social work career progression, types of social work career progression

Types of social work career progression

By Luke Aldred

​When it comes to social work, you may think that typical career progression is linear; we mapped out these steps a while back.

But in 2020, it’s important to take a more holistic perspective when it comes to career progression. By looking at the various nuances that lead to job satisfaction, we can start to see different patterns starting to emerge. Typically speaking, there are four distinct types of career progression: linear, expert, spiral and transitory. If we take a look at each style, we can see how this applies to the social work sector and maybe change the way that we view our careers.

Linear – the traditional view of progression

Linear career progression is what we’re used to. It’s about progressing through different stages until we've reached team leadership or managerial positions. In social work, the linear career progression is very well documented. It’s relatively easy to use your experience to progress up the ranks. It's interesting to see where social workers are using their experience beyond this. For example, Isabelle Trowler, Mark Harvey and Fran Leddra (and Lyn Romeo) have progressed into government work via the Chief Social Worker roles whilst Emma Lewell-Buck MP has used her experience working as a frontline child protection social worker to inform her role as a member of parliament.

Expert – using specialist knowledge

Expert career progression is about using specialist knowledge to become the best at what you do. It may not involve moving up into senior positions, but it is a style of progression where job satisfaction is known to be high.

If we put this into a social work context, this is where advanced practitioners are moving into niche areas of social work such as practice educators, independent reviewing officers or best interest assessors. These are areas of social work where having that expert knowledge can play a big role in shaping others entering the profession.

Spiral – ideal for good all-rounders

Sometimes taking a ‘sideways’ step or even a seemingly ‘backward’ step along the career path can play a big role in helping you achieve the career that you want. Social work has greater flexibility than most – as well as transitioning between different teams (such as moving from child protection to fostering), you can easily make the switch between children’s and adult services. You can also choose to move away from locum social work jobs to permanent employment if you want to gain experience in a different service area.

A spiral career path allows people to move into similar jobs in related areas. Typically, it may be long-lasting employees who move so that they can enjoy a new challenge. In a social work context, we know that this spiral approach to career progression is prevalent amongst senior leadership positions. In a recent chat with our Executive Recruitment team, Billy Holland, Executive Search Consultant, Children’s Health & Social Care told us:

“When it comes to senior management positions, employers are always looking for candidates with demonstrable proof that they can transform teams and improve service delivery. Because of the nature of social work, the stakes are increasingly high which means if you are a person with 20+ years’ experience as a senior manager, it’s much easier to transition into a new service area. This is because, at this level, it’s much more about relationship building and networking.”

Transitory workforces – taking advantages of opportunities

The final form of career progression is that of the transitory workforce – these are workers who are continually job hunting for new positions and like to have the flexibility to be in control of their own careers.

Simply put, it easily describes the very nature of agency social workers.

The flexibility given to locum social workers and the ability to choose when and where you work is considered a new form of career progression. It’s something which is becoming increasingly prevalent beyond that of the health and social care sphere. We think that there’s something powerful about being able to choose your jobs and how to be in control over the specifics of your career.

Whatever your desired career progression, we can help - register with Sanctuary today! We have also written a selection of pieces around starting and navigating your social work career.