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12 Essential Skills and Attributes
Every Social Worker Needs

Regarded as a varied and demanding profession, the role of a social worker is to provide care and support for individuals to help them cope with day to day challenges throughout each stage of their life. If you’re passionate about helping those in need, and want to make a difference, becoming a social worker may be the perfect route for you to go down.

Even after qualifying as a social worker, unless you have the characteristics and traits to help others, it’s likely that you will fall at the first hurdle. Whether your aim is to work with children, individuals with disabilities, or people with addictions, here are 12 of the key skills and attributes that every social worker must possess...


To flourish in your role as a social worker, you will need to be sensitive and empathetic to the emotions of others. Being empathic allows for good social skills, which can help those who you treat be more inclined to open up about their thoughts and feelings. No matter who you encounter, having an understanding of their situation, and putting yourself in their shoes, will enable you to perform your job correctly. Empathetic workers are able to:

  • Relate and understand a diverse client group
  • Work efficiently as a team
  • Gain trust

Boundary Setting

In addition to having empathy for those who you work with, social workers must also know how to set boundaries, as well as accept the limits of what can be achieved during a specific amount of time. The nature of the role can be highly consuming, especially for individuals who believe their work is never truly finished. Setting milestones and establishing boundaries from the beginning can help you lay out clear expectations that will be more easily accepted.

Active Listening

When helping those in need, it’s vital that you have the ability to listen carefully to your clients. To establish trust amongst those you help, it’s important that you take their thoughts, feelings, and opinions into consideration. No matter who you are dealing with, everyone has a right to be heard, so asking pertinent questions and retaining verbally transmitted information is a key aspect of social work that you need to learn. Some of the benefits of active listening include:

  • Avoiding misunderstandings
  • Building relationships
  • Overcoming disagreements
  • Defuses conflict
  • Considering different points of view


As a social worker, keeping up to date with your caseloads is a crucial aspect of your job, meaning it’s important that you stay organized and on track with your work. If you’re the type of person who tackles any problem head on, it’s likely that you will flourish as a social worker. Being organized can not only benefit the clients you are working with, but your team as a whole. If you struggle with keeping on top of things, there are lots of tips that you can take on board to give you more structure, such as:

  • Trying not to multitask
  • Using a planner to keep track of your workload
  • Ensuring your desk is clean and tidy
  • Writing a list of your tasks for the day ahead

Making small but subtle changes to how you work can have a positive impact and help keep you more organized and in control of your duties and responsibilities as a social worker.


Throughout your career as a social worker, you will be given feedback on your performance from clients and supervisors, however, there is no substitute when it comes to being self-aware. Being able to evaluate your own performance and recognizing your mistakes is an invaluable skill that will take you far throughout your professional endeavors. There may be moments where you receive valid criticism, so learning how to deal with feedback is crucial. It’s only natural that you will want to strive for perfection in your role as a social worker; identifying areas for improvement can go a long way and keep you performing at your best.


Social workers interact with people from all walks of life, backgrounds, and cultures, meaning that no two days are the same. While there will be some clients who are compliant and willing to work with you, there will be others who are harder to get through to. To be a successful social worker, you will need to learn the importance of patience. There will be people you work with who are going through difficult times, so it’s important that you understand the whole story, giving you a clearer understanding on what strategies to take. There are many powerful benefits that patience can bring, such as:

  • Helping you focus on long term goals
  • Helping you make more rational choices
  • Building your reputation for persistence
  • Helping you become more empathetic
  • Helping you acquire a positive attitude

Social Perceptiveness

Not only do social workers need to be excellent and receiving and processing verbal information from clients, they need to be sensitive towards their body language, implications, social cues, and cultural patterns of behavior. While there will be some clients who will clearly express their needs, there will be others who find it harder to express themselves verbally. In many cases, you will need to read between the lines to gauge the feelings and thoughts that are being held within the client.

Excellent Communication

There are many clients who will be vulnerable and need extra support, so knowing how to effectively communicate with people from different backgrounds is important. Clients need to trust you and feel comfortable around you, so establishing a confident demeanor from the moment you walk through the door can put them at ease and help them to understand that they are in the right hands. Effective communication can help to:

  • Prevent or resolve problems
  • Build trust amongst you and the client
  • Provide direction and clarity
  • Increase engagement

No matter who you are helping, getting your message across clearly and cohesively is crucial, so being able to share your thoughts and feelings (regardless of the outcome) is key. One of the main skills that employers look for in social workers is knowing how to communicate effectively. If you want to take your skills to the next level, the master’s in social work degree, provided by Wilfrid Laurier University, is worth a look.


Whether you want to help your client change their behavior pattern, or you want to motivate a member of your team to provide a better service, having the ability to influence will help you succeed as a social worker. There may be instances where you need to intervene and persuade your client to change their way of thinking, so knowing how to coax others to take action is an invaluable trait for any social worker.

Professionalism and Good Judgement

To get the most out of being a social worker, you need to build trust and respect with your clients. When working within the community, it’s important that you conduct yourself in a professional manner, as well as understand that there are working practices and ethics to consider. How you come across can make the difference between a client opening up, and a client feeling uncomfortable, so make sure that you act professional and attentive to your clients’ needs at all times.

Good Time Management

To ensure your clients are getting quality care and support, you need to learn how to manage your time more efficiently. Understanding the importance of time management is crucial. When not helping clients, there will be a mountain of paperwork that you must complete within a set timeframe, so working towards deadlines and ensuring all tasks are finished on time is crucial. Time management can benefit you in numerous ways, such as:

  • Improving quality of life
  • Providing more opportunities for career growth
  • Less anxiety and stress
  • Delivering work on time
  • Providing a better quality of work
  • Making you more productive and efficient

Resilience to Stress

With daily challenges to overcome as a social worker, it’s only natural that stress levels can go through the roof. In order to perform at your best, it’s important that you know how to reduce stress levels and tension, which will give you a clearer mindset. At the end of the working day, practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and meditation can help calm you down and ensure you’re ready for the obstacles that await the following day. The last thing you want is to turn up at a client’s home with a negative mindset, so striking a happy balance between your work and recreation is key.

If you are interested in a career as a social worker, you will need to rely on your experience and training in numerous kinds of social settings. While you may have the qualifications and experience to perform your role, unless you have the special qualities listed above, it’s likely that you won’t be working to the best of your ability. No matter who you come into contact with, striving for perfection and putting 110% into your work will set you apart from other candidates, and help you blossom as a social worker.

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