The 9 Social Work Competencies You Need to Know


In social work, there are a range of social work competencies.

An understanding of these different types or forms of social work competencies can be helpful in supporting social workers to recognise the use of a range skills in any given situation.

If you think about social work competencies in the UK, you realise that competence in social work is a combination of several social work skills, including knowledge, professionalism, skills and values, etc.

The 9 Social Work Competencies You Need to Know

In this article, I explain the key social work competencies and give some examples of social work competencies.

Why are social work competencies important?

Social work competencies are important because:

  1. They support with ethical decision making.
  2. Helps promote excellent practice
  3. Enables us to show professional commitment
  4. Helps us take responsibility for our conduct and practice
  5. Helps evidence our knowledge
  6. Helps us to maintain a positive attitude
  7. Enables us to take charge of our professional development
  8. Supports with learning new skills
  9. Helps us understand our role as social workers.
  10. Enables us to establish and maintain the trust and confidence of clients or service users.

What are the 9 core social work competencies in the UK?

  1. Professionalism
  2. Values and Ethics
  3. Diversity & Equality
  4. Rights, Justice and Economic Wellbeing
  5. Knowledge
  6. Critical Reflection & Analysis
  7. Skills and Intervention
  8. Contexts & Organisations
  9. Professional Leadership

social work competencies

  1. Professionalism

 Identify and behave as a professional social worker, committed to professional development.

Social workers are members of an internationally recognised profession. The UK law protects the social work title.

We demonstrate professional commitment by taking responsibility for our conduct, practice, self-care, and development.

We seek and use supervision and other professional support.

We promote excellent practice and challenge circumstances that compromise this.

As representatives of the profession, we safeguard its reputation.

We are accountable to people using services, the public, employers and the regulator.

We take ethical decisions in the context of multiple accountability.

In demonstrating evidence of meeting the competency on professionalism, I explain some practical ways this can be achieved below.

Examples of how you can meet the professionalism domain or competency are as follows;

  1. Politeness

Being polite to co-workers and clients, dressing professionally and upholding company values is part of being respectful towards the people you work for/with.

When it comes to social work, professionalism is vital, as you are often dealing with members of the public daily.

  1. Represent yourself professionally

Representing yourself professionally helps to safeguard vulnerable people that you may care for, and protecting yourself, should you be accused of acting inappropriately while at work.

Although I always feel social work is a rewarding career, it requires a person who can draw an obvious line between their home life and their work.

  1. Learn new skills

To maintain professionalism, don’t be afraid to learn new skills.

This will help you grow and become competent in your field of practice.

  1. Don’t be selfish

Don’t be selfish and share your knowledge with your peers and colleagues who ask for your help.

Sometimes, you may find a useful resource. It is good practice to share this even without being asked.

  1. Maintain a positive attitude

Maintain a positive attitude and inspire those around you.

Encourage and avoid negativity as much as possible.

It only brings others down.

  1. Reliability

Remain dependable.

Show up!

Be there when you’ve said you’ll turn up.

Don’t allow excuses to be the order of the day in your life.

Manage your time effectively.

This includes managing your diary and keeping it up to date.

Prioritise your activities and visits.

Keep your calendar up to date.

Consider risk assessment and urgency of tasks when planning.

You don’t want people saying comments like “it is not unusual for X to turn up late”or “she/he is always late”. 

  1. Take charge of your personal development 

Don’t wait for a manager to give you the go ahead to develop yourself.

Take charge!

Identify areas you would like to improve.

Set some time aside and take on some online training or pay for course at a University to enhance your social work skills further!

  1. Plan and arrange supervision sessions.

Use appropriate reflective models such as Gibbs, Kolbs or the Weather Model during supervision.

Come prepared with questions and seek clarification on issues you do not understand.

  1. Self-care

Your self-care is your responsibility at all times.

The secret to lasting success is self-care and balance.

To avoid burnout or mental breakdown, put your wellbeing first.

Invest in yourself by caring for your mental, physical and spiritual health, and also by doing things that bring you joy.

Remember, success at the speed of balance.

As you journey through life and your social work career, you have to love yourself through every storm.

