Advocacy in Action

Through the stories we share, the Admissions Team at Baylor University hopes to inspire and educate future leaders in the field of social work.

8 Characteristics of a Successful Social Worker

Written by Baylor School of Social Work Team on 02.20.20

Social work professionals are some of the best and the brightest. They intuit the needs of the people they serve and work to secure a better life for every individual who walks through their door.

Maybe you are considering career in social work and are entertaining the thought of returning to school to earn your Master of Social Work degree. Or maybe you are drawn to a career in social work but are not sure if you have the personal qualities of a good social worker. Whatever your situation — check out these eight social worker character traits that will help you be a good social worker.

Explore Baylor University's digital resource page: Master of Social Work — The  MBA of the Helping Professions!

1. Ethical

Frequently, social workers handle cases involving an ethical or legal component. A strong ethical compass is one of the most important strengths to have as a social worker. It is important that these professionals take the time to follow the proper protocols and ensure that they do their due diligence in order to best serve their clients.

Every social worker is held to a professional standard of ethical work and code of ethics, as described by the National Association of Social Workers. By operating from a strong ethical base, social work professionals operate with integrity, enact social justice, and serve their fellow man by honoring and preserving the dignity of the human person.

Read More: Want to learn more about the ethos of social work? Explore our guide — What Do Social Workers Actually Do?

2. Organized

Social workers fill out paperwork for each client they see and maintain a file of their interactions, observations, notes, and each plan-of-action they develop. Social workers must be organized in order to stay on top of all their work and the numerous cases they are juggling at any given time. These essential characteristics of social work professionals help them to be fully present with each client they serve and to provide them with the best and most attentive care possible.

3. Empathetic

What makes a good social worker is their ability to understand and share the feelings of others — also known as empathy. For an individual approaching a social worker, it can often be a humbling experience to reach out and ask for what they need. When social workers respond with empathy, it helps their clients to feel validated and not judged.

Social workers who have a strong ability to empathize will be able to form strong connections because their clients feel they understand them and can relate to the things that are difficult for them. Similar to compassion, empathy is at the very heart of social work and is essential for any effective professional.

4. Respectful

Social workers deal with complicated and sensitive cases every day. An attitude of respect is one of the most essential personal qualities of social workers. Respect is required in order to maintain proper professional boundaries, adhere to a code of ethics. In short, respect for the client, their personal information, and their personal challenges is essential to being a professional and successful social worker.

Social workers often work with diverse, and in many cases underprivileged, populations so it is imperative to keep an open mind. Respect for their client’s culture, ethnicity, religion, and beliefs are key components of a successful relationship. If a client does not feel that they are respected, they will likely seek the help they need elsewhere.

5. Patient

Sometimes social work is a slow-moving process. Often, the results you and your clients want to see take time. Especially when working together with other agencies and organizations to provide for the needs of your client, patience in social work is essential.

Social work professionals also need to have heroic patience when dealing with clients. Particularly when clients are working through difficult situations, they might not always be forthcoming with the information you need to do your job. Patience will help you to maintain your calm and sense of control, allowing you to serve your clients with a collected, mindful, and level-headed approach. Even when the situations are difficult, patience reassures your clients that you are in their corner fighting for them.

6. Trustworthy and Dependable

Social work is entirely based on relationships. If those you work for and those you work with do not perceive you to be trustworthy or dependable, it can be difficult to do your job effectively.

Social workers can demonstrate to their clients that they possess these qualities by listening to their needs, assuring them that they will work to find an effective solution, taking initiative in getting things done, and walking with them each step of the way. Social work professionals who have these characteristics will find it easier to build and maintain strong reciprocal relationships with those they serve.

7. Passionate

Passion is necessary to do any job well, but it is particularly important in the field of social work. Because of the fast-paced and intense nature of the job, it is easy for social work professionals to burn out. Passion for the work that they do and the difference they make in the lives of the individuals they help drives a social worker to give their best to each client and case.

Clients and colleagues can tell if you are passionate about your work. Passion for your profession inspires hope in those you help and motivates those you work with to do their job to the best of their ability as well. It is important to build up your fellow social work professionals, and passion for your craft can help them desire to work to their fullest potential.

Pro-tip: Read more about how you can avoid burn out and compassion fatigue in a career that requires you to give a lot of yourself.  

 8. Educated and Professionally Trained

To be an effective social worker requires professional training and a solid education in the principles and techniques used to manage cases. To begin your career as a social worker, you will need to hold a minimum of a bachelor’s of social work degree. With this degree, you can hold entry level positions within the field.

If you want to have more responsibility and advance further in your career, you will need a Master of Social Work degree. While bachelor’s degrees provide a fundamental understanding of the field and how to interact with clients, a master’s degree allows you to dive deeper into the profession and to work with clients on a more personal level to address their needs.

Begin Your Journey in Social Work

At the Baylor University Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, our MSW program offers two specializations, Clinical Practice and Community Practice, and prepares students to serve as licensed professionals in their communities. The degree program is fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

At the Baylor University Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, our MSW program offers two specializations, Clinical Practice and Community Practice, and prepares students to serve as licensed professionals in their communities. The degree program is fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

If you don’t possess all of these skills, don’t worry! Many of the characteristics listed can be learned through time and practice. These traits are just the beginning of what it means to be a successful social worker. Your best qualities and greatest strengths will bring a uniqueness to your work and allow you to relate authentically to your clients.

Do you have some or all of the qualities of an effective social worker? Are you looking to take the next steps in your social work career? Check out our guide, Master of Social Work — The MBA of the Helping Professions. 


Posted by Baylor School of Social Work Team

We are the admissions team at the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, at Baylor University. We believe social work is about service and justice; it is about the dignity of individuals and the power of relationships; it is about integrity and competence, and our mission here is preparing social workers to do these things well. We hope you find our resources helpful and informative as you explore and pursue a degree in social work!