What is a Social Worker? - Role & Training

Instructor: Danielle Reid

Danielle has taught middle school science and has a doctorate degree in Environmental Health

Have you ever discovered ways to improve a situation or event within society? The social work profession does just that and much more. Continue reading to learn about this fascinating profession.

Social Work: What is it?

A person is struggling how to cope living within a poverty-stricken community. A family is in search of a provider to take care of their frail and aging loved one. An organization is fighting to give a voice to those struggling for justice within their city. These are just a few examples of the many different jobs that can require a social worker.

The field of social work is a helping profession that applies both skills and theoretical knowledge to help improve people's lives throughout the continuum of care. You may have at one time or another encountered a social worker. They can be counselors or employees at a hospital. They could be on the front line fighting to end injustices running rampant throughout their community. Whatever the challenge, social workers use theories and skills to understand the problems an individual or community faces. They then use these theories to improve the way of life for this individual or community, or for society in general.

What Does it Take to Be a Social Worker?

There are two broad educational routes you can take to become a social worker. The route you choose depends on the career type you choose. At the most basic level, there is a minimum educational requirement of obtaining a bachelor's degree in social work.

More commonly, individuals continue their education to receive a master's degree in social work (MSW). When you get your MSW this puts you on the fast track towards obtaining a social work license. Specifically, a licensed clinical social worker, or LCSW, degree is for those individuals that would like to work in a clinical setting, such as a hospital.

Certificates are also available if you would like to receive training in a specific area within the field of social work. For example, you found an interest in studying child welfare. After graduating you can take coursework in a certificate program that focuses only on child welfare. At a minimum you need a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts degree to apply to these programs. Check out this lesson to learn more about certificate programs: Social Work Certificate Program

A large bulk of your training takes place at the graduate level. Many MSW programs require a practicum or field work component in order to graduate. This fieldwork gives you the opportunity to put that book knowledge to work in a job setting. You will have the option to work in a setting that most closely matches what path you will take following graduation.

Honing In on the Skills

As a social worker you understand the value of your work and gain knowledge about the actual field. You also need to practice certain skills that will help you perform your job. Here are list of general skills you need:

  • communication (verbal and non-verbal)
  • conflict resolution and mediation
  • planning and time management
  • analysis and assessment

We can classify several of these skills, such as communication and conflict resolution, as interpersonal skills. These skills positively impact the way you interact with others. As a social worker mastery of interpersonal skills is important, as your primary line of work involves interacting with people. Other interpersonal skills include:

  • listening
  • negotiation
  • problem solving
  • remaining assertive

Job Settings

Social workers work in multiple settings depending on three distinct areas of practice: macro, mezzo, and micro. Let's define each these in the context of the job of a social worker.

One-Word Description of Each Job Setting


A macro-level social worker enjoys working at the community level or with larger institutions. Communication is key, as you will be working with a very large group of people. There is a diverse set of career options at this level. You may find yourself leading a larger nonprofit organization or working with large international agencies like the United Way. Working in a government agency on such large-scale programs may also be a potential career choice.

People Gathered At A Townhall Meeting

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