Meeting the competency of professionalism example:

I recognised the following gaps in my knowledge. Example knowledge around the Human Rights Act 1998. I did the following to improve my knowledge in this area Date

social work competency

  1. Values & Ethics

Values and ethics form a solid foundation that helps to guide social workers in all aspects of their role within the community.

Ethical principles and a solid code of ethics provide a set of guidelines that social workers can refer to when they are unsure of the right course of action or approach to take.

By adhering to these values and ethics, a social worker can be confident that they are acting in a responsible and ethically right way.

Working with people of all ages, backgrounds, sexual orientation, and ethnicity requires a social worker to never become biased or discriminate when carrying out their duties.

All people must be treated with respect and equally.

In order to achieve this, a social worker must;

(i) Understand that their role can be complex and there is a need to develop practices and approaches to challenge professionals within the industry in relation to discrimination.

(ii) Demonstrate knowledge and practical application of the code of ethics outlined for social workers and question those who don’t adhere to them.

(iii) Analyse and assess your own performance and manage personal and sometimes conflicting values and ethical dilemmas in role-play scenarios as part of training and development work.

(iv) Use problem-solving skills to overcome ethical dilemmas and provide solutions whilst being aware of legal requirements.

(v) Always uphold an individual’s rights to freedom of choice and self-determination.

Meeting the competency of values & ethics example:

I evidenced the following values while working on Case A: respect, empathy, anti-oppressive practice etc. This is how I evidenced these values. Date
  1. Diversity & Equality

Diversity and equality play a significant role in the career of a social worker.

Working within a community, and especially with vulnerable members of society, a social worker’s position demands an individual to not only recognise that diversity exists in our society but also that equality is crucial in your line of work.

From race, class, and economic status, to disability, age, gender, religion, and sexuality, our differences are what make us all unique.

However, a social worker must understand how diversity can negatively affect an individual, and provide anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive services, promoting equality whenever and wherever possible.

In order to uphold this approach, social workers must;

(i) Be able to clearly identify and understand all levels of diversity and how discrimination can affect people in different ways.

(ii) Call out discriminatory and inequality practices, situations, and service providers professionally, while adhering to ethical principles.

(iii) Assess your own approach, practices, and performance in relation to discrimination and equality, removing personal opinions, beliefs, and stereotypes from your work.

(iv) Challenge others who may not be treating everyone equally, or discriminating based on personal belief systems.

(v) Constantly promote equality and reduce the risk of misuse of power due to discrimination.

Meeting the competency of diversity & equality example:

I recognised the need to improve my cultural competence This is how I improved upon it. Date
  1. Rights, Justice & Economic Wellbeing

Protect, uphold, and promote human rights, justice, and economic wellbeing.

These are all vital responsibilities that social workers have and consistently fight for.

Human rights, backed by national and international law and regulations, need to be protected by social workers, in order to safeguard quality of life.

Everyone deserves to lead a happy, healthy, and safe life, protected by the law and given opportunities to improve their standard of living.

Social workers know all too well how economic hardship, oppression, and discrimination can negatively impact individuals and families.

This is why it’s so important that social workers challenge cases of inequality, injustice, and discrimination they come across and provide support to those fighting for their basic human rights.

In order to achieve this, a social worker must;

(i) Fight for social justice, social inclusion, and equality within society, providing support and guidance where needed.

(ii) Shine a light on situations where the law has been interpreted only to provide an optimal outcome for one party while ignoring the rights of the other.

(iii) Compare, analyse, and evaluate conflicting rights and complex cases, providing ethical outcomes.

(iv) Work towards improving quality of life and economic status through education, employment opportunities, financial help, access to health services, and sourcing housing if required.

(v) Help to give a voice to those being ignored, helping to strengthen their case and put pressure on service providers to find solutions.

Meeting the competency of rights, justice and economic wellbeing example:

I worked in partnership with other agencies. This is how I worked with agency A. Date
  1. Knowledge

Within this profession, knowledge is power and a social worker must develop their industry knowledge and awareness of services, solutions, and support currently available to those in need.

Being able to refer to case studies, theories and the law are key in developing knowledge and becoming a better social worker.

