding to the emotional state and ideas of another person”.

Empathy is “stepping into someone else’s shoes” and reorganising that experience, perceptions and worldviews which are unique to each individual to enable the social worker to have a better understanding and build a stronger relationship with their clients or service users.

This skill is fundamental for any social worker because their job involves working with different people who have unique problems and struggles; if the social worker can’t fully understand what’s like to feel a particular emotion or even partially understand it, they can’t be in tune with their clients.

Consequently, they can’t help them either.

2.0 Communication skills

social worker skills

One skill a Social Worker working in a collaborative environment should possess is communication according to Davies (2015).

Social workers should be able to communicate effectively, taking into consideration cultural differences.

When performing functions such as teaching, supervising, or counselling, the social worker has to engage in communication.

A social worker should communicate concisely, clearly and effectively about what the client should do, the goals laid out to be achieved and how she intended to assist/support service users she is working with.

To perform these and other functions effectively, the social worker needs to have good listening and communication skills.

The social worker also needs to understand what other people say, ask the right questions when seeking clarification, and avoid interrupting other parties as they communicate.

The social worker needs to be able to effectively communicate both verbally and in writing, taking into account the different needs of their audience.

3.0 Critical thinking

critical thinking skills in social work

Critical thinking is a skill that all social workers need regardless of their area of specialisation, according to Davies (2015).

In a collaborative environment, the social worker must be able to receive information from different sources and process it to make critical decisions and good judgment.

Critical thinking skills go a long way in helping the social worker choose the best possible choices out of a range of options.

4.0 Active listening skills

active listening skills

This skill is as essential as empathy because any social worker has to identify a client’s need fully, and they can either do that by being an empathy or by active listening.

If they lack empathy, they can improve their active listening skills so that even though they lack a certain skill, they have a backup on the other.

Active listening is not only a technique used in counseling; social workers also use it. It requires the listener to concentrate and understand fully; it also involves remembering what the speaker is saying.

There are three components to active listening: comprehend, retain, and respond.

In the comprehension phase, the listener pays attention to the speaker’s verbal and non-verbal language.

In the second phase, the listener keeps the information and tries to remember the key points of the speaker’s message.

Then, in the final stage, the listener responds.

5.0 Patience

skills in social work practice

There will be easy clients, and clients who have complex issues making everything more difficult than it should be.

Any social worker should remember that patience is a trait that can be developed.

It is essential to do their job correctly and avoid getting frustrated over things that make little sense, but to the person struggling, they do.

Usually, people who need the help of a social worker have gone through some unpleasant experiences that caused some trauma, and just because they found the courage to ask for help, it doesn’t always mean that they’re willing to talk or open up.

Being patient will pay off, but realising that the person who refused to open up finally starts talking about themselves, will be more rewarding than anything else.

6.0 Professional commitment

professionalism in social work

Being a successful social worker requires years of practice and lifelong learning.

Social workers must be committed to some values and ethics, and these commitments are necessary for fulfilling the mission of social workers.

This mission is to enhance wellbeing and help the basic needs of all people and look out for those who are more vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.

These ethics principles are service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity, and competence.

7.0 Self-care

essential skills in social work

If you are thinking of self-care products to help improve your wellbeing, make sure you check out this ARTICLE on Ultimate Self – Care Products You Need.

Social work is emotionally draining, so it is important to engage in activities that will maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Burnout is an extended period where someone experience exhaustion and lack of interest in things, resulting in a decline in their job performance.

It happens to everyone, even if being a social worker is your dream job.

The key in life is moderation and even if you love helping others, remember to take a deep breath and put your needs first.

In this ARTICLE, I detail 57 Powerful Ways to Practice Self-Love and be Happy

What are signs of burnt out?

Some signs you’ve experienced or are experiencing burnout:

  • – Exhaustion
  • – Lack of interest and motivation
  • – Frustration and negative emotions
  • – Cognitive problems
  • – Declining job performance
  • – Interpersonal problems at home and at work
  • – Not taking care of yourself
  • – Thinking about work all the time, even when you’re not at work
  • – Decreased satisfaction
  • – Health problems

Taking care of yourself is what will make taking care of others easier; get enough sleep and stay attuned with your feelings.

8.0 Time management

essential skills you need in social work

Another vital skill that social workers need to have is time management.

Between managing your caseload, meeting clients/service users and staying on top of record keeping, time management becomes a valuable skill you need.

This is in consideration of the fact that time is always a limited resource that must be managed well in the wake of the growing demand for social work services.

Master how to identify key priorities in your life and get things done.

This article HERE on How to Manage Your Time Effectively details some good time management tips which can help you manage your time efficiently so nothing important falls through the cracks.

9.0 Organisational skills

key skills in social work

Organisational skills are an important part of Social Workers’ day to day routine.

Social Workers manage their time effectively and ensure their papers are in proper order and they maintain a detailed record.

