In honor of Social Work Month, Sharon D. returns to shed some more light on her career as a licensed clinical social worker and therapist. In today’s blog, she focuses on the mindsets and principles that helped her grow as a social worker and become a leader in her profession.
This is the second blog of a four-part series celebrating Social Work Month. Check out Sharon’s first post highlighting her journey from social work to virtual therapy.
By Sharon D., LCSW, AbleTo Clinical Supervisor
Historically speaking, social workers have been at the forefront of social justice movements.
Civil Rights movement? Social workers were instrumental in championing the fight for racial equality.
Labor laws? Social workers helped design programs that brought reformation — i.e., disability pay, worker’s compensation, and Social Security.
Access? Between the New Deal, Medicaid, Medicare, and so much more, social workers have driven, informed, and challenged public policy.
I could go on and on (seriously) but what I want to emphasize is the significant impact we can make as social workers. We have an opportunity to grow in a field that’s not static, a field where you’re not confined to a linear path. Social work is ever-evolving with tons of opportunities to make meaningful contributions to individuals, communities, and societies.
It wasn’t too long into my career as a social worker that I learned a degree is really just the beginning. Professional development in this field comes through hands-on experience, mentorship, and a community of like-minded professionals who come together as a unit to strengthen each other.
So, I put together a few things I picked up over the last 20+ years that helped me grow as a social worker. Here’s a quick overview:
1. Explore your options and take advantage of opportunities
There are dozens of career paths that can open up for somebody with a degree in social work, from politics to housing to behavioral care. Essentially, social work can branch off into anywhere there’s a social network, individuals, and communities with needs. Take advantage of this!
Ask yourself, where your interests lie and how can you leverage your expertise to explore your options? This curiosity and open-mindedness was critical in helping me advance my career. Social workers have a perspective that can help others see beyond the constraints of their own businesses, governments, etc. Use it!
2. Think like a leader
If you’re currently not in a leadership role, it’s never too early to develop the mindset of one. Be intentional about looking for mentorship or guidance from your current supervisors and/or management. Observe them to get a better understanding of how systems and processes work at the leadership level. How do the different members of the team work together to provide a service?
Also, take a look at the infrastructure in your organization. What would you do to improve it? Then take the initiative to identify opportunities where you can step in and fill a need or address an existing challenge.
3. Be open. Be accepting. Be yourself.
Open-mindedness is key to professional development as a social worker. I can’t tell you how much I’ve grown by learning from other people’s experiences. But it’s important that you’re also open and giving with your expertise and knowledge. What you’re bringing to the table is important to your team and the continued support of participants. You were hired to be yourself, with your own unique gifts and talents. So, naturally, you’ll encounter others who come with their own gifts. By respecting these differences and joining forces, you’ll contribute to a rich experience for everybody — colleagues, supervisors, and the organization as a whole.
4. Learn to draw on other’s strengths
You can’t do it alone. (This goes for both social work and life in general, by the way.) Draw on the strengths of your colleagues and make “teamwork” a core value in your professional development. If you want to be a leader, you’ll have to access the skills of the people that you supervise. You’re also going to have to foster the growth within each person that you’re leading, so start now. Lean on your peers’ insights and expertise and learn how to build collaborative relationships. Promote an environment where people are able to share their ideas, access resources, and feel supported.
5. Don’t forget organizational objectives
Even though social work is centered on serving others, organizations and businesses still have goals and objectives. A well-rounded social worker is able to tactfully approach these topics while keeping the participants first. Leaders have to be able to see how the “bottom line” is transferred onto the front line. They’re responsible for setting boundaries and parameters to make sure that there’s alignment between the social workers they lead and the organization. If something changes on the backend, they have to identify how it affects the social workers and minimize any barriers that’ll occur as a result.
Start adopting this holistic mindset in your current situation to help you prepare for leadership roles in the future. What can you do (outside of your existing workload) to contribute to your organization’s goals and objectives?
6. Become tech-savvy
Technology is helping to remove barriers and bridge gaps in social work and behavioral care. For example, at AbleTo, I’ve seen our telehealth services open the door to mental health treatment for those who would’ve otherwise not been able to afford it. It’s important that you stay up-to-date on the latest technological advances and certifications available to social workers and the industry you’re in (or want to be in). For example, you should become an expert in video-conferencing technology in case you want to become a virtual therapist.
Join our community of clinical social workers
Our team at AbleTo is always looking for compassionate clinical social workers who want to make a difference in people’s lives. We’re actively hiring for both part-time and full-time therapists in all 50 states. Check out our career page to learn more.