Ultimate Guide to Career Progression in Social Work

Progressing in your social work career can give you a sense of pride, offer a way for you to showcase your skills, and sometimes give you a pay rise!

If you are reading this today, then I am guessing career progression is important to you in your social work profession.

Now work out why this matters to you and exactly what you want. 

So, what is career progression?


Career progression in general terms involves moving up the professional ladder either vertically or horizontally. 

It involves steps such as getting promoted, coaching people, training opportunities, encountering new challenges, working with new employers, supervising staff, and finding new opportunities.

Understanding how you can succeed in your career as a social worker can lead to job satisfaction.

In this article, I will provide an all – encompassing rundown of how to succeed in your career as a social worker, including an explanation on:

  • What the career path is for you as a social worker
  • Deciding which group of people you enjoy working with
  • Developing your professional network
  • Training and development opportunities
  • Creating your professional vision
  • Breaking your vision into goals
  • Developing a professional mission statement
  • Taking action

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The Ultimate Guide to Career Progression in Social Work

What is the career path for a social worker?

There are various fields in social work practice you can practice or major in once you qualify.

However, I believe deciding which area you want to focus on also depends of your interests, skills and long-term career goals.  

If you do not know where you want to begin, the best thing to do is to list all areas you may be interested in and find shadowing opportunities in the various fields.

For instance, career paths in the UK for social workers include; children and families, adult services and youth justice.

Each sector or field has several teams, and their roles differ.

You can shadow the Looked After Team, Referral and Assessment Team, Mental Health Team, or Child in Need Team.

Teams do have different names depending on the organisation, so find out what exactly they do before you shadow.

Social work job shadowing will give you the opportunity to observe a qualified social worker perform their duty in their environment. 

This experience will help you explore specific fields in the social work profession and get a realistic picture of what the role entails.

With this information, you can make an informed decision about your choice of specialism. 

In addition, you can learn about what skills you may need to work on in order to help you stand out when it comes to making an application for the role you want.

Networking will also provide you with a unique way of finding out what a role entails.

After shadowing a professional, you can send them an email to find out more information about a particular role.

Which field of social work pays the most?

Social workers can make six figures or more, depending on their role and responsibilities.

In general, private sectors pay more than public sectors. I detail salary expectations for social workers in the UK here.

How Can You Succeed in Social Work?

In order to succeed in social work, I had a clear vision, developed my professional mission statement and took action.

Every successful venture begins with a vision.

I feel this very step helped me identify opportunities available to take the necessary steps.

Successful career progression depends on several factors.

Some factors are within our control and others are not. Factors which are within our control may help us climb the career ladder quickly and easily.

The steps below will explain some of those factors in more detail.

Tip 1: Deciding which group of people you enjoy working with

As early as possible into your career, decide which social work area you enjoy working the most or the particular group of people you would like to support.

Sometimes you may have to experience working in different teams to decide which area suits you. However, changing teams frequently turns you into a jack of all trades and a master of none.

  • Look for shadowing opportunities to get a feel of how other teams work.
  • The key to your decision depends on your passion, experience and the where you want to get to in your career.

Tip 2: Developing Your Professional Network

Networking is a great way to progress in your social work career.

When trying to decide which area of social work you would like to specialise in, it is helpful to find out more information from people already in the field.

Speaking to practicing professionals will give you firsthand knowledge about the role.

You can also build a network with like-minded people online and offline.

Building a network takes time, because it is built on trust, respect, and mutual goals.

Your particular network should provide win-win opportunities for all of its members.

This means that the members of your network should be ready, willing, and able to actively support each other.

  • It is useful to use the snowball sampling approach, which can help you find people with a specific type of knowledge by first identifying an ideal person who can then provide the names of other relevant people.
  • Hang out with the right people and tap into their knowledge.
  • Do not always be at the receiving end, but be prepared to share your knowledge as well.
  • Join a professional network platform such as LinkedIn, which can help you connect with other professionals and learn valuable skills.
  • Use online resources to research on career requirements and prospects.
  • Attend career fairs and professional events/workshops to get an insight into the different areas of practice

Tip 3: Training and Development

Training and development is a highly effective way for improving your social work skills and knowledge.

