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The Duties of Social Workers

November 30, 2022

Social workers have a broad range of professional duties and responsibilities that aim to improve people's wellbeing. While roles vary, core social work activities involve assessing needs, building relationships, advocating, counseling, case management and intervening in crisis situations. Social workers perform these duties in diverse settings like schools, hospitals, communities and government agencies. They work with populations of all ages and backgrounds to address issues from psychological challenges to domestic violence.

This article outlines the five main responsibilities social workers take on, the skills required, the populations they serve and the settings they work in.

Intro to Social Work

Research indicates that people who feel a higher calling in their jobs tend to be the most content with their careers.1 By and large, people want to make the world a better place through their daily work. It's no surprise then, that social work is projected to grow faster than the average for all other occupations.2

You might know that social workers make a difference in their communities, but how do they do so, exactly? What are the typical duties of social workers, and what can their day-to-day work life look like? Here are five facts to consider before you develop plans to become a social worker.

A Social Worker's Responsibilities Aren't Always Clinical

Not all social workers work in clinical settings. The most common type of employer is a private, nonprofit, or charitable organization, and another 41% work in government at federal, state or local levels.3 Some work as patient advocates in hospitals, others work in high schools or colleges. Others may serve disadvantaged populations, while others yet work exclusively with young people. Professionals in the field serve as school social workers and crisis intervention specialists; they go to work in human service agencies and community organizations.

No matter the role or place of employment, it's certain that these trained experts spend their days working with clients in need—as advocates, counselors or educators. There's no typical client for a social worker, so days might be spent helping clients solve problems, from psychological issues to challenges with obtaining public assistance. Some social workers focus on domestic violence or substance abuse issues, while family social workers may engage exclusively with families and children. While some are clinicians and many hold the credential of Licensed Clinical Social Worker, responsibilities vary depending on context, and clinical experience is far from the only path in the social work field.

Social Workers Delight in Building Relationships

People pursue social work for all kinds of reasons, but one thing that seems to bind them together is a passion for developing meaningful relationships. Many social workers will tell you that the best part of their job is making a difference in the life of even one person who is socially marginalized.

Social Workers Are Consummate Communicators

Social workers rate active listening as one of the most important skills you can develop if you wish to join their ranks. Second to that are skills such as verbal expression, problem sensitivity and strong reading and writing comprehension. As a social worker, your primary responsibility will be to help people solve problems, including emotional issues. To do that well requires a great deal of sensitivity, the ability to synthesize information, excellent communication skills, and a deep understanding of what is underlying your client's needs.

Social Work Can Be Emotionally Risky

Social work isn't a job for somebody who has trouble coping with stress. A 1998 report suggested that nearly half of all social workers take their work home with them, meaning that they're still thinking about their clients even when they're off the clock.4 Because of the intimate and sometimes traumatic nature of their clients' issues, social workers can suffer from what is known as compassion fatigue: a combination of secondary trauma (adverse reactions to other peoples’ situations) and burnout (weariness related to job stressors).5 While caring for others is a prerequisite for the field, a lack of coping mechanisms and an inability to manage personal stress could be major liabilities for a social worker. With that in mind, one of the critical responsibilities for social workers is the ability to manage personal mental and emotional health.

social worker day-to-day life infographic

Are you ready for a career in social work?

Most people feel sympathy for their fellow humans, but social workers are unique in that they're willing to make helping others their life's work. It's not always easy, but it's rewarding work for those who are suited to it.

An online Master of Social Work (MSW) from Yeshiva University can help you define and refine your counseling skills and expertise. With advanced training in methodologies and specialized practice for communities, group work and individuals, you’re sure to find the style of social work that matches your unique preferences and professional strengths.

Nationally accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), Yeshiva University's 100% online MSW program provides world-class training in advanced clinical practice and offers a variety of critically needed specializations. In the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, you'll earn from seasoned practitioners, complete supervised fieldwork, gain the knowledge and skills needed for meeting real-life challenges and prepare to sit for state licensure exams.

Don’t wait. Start changing your career and your life by reaching out to an admissions outreach advisor today.