Social workers must also give back by providing their own case studies, assessments, and research, which contributes to this knowledge-sharing community.

By providing research and learning from other professionals, social workers can better understand complex emotional cases, ethical dilemmas and best approaches, social-economic, psychological and environmental concerns, and issues.

Case studies and assessments help to expand a social worker’s awareness of risks such as vulnerability, diversity, injustice, and resistance to help and services. In order to give back to the industry, a social worker must;

(i) Actively broaden your industry knowledge by reading up on case studies and being aware of new and relevant research to your line of work.

(ii) Understand potential risk factors such as vulnerability, resistance, emotional trauma, and psychological concerns.

(iii) Be able to demonstrate your knowledge of theories and social work practices that relate to social welfare and working alongside other service providers.

(iv) Provide valuable feedback as a social worker with research, reports, evaluations, and case studies.

(v) Identify opportunities that may arise with the development and roll-out of new technology, digital solutions, and social media.

Meeting the competency of knowledge example:

I have presented at a social work forum/team meeting I evidenced my knowledge around this topic by explaining the following: Date

social work competencies pdf

  1. Critical Reflection & Analysis

Professional and ethical decision-making requires critical self-reflection.

Social workers must self-reflect and assess their own performance and practices to ensure they are acting fairly and applying professional judgment and reasoning.

Whether it be your approach, strategy or observations, a social worker must always critically reflect to prevent personal opinions or bias from impacting their decisions and solutions.

This is why supervision within the industry is essential.

Ongoing evaluation and assessment help to provide a high-quality and consistent service to the public.

Critical reflection is a necessary part of being a social worker.

There is always room for improvement, and self-reflection enables social workers to consider new ways to provide assistance and support, as well as take a step back from a situation or case.

By taking an outsider’s perspective, new solutions may reveal themselves, improving the level of service social workers provide.

To demonstrate your ability to critically reflect and analyse your own performance you must;

(i) Demonstrate effective critical reflection in relation to your case and situation.

(ii) Reflect and question, compiling a wide range of evidence from a variety of sources when making a case decision.

(iii) Start to provide professional feedback and support to other service providers to help strengthen your entire team.

(iv) Make sure that decision-making is based on a solid understanding of a case and that your evidence has been checked for errors.

(v) Develop curiosity within the workplace, using your creativity to consider out-of-the-box ideas that could enhance the services that you are providing within the community.

Meeting the competency of critical reflection and analysis example:

I have used supervision to improve my practice. I learned the following through supervision. Date


  1. Skills & Interventions

Interventions are sometimes unavoidable and rely heavily on a social worker’s set of skills, judgment and industry knowledge to achieve positive results and professional support.

To minimise harm, trauma, and negative indirect implications, a social worker must develop the skills to carry out professional interventions that are in the best interest of the individuals involved.

This might apply to one individual, a family, or a group of people within a community.

To be successful, social workers must communicate effectively and build trust.

Only when trust and respect are achieved, will any size or scale of intervention work.

Social worker skills involve professional communication.

These skills will often take time to develop but will make your role as a social worker more effective and results-driven.

After several years in the industry, communication will become second-nature, whether you are educating, advising, supporting, or persuading.

Self-reflection and self-evaluation help to strengthen these skills further. Here are the skills you will need to succeed;

(i) Demonstrate a strong ability to communicate professionally and clearly without emotion leading or influencing your line of thought.

(ii) Respond professionally to negative responses and act as an authority even when faced with challenging situations.

(iii) Build strong working relationships with service providers and members of the community to generate effective solutions.

(iv) Self-reflect and show ways in which you are trying to develop your skills and improve your performance. Report and record your assessments, judgments, and decisions.

(v) Confidently risk-assess and make professional and ethically sound decisions to safeguard individuals, families, or groups of people

Meeting the competency of skills and intervention example:


I used appropriate theories and interventions when working with client A I used the following relevant theories and interventions Date
  1. Contexts & Organisations

Society and policies can often change without much warning, and these changes can cause conflict and problems within communities.

As a social worker, you must be reactive, adaptive, and resilient to change. Leading by example, a social worker must assess any change of context or change within organisations and adapt their approach accordingly.

