Social workers work in a variety of settings and wear many hats when it comes to working with people in need of support. Helping people advance their lives takes a certain type of person.  Here are some common characteristics of a social worker.

1. Be Kindhearted

One of the top characteristics of being a social worker is being kindhearted.  People you will encounter are usually in a state of distress or crisis. A social worker must offer the person a shoulder to lean on, a place where they can let it out and not be judged, and someone who can empower them to take their challenges to the next step.  It is important to make yourself relatable and walk through the situation as if it were yourself. People may feel less willing to open up or ask for help if they feel out of touch with the person there to support them.  Remember this may take time and constant follow through to build that relationship with your client.

2. Patient

Situations are often difficult and have many parts to solve, changes do not happen fast or overnight. There are several ways to handover resources or guides to take the next step in the situation. Some people will take the information and run with it and some need coaching and/or support to take on each step one by one; whether it is as simple as dialing the phone for them, printing out paper work or driving them to an appointment.

3. Reliable

Dependability is essential in the field of social work. In crisis, clients will seek help that actually works – being able to successfully use the resources is key. Staying up to date on resources is very important.  For example, knowing when assistance programs no longer have funds available, knowing how to navigate the application process, what documents are needed, which one is best to use in the clients crisis situation, etc.

4. Organized

Being organized is important in a lot of professions, but especially in social work caseloads and the different needs each family will have. Social workers a lot of the time are on the go visiting clients; it is important to take good notes, have an accessible filing system in place, be mindful of your time at each location, and have a reliable tracking system for your visits or clients.  And remember coming into a visit clear minded and organized will not only help you as a social worker, but help your clients to feel at ease as well.

Staying up to date on resources is very important. For example, knowing when assistance programs no longer have funds available, knowing how to navigate the application process, what documents are needed, which one is best to use in the client's crisis situation, etc.

5. Be Insightful

Being able to read the person is very helpful in social work.  Knowing how to get the conversation started and when the conversation should end are important as well as knowing when the client does not understand. Picking up on body language as a comfort indicator will help when learning to read people. For example, if a person has folded arms this may mean the client is not comfortable with the topic or situation as opposed to if the client is sitting more casually, indicating a high level of comfort.

6. Be Persistent

Being persistent is a big roll social workers play in their field of work.  Clients may cancel appointments or not show up at all. Do not give up on them.  Keep calling, texting, emailing, sending letters, etc.  Whatever you need to earn their trust and get them back on track.  Accept steps backward for what they are and keep pushing through to the end.  Achieving positive outcomes don’t always come easy. Persistence will set a good example with your clients for new challenges to come.

7. Be Flexible

Social workers usually do not have typical hours.  Meeting the clients’ needs comes first whether it is meeting during their lunch hour, meeting before/after work hours, talking on the phone, etc.  Most social workers are flexible and respond to their clients before and after work hours.  Be careful not to overload yourself. Know that it is okay to say no and when things can be addressed the following day.

8. Be Resilient

Social workers see or hear things every day they would rather not.  This can definitely test your emotions and strength.  You cannot let it get to you and you need to be able to bounce back quickly and leave your work at work. Its good to figure out a way to let these things out, like writing your thoughts out at the end of the day, exercising regularly or talking to a friend or your spouse. When things get too overwhelming learn this is when time off is needed and this could hold off on being burnt out.

9. Have Courage

Social workers often have to deal with risky situations and seemingly rough environments that can create a distraction or addition obstacle in focusing on the family and/or the crisis at hand.  It takes guts to step out of your comfort box to get things done or accomplished.  Always remember safety is first and if you don’t feel safe in any situation or environment, ask a co-worker to join you.

10. Always Be Prepared

Being prepared is more than a Disney song (throwback to 1994!) it is also an essential trait of a social worker.  Social workers need to have available everything necessary for their visits or sessions.  They also need to be prepared for their sessions or visits not to go as planned.  Social workers need to be prepared for any scenario that may come out of a visit or session and be able to pull from their bag of resources and support systems.

All of these characteristics kind of play off of each other and all are important when pursuing a career in social work.  Remember the rewards of social work are endless.