Discover if social work management roles fit your career goals

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Student reviewing career goals

Management can feel like the next step in one’s career after years of working in a lower-level role. In social work, moving into management can lead to higher pay, interaction with strategic, big-picture issues, and opportunities to coach and mentor others. However, management comes with its own skill set  that may not fit every person’s career aspirations.

In most cases, a social work manager will need a Master in Social Work degree. It may not be required for all supervisory positions, but an MSW often becomes a prerequisite for work in management. Clinical leadership roles will typically require licensure and many non-clinical supervisory positions still prefer the expertise that comes with an MSW.

Qualifications aside, you’ll also want to reflect on your own goals and personality to determine if becoming a manager is a good idea for you.


What to expect in a management role

A report from The Balance explained that there is a great deal of variety in managerial roles. In social work, this type of variety is visible in a few ways. For example, supervisors often oversee social workers going into the field to interact with clients. This manager is generally expected to provide guidance and advice to employees facing challenging situations, ensure regulatory compliance across the team, mentor workers, and resolve conflicts as they arise. A manager in a community advocacy team, on the other hand, may oversee lower-level workers, but will also be expected to have a highly visible role in the community. This could include handling public relations, promotion, and fundraising.

Like the business world, the social work sector has room for managers in a variety of roles. While specific skill sets are needed for various managerial positions, The Balance explained that managers in just about any position will share some common responsibilities, such as administrative work or overseeing staff. Factors that make a good manager include skills and tasks like coaching, interacting with customers or clients, communicating about new programs or strategies, managing budgets, creating a strong work environment, and getting involved in the hiring process.


What you should consider if you want to manage

On the surface, being a manager may look simple because the manager is the one in control. He or she has decision-making authority, attends meetings with higher leadership, and has access to a wide range of perks. However, a report from The Muse pointed out that the type of personality traits needed for and responsibilities that come with management aren’t a fit for everybody. In particular, the article noted that managers will spend a lot of time in meetings and be engaged in those sessions. Managers also must be able to be aware of conflict and be able to resolve it, not shy away from potentially awkward or difficult situations.

A report from the Small Business Chronicle also added that managers are responsible for ensuring discipline across a team, developing employees, monitoring and ensuring productivity, and making peace in times of conflict or upheaval.

Essentially, the manager has to deal with the best and the worst. When a team is performing well, the manager is there to congratulate, celebrate, coach, and reinforce positive behavior. When a team is struggling, the manager takes the blame, resolves relational issues, and is the bearer of bad news.

In social work, this can mean a significant swing of emotions and major personal challenges trying to exist at the intersection of interpersonal dynamics of a team and organizational priorities. One day, you may be celebrating a major success when one of the social workers you’ve been mentoring has a breakthrough in a case. A few days later, you may be told by a superior that funding has been cut for your program and staff cuts are necessary. It’s up to you to pass the message on to the team you were just celebrating with.

If you’re thinking about becoming a social work manager, you’ll need to ask yourself if you’re ready for the inherent ups and downs that come with the job. The rewards can be great. After all, if you went into social work to help people, you’ll be simultaneously empowering your team to serve others while being a positive force in the lives of the people you oversee every day. However, you’ll need to be prepared for the challenges that come with management as well.


Are you ready for management?

In a Forbes article, a reader asked about moving into a management role to have a larger, more influential role in the business. The author responding by pointing out that managers aren’t just involved in the strategic decision-making; they also must be heavily engaged in interpersonal relationships. They must work closely with their colleagues to help them grow. Becoming a leader requires a willingness to invest in others.

Working as a manager can be a rewarding experience, giving you greater financial compensation for your labor and the opportunity to have a wider influence on the lives of others. A great clinical social work manager, for example, can position counselors for success with clients while also working with the larger clinical organization or industry bodies to improve service options. In many ways, managerial positions allow individuals to enact micro- and macro-level change.

Pursuing an MSW is a key step in advancing into management. An MSW can provide the advanced general knowledge needed to understand the big-picture issues social work teams deal with on a day-to-day basis. The online MSW at Regis College can help you on this path, particularly if you eventually want to obtain a management role in clinical social work, which is the area of emphasis for the Regis program. Contact us to speak with an enrollment counselor and learn more about our online MSW program.

Recommended Readings:

 Is An MSW Worth It?

Learn more about a career as a social work supervisor



Is Management For Me by The Balance

Should You Become a Manager – Hint: Maybe Not by The Muse

Role of a Supervisor in the Workplace by the Small Business Chronicle

10 Signs You’re Leadership Material and 10 Signs You’re Not by Forbes