What key skills and attributes do I need as a social worker?

When doing my training as a social worker these ‘buzz’ words can always be found and are very relevant with our day to day practice.

They are also very helpful to go through just before an interview too.

Top skills and attributes in social work

I have narrowed these down to 10 skills

  1. Effective communication- including listening and verbal and non verbal communication
  2. Multi Agency working and collaboration
  3. Appropriately challenging people
  4. Honesty and Empathy
  5. Persuasion and Setting realistic boundaries
  6. Time Management
  7. Prioristing case loads
  8. Technical and Academic Skills
  9. Areas of improvement
  10. Personal time

1. Effective communication

This is essential in the world of social work. We need to be able to effectively communicate do do our job efficiently. We need to have the ability to speak appropriately to a wide range of people e.g children, parents, supportive family members and professionals.

These will all be tailored at different levels depending on their ability and understanding. From having this key skill we are then able to communicate effectively with a wide number of people who are also from different lifestyles and backgrounds.


Listening and active listening islistening image paramount in social work. If we can’t listen how can we really help? This provides us with a better understanding from everyone’s perspective. At times we may agree or we may not but a holistic assessment or report will help to show that we have a fair assessment of other people’s views. It is important that the people we work with feel that we are listening to what they are saying. If we show this it will also help in building the relationships with them.

Effective communication in social work also includes verbal and non verbal communication.

Body Language

For me this was something I was told with my degree that we would learn about but I never came across it. What should you do? simple use your initiative. Listen to your gut instinct it’s often right and can save us from a lot of unwanted situations. Many times I have ignored it and I soon wish I had chosen not to.

The body language that we use tells someone a lot about us and even if we are feeling anxious, nervous or intimidated we need to try out best not to let this show.

Tips that I use; Always look people in the eye when talking to them let them know that you are listening. When sitting or standing face towards the people that you are talking to not away.

Contact info for Purchase:054-4689671 Ayal ShapiraIsrael

Please read another article on how to be a safe Social Worker if you are interested in this topic.

We must also be able to understand the people that we work with and this can also be done through observing their body language e.g. a child telling you something, but not looking at you, or by rolling in a ball rocking. These are all things that we learn and in time can start to understand the reasoning behind such actions.


2. Multi Agency Working and collaboration

This continues on from effective communication. Our role is to bring the people we work with together and to ensure that everyone has a mutual understanding of why we are involved and what needs to happen. We soon find out that we are the key worker and if anyone has any concerns we are the first to hear about it.
Building good working relationships with families and professionals helps to ensure that proactive multi agency working and good social work is taking place. When you successfully achieve this with professionals they are able to facilitate and implement some of the required actions. When professionals learn to trust and accept one another this enhances working together further and is far more beneficial to the families that we work with.


3. Appropriately challenging people

When I say this I don’t just mean the parents that I work with I also mean the young people and also the other professionals that we work with. Please note that having the confidence and skills to challenge people in the correct way grows with time and experience.

Challenging the parents that we work with

Again, has to be done in the right way. If you do this too much or not in the right way they can disengage and put up more barriers. It’s not going to work if you continually tell parents what they are doing is ‘wrong’ to us. They may not understand why this is concerning. But, turning this around and asking what they really think about the particular issue? and how this could be different? and how could I support you to get there? can help to identify this and can show what the parents and family really feel around this.

You do have to make it clear if you really don’t agree with there view but again do this in the right way and they will start to respect you for being honest. Unfortunately, sometimes we do have to use our ‘power of authority’ but this can be done in a productive way not a ‘power way.

Challenging the young people we work with

This needs to be done very, very sensitively and can be hard to do. This will be tailored to each child’s individual needs and their understanding e.g. 16 year old running away from home and engaging in risky situations would be completely different to the conversation you have with an 8 year old. Challenging them on this and the associated risks in the right way can help them to identify some of your concerns.

Challenging the professionals we work with

We may not always agree with the other professionals and sometimes it helps to have a deeper understanding of exactly how they came to this reasoning and why. This needs to be done in an appropriate way. Either asking to speak to them when it is just you and when others can not hear what it being said.  Sometimes even after you explain your views and have  listened to theirs and you are still not in agreement decisions will need to be made. If you disagree on a serious level or have concerns with their practice you will need to discuss and explore this with your manager or supervisor.


