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Be a Social Work Supervisor: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a social work supervisor. Research the job description and the education and licensing requirements to find out how to start a career in social work management.

Should I Become a Social Work Supervisor?

Social work supervisors or managers oversee social service organizations, including their employees and programs. Their duties can include creating and managing an organization's programs; they may also hire, train, or fire workers. Social and community service managers, including social work supervisors, usually work full-time during regular business hours. Work environments may include office settings, hospitals, schools, or shelters, depending on the population and organization these professionals work for. The job can be stressful because many social work managers feel they do not have the resources they need to help everyone who needs it. While great reward can be found in helping people through social work, the career can also be emotionally draining.

Career Requirements

Degree Level A bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement; some employers require a master's degree
Degree Field Social work is standard; some related fields are acceptable
Licensure and Certification Licensure isn't always required, but employers often prefer supervisors who are licensed social workers; voluntary certification is available
Experience 1-5 years of experience
Key Skills Leadership and interpersonal communication expertise; problem solving, flexibility, compassion, Microsoft Access, PowerPoint, Word, Outlook and Excel
Salary (2014) $67,730 (Annual mean salary for a social service manager)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Network for Social Work Management, O*NET OnLine.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Aspiring social service managers typically need at least a bachelor's degree in social work. A bachelor's degree in public administration, urban studies or other relevant fields may also be acceptable. However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), prospective supervisors who only hold a bachelor's degree usually need extensive work experience as well.

The Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) often covers human behavior, social work, research methods, social welfare, and statistics; they also include supervised internships or field experiences. Students who earn a BSW may find entry-level employment as caseworkers. These professionals help clients deal with a variety of problems, including unemployment, sickness, child welfare, divorce, disability, and substance abuse.

Step 2: Gain Practical Experience

Most employers prefer social work supervisors who have professional work experience. Social workers may find jobs with healthcare and mental health facilities, government agencies, schools, or private practice providers. In addition, some states require a period of practical experience before licensing social workers, though specific requirements vary by state. Applicants can get detailed information about experience requirements from their state's licensing board.

Success Tip:

  • Check with social work associations for online job postings. The National Association of Social Workers and the Clinical Social Work Association are two examples of professional organizations that provide job ads from employers.

Step 3: Obtain a Master's Degree

Employers often prefer social work supervisors who hold a Master of Social Work (MSW) or a master's degree in a related field, such as public administration or public health. MSW programs generally take two years to complete, but students with a BSW may need only one additional year to obtain an advanced degree. Some schools offer concentrations in social work leadership or clinical social work; other available tracks may include children and families, mental health, schools or community health. MSW programs generally instill supervisory skills, as well as the ability to handle clients and render clinical appraisals. Just as with the BSW programs, field experiences are usually required for master's degree.

Step 4: Acquire a State License

Many states mandate licensing for all types of social workers, though licensing for non-clinical social workers is voluntary in some states. According to the BLS, employers often prefer social work supervisors who are licensed. In some states, a basic social work license can be obtained by completing a bachelor's program, 2-3 years of experience, and an exam. In many states, clinical social workers seeking licensure must complete an MSW program, a 2-year post-graduate period of supervised experience and a state-administered test.

Step 5: Complete Continuing Education

Maintenance of state licensure typically requires completion of continuing education credits every two years. Each state has different requirements for the amount of continuing education and acceptable course topics. The Association of Social Work Boards provides information on acceptable courses and providers.

Step 6: Obtain Optional Credentials from a Professional Association

Social work supervisors may seek voluntary credentials from various professional organizations. For example, the Network for Social Work Management (NSWM) offers the Certified Social Work Manager (CSWM) credential. To be eligible for this designation, applicants must have five years of supervisory experience plus a degree in social work at the bachelor's, master's, or doctoral level. Candidates also must hold membership in the NSWM and provide a written statement demonstrating competence in 18 designated professional areas. An added benefit of attaining voluntary credentials may be that it provides individuals with an opportunity to develop professional relationships that may eventually help boost their careers.


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