Social workers work in various settings that aim to improve people’s lives. They do this by helping individuals with social and interpersonal challenges, promoting human rights, and improving general well-being. Whether it’s keeping a family stay together under pressure or supporting someone through mental health issues, the job of a social worker is never really done. And although it’s a demanding career, it’s also a deeply rewarding one.
Most of us have a pretty good idea of what to expect from certain professions—like teachers or doctors. However, most people don’t understand the role of social work as clearly. This knowledge gap might be because of the diversity in roles social work provides.
If you’re looking to pursue a career in social work, but aren’t sure which job capacity you want to work in, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.
To help you choose, we have outlined the top 9 roles of a social worker and how each of them differs from one another.
An advocate works to support a notable cause or policy on someone else’s behalf. So, as advocates, social workers fight for the rights of a disempowered community to help them stand independently in society. Social workers use their skills and knowledge to represent their clients in a legal (or other) setting to obtain needed resources and become legitimate members of society. They particularly advocate for those who are vulnerable and are unable to speak up for themselves.
Knowledge about specific laws and regulations can help social workers fight for their clients better. Programs that offer online social work masters degrees can prepare you for this role by equipping you with the appropriate skills and experience required.
As counselors, social workers can help clients express their feelings and needs. Doing this can clarify their problems and explore various strategies to resolve them. Often counselors work on applying intervention strategies to expand the capacity in which clients can deal with their issues more effectively. Although it may seem simple, a primary function of this role is to empower individuals by affirming their strengths and providing them the support to resolve problems on their own.
Society often conceptualizes the role of a social worker as a mediator. Some scholars believe that social work mediates and links systems or promotes interaction at the boundaries of systems. Others describe it as a “third force function” that intervenes between different groups and systems which influence them. It’s important to recognize differences among individuals without underestimating how they impact beliefs and everyday functions.
For those who wish to pursue their role as a mediator, problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills are essential.
Social workers have the knowledge and expertise to design interventions and measure their outcomes. They can integrate these interventions with other practices to evaluate systems that best work for their clients and provide well-developed programs. Their findings can influence government policy and political reforms and impact funding allocation. As researchers, they must be objective, systematic, and thorough in their research because they are responsible for disseminating the results of their studies to a broader audience. These results can enhance the effectiveness of social work on a global scale.
As educators, social workers educate individuals about various resources and ways to develop particular skills. From budgeting to caring and disciplining children, they ensure clients can handle real-world problems. Because they work with people from all backgrounds, they also help individuals identify dangerous situations and teach them ways to manage these.
After meeting specified education requirements, they can practice in schools, NGOs, child welfare clinics, mental health clinics, and other community centers.
6. Case Manager
The most important job of a case manager is to facilitate clients by assessing their needs, evaluating possible solutions, coordinating care, and tracking progress. Social workers locate a specific service their clients require and help them access it as case managers. The role of a case manager is especially significant when dealing with complex situations such as elderly or homeless clients or those who have chronic mental or physical health problems. Often victims of domestic abuse or other violent crimes are also brought under the care of a case manager.
7. Community Change Agent
Social workers have an essential role in bringing changes in a community. Their role as community change agents pushes them to participate with groups or organizations that improve and restructure aspects of a community. By working with members of other parties, social workers first use a problem-solving model to identify the areas that need development. Then they solicit input from community members and design a plan to implement reforms and make the necessary changes. They coordinate and make transformations at multiple levels to shift the focus of institutional resources and meet identified goals.
In their role as a facilitator, social workers gather groups of varying backgrounds that all work towards a particular goal. These goals may include community development, policy change, political organization, or self-advocacy. They are responsible for expediting change by bringing people together and opening lines of communication that allow clients to channel resources and give access to expertise.
A social worker is often involved in making referrals to individuals who need particular resources. As a broker, the duty of a social worker doesn’t end simply by providing the necessary information. Instead, they also follow up with the client to ensure the needed resources are attained and satisfactory. A social worker must be aware of the accessibility of services, eligibility requirements, and quality assurance for their role as a broker.
The roles of social workers don’t just end here. They can even play the role of an enabler, activist, mobilizer, and manager to cater to the needs of their clients.
So, a career in social work is immensely fulfilling and comes with countless opportunities. But no matter which job setting you choose to work in, you have the power to impact lives individually and collectively as a social worker.