4. Honesty and Empathy 

We do not want to set our families up to fail. They need to be clear and understand the objective of what is required and our job is to support them and explore ways in which everyone can enable this to happen.

On many occasions parents have not liked what I have said but some have come back to me and thanked me as they know what they need to do and what i’m asking for. From making things clear parents, professionals and those we work with are then aware of the concerns and expectations are set and made clear from early on.

If is important to be empathetic and this is a required skill in Social Work that at can be challenging. If you are an empathetic Social Worker you are more likely to see positive outcomes and the families that we work with are more likely to open up and work with us.


5. Persuasion and setting realistic boundaries

Social work is about the ability to bring people on board whether it’s a professional or a family member that you are working with. It is a skill that we use to encourage those around us to help them to make positive changes in their life. It can also be used with other professionals to help them with the role in which the play in the families life and can enhance the support and service that the family receive.

I have added the word realistic to ‘setting boundaries’ here. Simply because in most cases I can’t just say ‘you need to stop this’. There needs to be goals and progression available to these families to help them have aims. These boundaries can be done in smaller scales and get be discussed regularly with the family and professionals.

People do slip and things do get hard. These families don’t want to be filled with all the negatives, they often feel that they are already being critisised. There is always positives out there, with each case. Through setting realistic boundaries and looking at the progression and steps that have been made really does help the families that we work with.


6. Time Management

I always laugh when I say this. I hope this makes you feel better but to this day I still think this is the skill that I am a million miles away from accomplishing. Don’t get me wrong if it has to get done it does but often this can be in my own time or hasn’t been without a last minute rush. In Social Work we have to just find a way to get it done.

Time management skills help immensely in this job and we have to accept that if something happens on our cases at 16:50 we still need to manage it and make sure that it is safe until the following day. It can help to set time slots aside for the tasks you need to do.

Make sure these are realistic and leave a space for things you didn’t expect as they will pop up and this will help you to feel less pressured.


7. Prioristing caseloads

Every family I work with is one of my priorities and this job is definitely without a doubt a big balancing act. With juggling urgent situations whether having a child that needs seeing that day, a new allegation that has been made or a court report that needs to be filled in an hour. There is always something that has to be prioritised first. It’s taken a long time but I’m getting there and my confidence is growing in this area.

work image

I’m not going to say that at times I have been known to sit with Managers and simply say “I have this, this, this and this that all needed doing yesterday what would you like me to do?” not the best approach but I have to admit that it has been said.

You will learn this with time and just accept that on occasions there can be too much and you are only one person. It is an important learning curve.


8. Technical and academic skills

As a social worker we must be able to use a computer and have a reasonable speed for typing. We need to have the skills to be able to use the system that we document our reports and progress on.

It is important that we can write reports to a professional standard. We need all parties to clearly understand what we have written and we should use clear language and avoid jargon as much as possible. This can take time when you first start but you soon learn what words or phrases are best to use. We need to have an analytical mind and be able to identify conclusions and required outcomes. Again, this takes time and is always going to improve.

All social Workers we will have received appropriate academic training to be able to practice in this role. We need to have the skills to use in you every day practice e.g. facilitate and chair meetings and be able to manage these effectively and have a responsibility to ensure all the relevant information has been shared. At time we also sometimes need to be able to multitask and chair and record these at the say time which is a pretty good skill to master but does take time.


9. Areas of improvement

As social workers no one is perfect we can’t expect to be. We are continually learning or some legislation changes and we have to adapt our practice slightly etc. I think it is a great skill to be able to identify you own areas of improvement.

This doesn’t mean that you are not good at what you do but it helps us to be able to continue improve and ensure we are doing the best we feel that we can do. This can also be done through the use of supervisions and PRD’s (Professional Development Review), which is even relevant to agency social workers.

We can use this time to identify what we would like to work on e.g. enhance our knowledge in a particular area such as domestic violence on toxic trio. Or even if you wanted to go back and do further study this is something that your managers and the people that you work for can and they should support you with.

10. Personal time

Social Work is a rewarding job but at the same time it can be incredibly stressful and draining. It is soo important that you take time for you. I know some times at the end of the day my mind won’t switch off. But you have to have ‘you time’.

You need to take care of yourself in order to succeed at this job. Whether you go for a run, go to the gym, take a bath, meet up with your friend, or go to the pub.

You have to have things to look forward to and don’t let this job take over your life. Remember, we work to have fun, spend time with the people we love and enjoy this time.


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