The role that a social worker plays in the lives of their clients is paramount to the mental health of their clients and the outcome of their cases. This not only requires multi-skilled individuals but those who possess traits that their clients can identify with and can trust. Therefore, if you’re wondering what characteristics you need to have to be a successful social worker, please read our latest post and let us know if you agree!
Arguably the most important characteristic of any social worker, empathy is the ability to identify with and understand another person’s situation and the emotions that they are going through, in order to provide comfort and support, as well as provide solutions to the issues they are experiencing. The people you help may be in a state of emotional distress, and for them to trust you, you have to make yourself relatable and show care and understanding. In fact, most social workers are empathetic by nature, being the main reason for becoming one in the first place!
To be empathetic, you also need to have great social perceptiveness. This not only includes good listening skills but also being able to read between the lines, to help your clients talk about the issues that are not so easy to discuss. Interpreting body language, social cues, and patterns of behaviour will help with this and do require specialist skills that social workers should possess.
Social workers often have to cope with busy schedules, as well as caseloads and paperwork, so being able to manage and prioritise your role as a whole is also a necessity, ensuring you give your clients as much meaningful time as is possible.
Organisation also covers the logistical side of things. Clear note-taking, keeping files safe, always taking the required information with you to meetings and planning out your days will ensure that you’re always on top of things.
Social work definitely requires patience, especially with complex cases that involve various people and differing goals. It also takes time to build up trust between you and your clients, who may not be eager to talk or even be able to communicate exactly what they require. Your patience will not only benefit your clients but will ensure that you don’t get frustrated with the people you have to deal with.
A key indicator of trust is how dependable you are. Your clients may come to you for personal and legal advice, and your opinion will be taken more seriously if they trust you. Your clients need your support regardless of the day or the hour, and you need to be there for them through the tough times. You also can’t withdraw your help if they do something that you disagree with. You’re there to try and make a difference, regardless of your differences of opinion.
Empathy is important, but you also need to remain objective throughout your time with a client. Your clients need you to keep a level head in order to help them deal with their circumstances, ensuring you both make informed decisions about what to do next. Your personal feelings can’t get in the way of what’s best for the child or adult you’re there to help, and you must follow ethical guidelines to decide what action needs to be taken.
Social workers don’t adhere to the usual 9-5, working to the requirements of the cases that you’re on. For example, if a client is rushed to hospital, or ends up in jail, you may need to visit them immediately. If you work with children, you’ll have to work around their school hours. You have to be flexible so that you can cope with the hours, respond to emergencies, and be there as much as you can.
There will be cases that will get to you, but you can’t let your feelings interfere with providing the best possible support for your clients. Your clients may be dealing with insufficient care, abuse, bereavement and poverty among other challenging issues, and though it can be heartbreaking, you’ve got to realise that you helping them is the only way the situation will get better, and you should try to see the positives in that. You need a thick skin, and belief in yourself that you can do this.
ABILITY TO SWITCH OFF
Take advantage of any free time that you get, because as we’ve mentioned, out of hours work can be common practice for many a social worker. Knowing how to relax so that you don’t burnout is not only important for your own personal health and happiness, but ensures that you can provide your clients with the best possible service. The job is stressful enough. Don’t make it worse for yourself.
At the core of all traits, you have to have passion for the job so that you’re motivated to do right by your cases, offering sincere advice, providing immediate assistance and instilling trust that you have their best interests at heart. You’ve got to really want to make that difference. You’ve got to take the wins, work hard to achieve them, and not let setbacks interfere.
Which of these traits do you think is most important? Which do you have? What other traits should a social worker have? Let us know.