Social workers make excellent decisions by knowing how to organise their workload and that their time is better spent with the service users.

Learn how to stay organised with these outstanding tips HERE. 

10.0 Working as part of a team

social work skills and qualities

Social workers working as members of multi-professional teams use advisory skills.

In addition, they work collaboratively with the people they support by Building Positive Working Relationships. 

For example, they act as rights and legal advisors in safeguarding and promoting the interests and rights of persons care and well-being by invoking the application of Care Act 2014 and other such frameworks whenever there is a need.

11.0 Leadership qualities

qualities of a social worker

As leaders, social workers provide leadership and direction to multidisciplinary teams and in situations that require client safeguarding.

The role played by social workers in safeguarding service users is especially important considering the political and public outcry over the abuse, safety lapses, and care failures in organisations that provide health services.

In this respect, social workers bring to attention the rights of all service users and members of their families or carers to be treated or handled in such a way as to cause no harm or exploitation.

Also, social workers advocate for their service users, which is an activity that requires leadership skills.

12.0 Ability to identify injustice and oppression

anti discriminatory practice

As supporters and managers, social workers need to appreciate the specific inequalities and stressors that affect different people.

They should be able to work with people’s wishes and motivations while performing their public duties such as appropriately allocating resources, managing risks, and supporting people towards understanding what might be helpful to them.

As managers, social workers may work across the whole system towards ensuring the provision of integrated health services to clients.

In this unique ARTICLE, I detail How to Promote Anti-discriminatory Practice in 3 Simple Ways. 

13.0 Multi-tasking

essential skills in social work profession

As a social worker, you have competing demands. It is likely that you will perform more than one task at the same time.

This means you will switch back and forth from one thing to another and performing several tasks simultaneously.

For example, you may be speaking on the phone and updating a client/service user’s records at the same time.

Is social work a good career?

From my point of view, yes it is.

When working as a social worker, you work within specific legal frameworks, policies, and proficiencies.

At each level of your career (student social worker, newly qualified social worker, or experienced social worker), there are certain competencies you must master.

If you are a student, the social work training will help you become competent in some key areas as you complete your placements and work on meeting the Professional Capabilities Framework Competencies.  

The Professional Capabilities Framework for Social Work in England identifies diversity and equality; rights, justice, and economic wellbeing; intervention and skills; and professional leadership as some domain descriptors that guide how social work is practiced (The Professional Association for Social Work and Social Workers 2018).

The role of leadership, rights advocates, safeguarding, and gatekeeping as undertaken by social workers as discussed above are well aligned with the Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF).

Beyond doubt, the PCF places great value in the principles of anti-discrimination and anti-oppression and recognises diversity (The Professional Association for Social Work and Social Workers 2018).

As such it promotes equality, economic wellbeing, human rights, and social justice, all of which are also promoted by the role of social workers as rights advocates and gatekeepers.

Social workers play an important role in preventing harm, providing support, and promoting progress, which is congruent with the intervention and skills domain.

What are the advantages of being a social worker?

Social work skills have several advantages and challenges.

One advantage of this line of work is that it helps persons get the care and support that service user’s need.

For example, when an individual’s care needs are identified, we can put an appropriate support plan in place to help improve their day to day living.

Accurate record keeping is essential. The recording is a vital process and may prevent the worsening of individuals’ situation.

What are the disadvantages of being a social worker?

Like any other career you decide to pursue, you need to consider the most difficult part of being a social worker.

Although social work can be fulfilling, constant exposure to other people’s struggles, problems and traumas can take an emotional toll on the social worker leading to burnout, compassion fatigue, and exhaustion.

In the wake of rising demand for mental healthcare services, needless bureaucracy, and financial constraints, social workers are facing more and more pressures at work (BASW 2018).

At the same time, the important role played by social workers as rights advocates sometimes put them into conflict with other professionals such as law enforcers and other members of the multidisciplinary healthcare team.

How many hours a day do social workers work?

The working hours of a social worker vary from 16 hours a week to 40 hours a week.

Full-time social workers usually work between 37 and 40 hours a week.

Part-time social workers usually work a minimum of 16 hours. You may be able to work some weekends, evenings or out of hours depending on your role.

You may also be required to meet clients or handle emergencies–sometimes alongside the Police.

What are some early signs you’ll be a great social worker?
essential social work skills

Here are some early signs you’d be a great social worker

1.0 You like helping others

It’s in the definition of what a social worker: helping others should be the primary focus of any professional that works in the social work field.

Altruism is characterised by selflessness and concern for the wellbeing of others.

If you’re an altruistic person, you put other people’s needs before yours and truly care about the people around you.

When someone needs help because empathy is also something you were born with, it comes naturally to you.

Making sure the people around you are happy doesn’t mean you think less of yourself; it just means that you’re innately thoughtful and prefer to prioritize the wellbeing of your loved ones.

You are also the kind of person who thinks about how your actions will affect others, and that’s on being a thoughtful person.