By facing challenges head-on and consistently acting in a professional manner, a social worker can help communicate new changes and help those effectively overcome any difficulties that a change may cause.  

Typically, social workers are informed of new opportunities, changes and challenges that are brought about when a policy is updated or amended.

This allows a social worker to consider the policy’s impact on the community and consider options and solutions before dilemmas even arise. Working under an ethical code of conduct, social works should try to keep on top of potential changes to policies as much as possible.

To demonstrate your resilience and response to challenges and changes you should;

(i) Be aware of potential upcoming changes to policies that may impact the community.

(ii) Show your ability to problem-solve and provide effective solutions to dilemmas or problems that a change in policy might create.

(iii) Demonstrate your interest in changing policies by forming relationships with influential organisations and local communities.

(iv) Access support and legal advice in relation to challenges and changes to policies in order to provide professional practices that support and assist others.

(v) Recognize and discuss with policy-makers how organisations can improve their practices to provide optimal outcomes for members of the public.

Meeting the competency of contexts and organisations example:

I took active part in a team meeting and contributed to discussions I attended the following team meeting, and this was my contribution to the discussion Date

social work competencies uk

  1. Professional Leadership

Becoming a respected and professional social worker means taking responsibility for your own learning, training and development.

If you hope to one day position yourself as an industry leader, you must be able to influence others and become part of collective professional leadership.

This role will involve influencing industries, policymakers and other social workers too.

To take your career to the next level and work towards becoming a professional leader, you must invest time into self-reflection, self-improvement, and self-discipline.

You will need to take part in advancing social work practice, supervising entry-level social workers, educating others on the importance of social work, and carrying out your own research, assessments, and reports.

You should be applying creativity, technology, and innovation to your role and using social media positively.

To achieve leadership roles in this industry, you should also be fully aware of the many complex challenges that social workers may face today, such as the development of technology, social media influence, and new policies that may transform the industry.

To demonstrate this within your work you must;

(i) Take the initiative to self-reflect, self-evaluate, and actively contribute to the development of the practice.

(ii) Be promoting the importance of social work and its positive impact within the community.

(iii) Contribute to the education of others, through compiling case studies, carrying out assessments, and reporting on your own work.

(iv) Take part in social work professional development and training both online and where opportunities arise to influence organisations and policy makers.

(v) Be available to help social work students, sharing your industry knowledge, professional guidance, and advice.

 Meeting the competency of professional leadership example:


I proactively made a referral to some agencies. This is why and how I made the referral. Date

How many competencies are there is social work?

Social work competencies in the US.

The Council on Social Work Education, the accrediting agency for social work education in the United States, mandates that all Master of Social Work programs develop and implement an explicit curriculum that prepares graduates for practice by mastering a set of nine core competencies.

In the United States, (US) the 9 competencies include:

  1. Demonstrate ethical and professional behavior
  2. Engage diversity and difference in practice
  3. Advance human rights and social, economic and environment justice
  4. Engage in practice-informed research and research-informed practice
  5. Engage in policy practice
  6. Engage with individuals, families, groups, organisations and communities.
  7. Assess individuals, families, groups, organisations and communities.
  8. Intervene with individuals, families, groups, organisations and communities.
  9. Evaluate practice with individuals, families, groups, organisations and communities.


Coulshed, V. & Orme, J. (2012). Social Work Practice. 5th edn: Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Howe, D. (1998). Relationship-based thinking and practice in social work, Journal of Social Work Practice 16 (2), pp 45 – 46.

Hudson, B. L. & Sheldon, B. (2000). The cognitive- behavioural approach in: M. Davies (Ed.) Encyclopaedia of Social Work (Oxford, Oxford University Press).

Salzberger – Wittenberg, I. (1970) Psycho-Analytic Insight, and Relationships (London, Routledge).

Trevithick, P. (2000) Social Work Skills: a Practice Handbook (Buckingham, Open University Press).

