Advancing a career in social work can go in a variety of directions, including counseling, specialized areas of practice, and even academia. Pursuing a supervisory role, even in a specialized area of work, is another way to advance one’s career and potentially increase earning potential. Social work supervisors manage staff, take on leadership initiatives and, in many cases, end up functioning in a wide range of roles as they work to keep organizations running smoothly.
Pursuing a Master of Social Work degree is often instrumental to supervisory roles. In many cases, supervisors require several years of professional experience, frequently in situations that require licensure and may demand an advanced degree. Furthermore, an MSW program will typically cover many of the big-picture industry issues that can be relevant for a manager. Ultimately, managers must be skilled in both the profession itself and the specific leadership and administrative duties that come up when trying to keep a team working well together. An MSW can be vital in preparing social work professionals for such a role.
Social work job prospects and how they relate to supervisory work
In general, demand for social workers is rising quickly in the U.S. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects job growth in the sector at 16 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than average. As new social workers are needed, demand for supervisors and other leaders is likely to follow. In addition, social work supervisors can expect increased earnings.
Median pay for social workers was $47,980 per year in 2017, according to the BLS. Glassdoor found that the average salary for social work supervisors is more than $55,000 per year. However, many supervisors reported salaries well over that average, with some respondents to Glassdoor’s research indicating wages of $75,000 per year.
Based on this median pay data, moving into a supervisory role can lead to a salary increase of more than 10 percent of the annual salary, with higher earning potential an option.
Job roles for a social work supervisor
Social work supervisors may take on a variety of tasks, but their work often centers on managing a team of social workers and keeping those employees engaged in their work. A study published in the European Journal of Social Work analyzed supervisory practices from around the world to identify trends in contemporary social work supervision. Some of this research was directly from the U.S., and the study found that social work supervision tends to focus on operations on two levels: the individual and the system.
According to the study, supervisors are expected to manage the needs of the individuals on a team while also working to improve the system around those employees, whether by streamlining processes, advocating for workers within the organization, managing budgets, or taking on other administrative tasks.
In many cases, succeeding in this environment involves taking a reflective approach to supervisory work. The study found that reflective supervision, a practice that involves being highly critical and self-aware while managing teams and organizations, is essential to creating positive work environments. This is not only important in light of the dual responsibilities of supervising the individual while managing the organization, but also in addressing the resiliency problem that continues to be an issue across the industry.
Promoting resiliency: A key need in social work supervisors
The social work industry is demanding. The vast majority of the work is not done for profit, often limiting earnings and pushing practitioners to develop creative strategies to get the job done with minimal resources. At the same time, the day-to-day work pushes professionals to engage and connect with clients on a deeply emotional level, most often at times when those clients are going through or recovering from some form of crisis. The work can be draining, leading to high levels of employee turnover. It may sound daunting, but there’s a reason that, despite this resiliency challenge, the social work industry is growing quickly and attracting many professionals.
Social work is a deeply humanitarian profession. The work gives professionals an opportunity to have a profound positive impact on individuals and communities, promote social justice, and get away from corporate lifestyles that can be draining. While resiliency and turnover are problems in the industry, they are issues that come in part because the needs are so profound. It is up to supervisors to lead teams in such a way that practitioners can more easily overcome the challenges that face them and, in place of burnout, experience the many rewards and benefits that come with working in the industry.
This is where that need to balance the individual needs of one’s team and the overarching concerns of an organization come into play. For example, supervisors must advocate for employees when budgets are being set, ensuring organizational leaders understand how cuts or increases will impact workers. Once the budget is set, supervisors take on the responsibility for communicating those changes to the team, developing strategies to respond to the new environment, and opening up lines of communication with workers who may be unhappy with the changes.
Other key responsibilities a supervisor may take on include:
- Leading or organizing training to help subordinates develop their skills and continue to grow as professionals, something that can promote greater job resiliency.
- Responding to conflicts within the team or supporting individuals going through particularly challenging cases or personal circumstances.
- Managing schedules and expectations for availability across subordinates.
- Promoting ethical behaviors and ensuring compliance with industry regulations.
- Participating in research and studies that require input from social work organizations.
This list could go on, as a social work supervisor has an opportunity to take on a wide range of responsibilities, many of which involve using the interpersonal skills that are so essential in the profession.
The online MSW program at Regis College can help you develop the skills and knowledge needed to take on a supervisory role in the industry. Our program specializes in clinical social work, making it an especially natural fit for those who want to enter clinical practice in the hopes of supervising other clinicians.