It helps to improve the areas you are not competent in or lack the necessary skills and expertise for.

It also helps to improve and enrich your hard and soft skills.

When we hear the term ‘training’, we automatically think of formal courses, but there are other ways to get training such as:

  • Watching YouTube videos
  • Learning from co-workers
  • Attending professional events such as conferences and workshops
  • Free online training materials (SCIE)
  • Reading books
  • Listening to podcasts.
  • Attending webinars

Tip 4: Creating Your Professional Vision 

Your vision represents where you want to get to in your professional life, and it forms the foundation for success.

Take some time to think about your dreams, aspirations and desires in life.

Allow yourself to create vivid pictures of your ultimate work life.

Visualise who you want to help, what you want to wear, your working hours and the environment you want to work in.

I find the use of vision boards very useful.

Work out who you are and what is important to you.

Find out what your personality and experiences are: what do you like, what do you not like, and discover who you are.

Personally, I was able to discover myself through the use of journaling and meditation.

In addition, establish where you want to go and who you want to become.

Basically have a plan.

When thinking about your career, think about the perfect team you want to work in and the ideal group of people you would like to support daily.

Now visualise your personal life.

This is important because your personal and professional life should complement each other in order to attain a good work-life balance.

Hopefully, by now things are going the way you want and you are beginning to have a very clear picture of the ideal professional and personal life you want.

Tip 5: Breaking Your Vision into Goals

A clear visionary image and mindset will help you outline a set of goals.

  • Break these goals into statements which are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely).
  • This will help you stay organised and help you succeed.

Tip 6: Developing a Professional Mission Statement

The next step towards developing a satisfying career is to create a mission statement. Your vision will enable you to develop a perfect professional mission statement.

  • A mission statement is important for professional growth, because it defines a purpose for you and provides a framework for your actions.
  • The mission statement for Social Work Haven is to Dream it, Believe it and Achieve it. This helps direct our actions. We strive to make dreams come true and our actions will involve providing our readers with useful resources to help them reach their goals.
  • Your professional mission statement should direct your actions, statements, and goals, as well. It will guide you more quickly to your desired outcome.

Tip 7: Taking Action

The final step is to take action.

  • Take advantage of opportunities that come your way.
  • Listen to advice and always remember to “be a student and not a follower” as advised by Jim Rohn. This means that do not simply do what someone says. Certainly take interest in what someone says, then debate it, ponder over it, and consider it from all angles before making a choice or decision.
  • Be courageous as you work towards the goals you have stated.
  • Be fearless in enjoying every moment of this journey and have the end in mind.


To conclude, following these steps will help you crush your goals and lead you towards a satisfying, successful social work profession you desire.

The Ultimate Guide to Career Progression in Social Work: Final Thoughts

  • Deciding Which Group of People You Enjoy Working With
  • Developing Your Professional Network
  • Training and Development
  • Creating Your Professional Vision
  • Breaking Your Vision into Goals
  • Developing a Professional Mission Statement 
  • Taking Action


Thanks for reading this article.

Have you learned a thing or two about how to progress in your social work career? Remember, if you need a little push, download my free career development plan below. 

You can also speak to the Learning and Development team in your organisation for information about training and free resources you can access. 

Don’t forget to share this article with friends and family.

Also remember to PIN this for later!


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6 thoughts on “Ultimate Guide to Career Progression in Social Work”

  1. Thank you for this thorough guide on career progression in social work.
    I agree with you that training and development is an effective way of improving our social work skills.
    It also contributes to our overall career success because we are required to develop our creativity and come up with innovative solutions.

    Fortunately, in this modern world, we have access to all kinds of information that can help us develop new skills.
    And yes action matters.
    Again thank you for this helpful post.

  2. Well you’ve really hit the nail on the head with this guide! What’s great is that many of these tips apply to any career.

    I personally use LinkedIn as a way to connect with other like-minded professionals; it’s such a powerful platform in terms of getting connected and even for career opportunities.

    Definitely having an end goal or vision, and a plan are paramount to success.


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