Helping someone also makes you feel insanely good, people love you, and you love people.

You’re proactive, which means that you don’t wait for the perfect opportunities to help others; you do because you feel like it.

You’re self-confident, and it shows through your actions and behaviors.

2.0 One-on-one interactions are your thing

Maybe you’re introverted, and you always preferred one-on-one interactions, but people who are meant to work in any field that will help people usually prefer this type of interaction.

High-quality interaction is where the client will feel heard and actively responds; it is also a low-stress environment where the people involved will feel as if they can’t fail; there are no right or wrong answers, it’s just the two of you, they can be as vulnerable as they can.

It also gives the client the opportunity not to rely on other people, such as parents or tutors.

They can talk more freely about their struggles, and it can be an opportunity for the social worker to understand the client’s communication style better and then use this knowledge and make a better plan or communicate more effectively.

3.0 You’re a creative person

essential social work skills

Creative people are the ones that make the world a better place.

Imagine a world without art, music, poetry, books! If Van Gogh never painted the starry night, the world would now be such a boring place to live in.

Being the way you are makes you unique; it can be stressful for the people who don’t get why you’re so messy, or you need to leave everything on your desk, but the creatives of the world get you.

You see people differently when you’re creative; having another perspective on why a person behaves in a certain way might be a clue that you should be a social worker.

Social workers usually see many different people daily, and these people need someone who looks at them and doesn’t judge their choices.

You might struggle a bit with your boss because you don’t get along with management, and you’d rather do your thing your way, but unless you’re the boss, you have to listen.

Your manager probably knows more than you think, don’t underestimate them.

Solving problems is any creative person’s favorite pass time activity; you like the challenge, and you like brainstorming for ideas that could solve a problem.

Creative people also ask a lot of questions and usually listen to the answer, and the most important thing that you do as a creative person is that you find beauty in the ordinary.

You watch people, notice everything they do, and how the tone of their voice changed, and if something is making them uncomfortable, you try to have a different approach.

These qualities are something that is needed in the social work field.

4.0 You’re patient

Patient people are more willing to get what they want because they work hard and understand that good things take time.

If you’re a patient person, you know you prefer to do your research before jumping to any conclusion; as a matter of fact, patient people can slow down things they’re working on to assess the situation better, and they’re also cautious, which means that they’ll make better decisions.

Anyone can learn to be a patient person, but some people are patient by nature. It’s a strength, but it can also be a weakness.

Working as a social worker requires fast problem-solving skills, something that patient people might have, but at the same time, they might take their time to think about how right is the decision they come up with.

It is always better to be patient than to be impatient; even though most teams benefit from a mix of patient and impatient people, balance in everything is the key.

5.0 You know how to set boundaries

Boundaries are essential in relationships, friendships, and workplaces.

Setting boundaries is a skill that many people don’t have because it’s not something you’re born with, preferably something you learn with time.

Name your limits and get to know yourself and your feelings a little better; think about the time a specific thing made you uncomfortable and what you did to avoid it.

If a client is being too straightforward or is doing something you disagree with, be direct, and tell them. Some people don’t understand unless you use a clear and direct dialogue.

Say “I don’t like it when I get calls after seven in the afternoon” if your work hours are from eight in the morning to six in the afternoon.

Say, “I don’t feel comfortable when my clients add me on Facebook, Instagram…”, sometimes being friendly can be perceived as wanting to build a relationship outside the workplace, which is something social workers shouldn’t do.

You’re the social worker; they are the client.

Can anyone be a social worker?

Social work is a profession that is often misunderstood and mis-characterised.

Professional training is required, but there is also a lot of passion and dedication involved, but it requires years of studying before you get a social work professional qualification.

Anyone can study to become a social worker, but only those who are willing to go through years of training become social workers; those who are passionate and give everything they can in order to reach their goal make it to the top.

Time and effort will be required, but the rewarding feeling of entering the field will make all the hard work worth it.

Before you go

Social workers use unique skills in different areas of practice.

Social workers specifically play roles such as safeguarding individuals from harm, advocating for rights and interests, managing, supervising, advising, and educating or informing.

Working as a social worker can be fulfilling as it involves helping other people, and it allows working in different settings, it can be very stressful because of exposure to risky and emotionally draining situations.

Social work also faces challenges such as time and resource constraints and possible conflicts with other professions. 

Power differentials, poor communication, and lack of appreciation for the role played by the social worker are some challenges faced. Yet, it is a rewarding career as you make a real difference in people’s lives.

Social work essential skills list

  1. Empathy
  2. Communication skills
  3. Critical thinking
  4. Active listening skills
  5. Patience
  6. Professional commitment
  7. Self-care
  8. Time management
  9. Organisational skills
  10. Working as part of a team
  11. Leadership qualities
  12. Ability to identify injustice and oppression
  13. Multi-tasking



key skills in social work



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