Personal qualities of a great social worker
By Gemma Raw
As a caring profession, it goes without saying that social workers need to be kind, caring and patient, but what are the other personal qualities that all social workers possess?
It’s easy to simply list a variety of adjectives, but why are they are important and how can you reference them effectively on your CV and in an interview situation? In our latest article, we look at the personal traits that all social workers should have and explain how you can include these within your personal profile.
Social workers should be...
As social workers, you’ll be working with a variety of different people. Whether you work across children’s or adult services you’ll likely be communicating with several different agencies and family members as well as the service user themselves. It’s imperative that you are viewed as an approachable person. You need to show that your service users and their wider families can trust you.
Due to the very nature of social work, you’ll most likely be working with families or adults during a moment of crisis. Therefore, social workers need to demonstrate dependability and show that they can be the ‘rock’ that the person may be looking for. Children’s social workers need to be able to show that their child or young person can feel that they can depend upon them. They may be looking to you for support across a variety of different issues, so you need to show that you are the person that they can trust unconditionally. They need to know that you always have their best interests in mind and that you are working with them to resolve their issues.
This is the most important characteristic of any social worker. Without empathy, it’s impossible to understand exactly what the service user may have experienced. Being empathetic means that you can relate to the person; you can put yourself in their shoes and make yourself far more relatable.
But it’s not just about being empathetic with service users. In a high-pressure environment, you also need to show empathy to your colleagues. You need to be able to understand when someone is having a bad day, and know when to offer support, and when to let someone simply focus on the task at hand. If you’re applying for a managerial or leadership social work job role, it may be applicable to demonstrate how you’ve used your empathy to create a more cohesive working environment.
Social work is not a 9am - 5pm job role. Aside from medicine, social work could be one of the most demanding areas of health and social care roles; after all, you never know when a crisis could occur. Flexibility isn’t often considered a strong personality trait, but if you’re working in an ‘on-call’ capacity you’ll need to be able to demonstrate flexible working practices. You’ll need to show that you can drop your planned tasks at a moments’ notice and respond to emergency situations. Not everyone is happy to work like this; those that struggle with the unpredictability may find the working situation much harder than others who thrive in these scenarios.
At the heart of all good practice is good communication. After all, you’re regularly dealing with a variety of agencies and partner organisations, with service users and their families and you’re also working within a team. That’s a lot of people to communicate with!
We’ve previously spoken about how you can improve your communication skills. It’s more than just making sure that you’ve kept relevant parties up to date on casework. It’s about working with families to ensure that they understand the situation in an appropriate manner. It’s about being able to listen carefully to what is being said, and more importantly what is not being said.
Good social workers are those who are exceptional organisers. It’s not about having multiple coloured highlighter pens and a variety of notebooks (although who doesn’t love brand new stationery?). Good organisation is about having the ability to compartmentalise tasks so that you’re giving your full focus on whatever you are doing. If you’re speaking with a family, you’re concentrating on the conversation. You’re able to tackle problems head-on and record conversations and document evidence appropriately.
With so many caseloads to work on at any one time, it’s important that you can juggle a heavy workload. Taking a logical approach to all facets of your work will make it significantly easier to cope with the volume of cases.
Perception goes hand in hand with communication. As social workers, you’ll soon develop a ‘sixth sense’ or a ‘gut instinct’ for when something seems wrong. You’ll need to be able to look beyond what is being said to establish the reality. Once you’re fully aware of what is (and isn’t) being said, you’ll find it much easier to establish the best course of action to deal with the situation.
As a social worker, you’ll likely work on some incredibly emotional and even heart-breaking cases at various points of your career. This would test even the strongest personality, and its why resilience is so important. You need to be able to pick yourself (and others up) when you are down and understand how to move on.
It can be easy to be affected by the situations you are working in; after all, who wouldn’t be affected by some of the circumstances which lead to social work involvement. But it’s how you deal with it which will set you apart. It’s incredibly important to be able to finish work for the day and switch off your mind. It’s how you can reset your body back to neutral and help you take care of yourself.
We have written a selection of pieces around starting and navigating your social work career.