How to Become a Social Services Director

A smiling social services director stands in front of social services workers meeting around a conference table.Throughout the country, individuals and families face personal hardships that make it difficult to meet their basic needs. These hardships can take the form of unemployment, living with a disability, mental health issues, food insecurity, homelessness, and other challenges that can benefit from outside assistance.

Social services workers help people overcome these challenges, connect them with assistance programs, and help them meet their basic needs. They are a key resource, especially in underserved communities. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) reports that social workers are the largest group of mental health services providers in the country, providing roughly 60% of all mental health services.

Considering the large demand for social services, experienced leadership is required to ensure that community needs are met. Social services directors are responsible for overseeing the organizations and individuals that provide these vital services. In addition to having a passion for helping others, social services directors can benefit from an advanced education that prepares them for this type of leadership role, such as a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree.

What Are Social Services?

Social services are free and publicly available services that provide assistance and support to those in need, particularly for disadvantaged and underserved communities. Some examples of social services provided through the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services include:

  • Social services for unaccompanied children
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Head Start
  • Child Support Enforcement
  • Assistance paying for childcare
  • Foster care services
  • Adoption services
  • Home visiting programs
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
  • Programs for individuals with disabilities
  • Programs for seniors
  • Services and programs to address homelessness
  • Services and programs that support military families

What Does a Social Services Director Do?

Social services directors oversee organizations and lead staff, such as social workers, who provide these types of services to clients. Considering the broad nature of social services, directors can be found in a variety of work environments, including government agencies, for-profit organizations, and nonprofits.

Depending on their work environment and the needs of the community, a social services director may be responsible for the following:

  • Recruiting, hiring, and training social services workers
  • Overseeing the organization and ensuring goals and stakeholder objectives are met
  • Creating written proposals to secure funding
  • Increasing awareness for programs by planning outreach activities
  • Gauging the effectiveness of a service or program by analyzing data and identifying areas for improvement
  • Collaborating with members of the community and other stakeholders to identify what services and programs are needed

Social Services Director Salary

Commensurate with their considerable responsibilities, the role of social services director is among the higher-paying positions in this field. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), social and community service managers, which includes social services directors, made a median annual salary of $74,000 in 2021.

Region, education, experience, and the hiring organization all play a factor in how much social services directors earn. Demand can also impact salary. According to the BLS, employment of social and community service managers will increase by 12% between 2021 and 2031, much faster than the national average of 5% for all occupations. Demand will be largely driven by the growing needs of the country’s aging population as well as increased interest in mental and behavioral health treatment, including for substance misuse.

Steps to Become a Social Services Director

The path to becoming a social services director starts with a passion for helping people overcome life’s challenges. Aspiring directors will also need to develop the necessary skills and knowledge base required to carry out the role. This takes a combination of formal education and work experience, including:

  1. Earning a bachelor’s degree in social work, sociology, psychology, or a related field
  2. Securing entry-level work or an internship to begin gaining experience; social work interns, for instance, observe and assist professional social workers
  3. Earning a master’s degree in social work (not required, but highly recommended to be competitive in the job market) or earning a bachelor’s and accruing several years of on-the-job experience
  4. Passing the licensing exam offered through the Association of Social Work Boards
  5. Earning leadership experience in social work through roles such as a school counselor, case manager, or family counselor
  6. Applying for social services director positions, after accruing a significant amount of experience

Pursue a Rewarding Career in Social Services

Social services directors help ensure that individuals, families, and communities have access to programs and public services that support their health and well-being. Directors apply their leadership skills and experience to ensure that their organizations have the necessary resources and staff to operate efficiently and assist those in need.

Those who have a passion for supporting their communities are encouraged to develop it into a career, and the best way to start is through education. The online Master of Social Work program at Regis College includes essential coursework that can help social workers become leaders. Some core coursework includes:

  • Human Behavior and Social Environment
  • Diversity and Cross-Cultural Issues
  • Social Welfare Policy
  • Social Work Practice with Individuals
  • Social Work Practice with Families and Groups

The MSW program is offered in both a traditional 60-credit track and an advanced standing 30-credit track for those who already have a bachelor’s degree in social work. Coursework is conducted 100% online, and fieldwork requirements can be completed where you live, which means you can remain in your community and focus your efforts locally. Embark on a career where you can make a difference with Regis College.

Recommended Readings

De-Escalation Skills and Tips for Mental Health in the Community

The Benefits of Social Work Field Placements

The Importance of Mental Health Social Work 


Association of Social Work Boards, Getting Your First License

Chron, “The Role of Director of Social Work”

Climb, “What Does a Social Services Director Do?”

Indeed, “15 Types of Social Work Jobs”

National Association of Social Workers, About Social Workers

National Association of Social Workers, Virginia Chapter, “Thinking About a Career in Social Work?”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Social and Community Service Managers

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Social Services