For further details about application of PCF and the holistic approach, please see the following links:

  • for an interactive version of the PCF and several articles about its application
  • “Guide to the Professional Capability Framework and the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment”: by Dr Hilary Lawson; University of Sussex, February 2013: available through Community Care INFORM Useful Resources

  • Social Work To-Do List

Social Work To – Do List: What To Include: We sometimes struggle with managing our daily tasks as social workers. This is not because we do not have the skills. The work load, crisis and challenges we face can be overwhelming. That is why a social work to-do list may help us manage better.

  • Recommended Books

Best Social Work Books Every Student Must Read is a great article full of highly recommended and engaging books. Helping student social workers to equip themselves with knowledge and skills. It is a great way to empower yourself and encourage you to read more.

  • Social Work Registration

Social Work Registration: Get it done – is a useful article that walks you through the social work registration process.

  • Social Work Burnout

51 Effective Ways to Fight Social Work Burnout helps practitioners explore 51 effective ways to fight Social Work Burnout. Social work burnout can affect the way we execute our role. It can cause social work stress, and a stressed social worker cannot perform their role effectively.

  • Active Listening in Social Work

Why You Should Actively Listen as a Social Worker raises awareness of active listening in social work. Social work active listening involves the listener paying close attention to the speaker, making sure not to interrupt, and reflecting on what they have heard. This helps the speaker feel heard and validated, and it can also help them clarify their thoughts and feelings.

  • Social Work Humour

Social Work Humour for the End of a Long Day This article explains when social work humour is important. Essential social work skills include empathy, authenticity, resilience and respect. These skills help us cope with situations and meet the needs of service users or clients. However, the best coping mechanism in social work is definitely humour.

  • Social Work CV Writing

Social Work CV Writing This article is a must read – whether you are a student, newly qualified, or an experienced social worker, and looking for a new company to work for, you will find these 13 fundamental tips useful if you want to create the perfect Social Work CV/resume that will make you outshine others and get noticed.

  • Social Work Values & Respect in Social Work

Social Work Values & Respect in Social Work Social work values include respect, dignity and worth of individuals, pursuit of social justice, integrity and competence. This article explores what ‘respect’ means in social work. Social work values are the beliefs and principles of social workers, which guide their practice and help them to determine the right course of action when making decisions.

  • Generalist Intervention Model: Complete Guide

Generalist Intervention Model: Complete Guide The Generalist Intervention Model (GIM) is an approach to working with individuals, families, and communities that is based on a recognition of the interconnections of human systems. It emphasises building partnerships with clients and utilising their strengths to address problems and create solutions.

The model uses an ecological perspective to identify multiple levels of influence in client’s lives, including but not limited to: family, peers, school/work, community, and policy.

  • Social Work Quotes

Social Work Quotes Social work quotes are an important part of understanding the complexities of social work. They can provide insights into how we think about and approach specific problems or situations. Quotes from famous authors, educational institutions, theorists, and practitioners have been used for centuries to help articulate ideas, promote critical thinking, help with social work interventions and offer inspiration.

  • Professionalism in Social Work

Professionalism in Social Work

The Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF) sets capability statements of what is to be expected for all stages of a social worker’s career, from entry into training to the most advanced level of a social work practitioner. Professionalism is a key capability under the PCF and it requires upcoming, newly qualified and existing social workers to identify and behave as professional social workers committed to professional development.

  • 45 Motivational Quotes You Need After a Bad Day

45 Motivational Quotes You Need After a Bad Day

Motivational quotes for social workers highlight the need for social workers to believe in themselves, help one person at a time, and pursue their own goals and aspirations.

  • Most Empowering Mental Health Quotes

Most Empowering Mental Health Quotes

Social work involves working with people who may feel low because of sudden changes in their lives. In addition, the social work role has been associated with burnout, depression, job related stress, poor work life balance resulting in a high turnover in the field.

  • Inspirational Mental Health Quotes

Inspirational Mental Health Quotes

We all have times when we feel low and scared. But sometimes these feelings can subside when we read some positive quotes or inspirational mental health quotes.

  • Mental Health Hashtags

Mental Health Hashtags You may be a blogger, or perhaps you provide content in one of these areas will find this article useful. As a mental health blogger, I have realised that using hashtags can encourage social media users to explore content that catches their eye.

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