What You Can Learn About Social Work Supervision and Administration in an MSW Program

“Leadership” word cloud imposed upon a picture of a man in a suit.

Pursuing an online master’s in social work (MSW) can be a first step in a move toward social work administration and supervision. Many basic social work licenses only require a bachelor’s degree, with entry-level positions often only demanding an associate degree. However, individuals interested in obtaining a higher-level position, such as in management or clinical social work, often need a master’s degree to either qualify for the job or obtain the specialized licensure necessary.

With this in mind, it’s important to consider how an MSW prepares individuals for social work administration. Here are 10 quick things you can learn about social work supervision and administration when pursuing an MSW:

  1. Ethics

    Everybody in the social work industry shares a responsibility to operate ethically. However, leaders especially set an example of ethical practice and create a culture of compliance with best practices. An organization in which managers take shortcuts and skip processes is often a place where lower-level workers are more likely to take a similarly loose approach in how they work. Conversely, leaders who model fastidious compliance with industry expectations establish a culture of following best practices that trickles down. Studying ethics as part of an online MSW program can position individuals to lead by example and give them the deep knowledge of ethical issues needed to create a strong organizational culture.


    1. Big-picture industry theory

      An effective leader is able to have such a deep understanding of the systemic theories and ideas that govern an industry that he or she can then enact day-to-day policies and procedures that achieve an organization’s mission. This process involves having an in-depth knowledge of how organizations within the sector work, how different care schemes are designed, what emerging trends are shaping social work best practices and what underlying ideals guide operations. The study of social work theory and practice can help individuals develop the underlying awareness of how the industry operates that they’ll need to guide an organization or a team.


    1. Advanced practice

      In industries like social work, supervisors and managers must demonstrate excellence in everyday work. Courses covering advanced social work practices help students gain those skills and can give individuals the breadth of knowledge they need to understand the nuanced client care issues that social workers in various teams must deal with each day. This kind of specialized knowledge ensures leaders can develop procedural strategies that align with real-world work demands.


    1. Field education

      Sometimes the best way to learn how to lead is to work directly under an established, experienced supervisor. Clinical social work programs that incorporate experiential learning typically feature situations in which students work under direct supervision from a licensed processional. This can create a mentoring relationship in which students are able to learn valuable lessons about the industry, how to manage workers, and how to lead in a clinical social work organization.


    1. Administrative best practices

      In any industry, working as a supervisor comes with nuanced expectations and requirements that you wouldn’t necessarily expect going in. Coursework covering the basics of supervision and administration in the social work industry will typically go into some of the industry-specific demands that come with operating as a leader in social work. This can cover anything from managing grants and funding to balancing private-public partnerships in a community. Social workers always walk a fine line between caring for individuals and fostering social justice in the community. Supervisors play a key role in managing this situation on an institutional level.


    1. Communication and team leadership

      Any manager is going to spend lots of time simply maintaining good teams. Understanding how to communicate different types of messages correctly relative to your audience, developing skills in interpersonal conflict resolution, and even understanding workforce management basics all play a key role in managing a professional team effectively. Good managers need to balance personalities within the team and understand the right blend between letting people solve their own problems and stepping in to resolve conflict.


    1. Enforcing regulatory laws

      Just about every business will deal with sensitive data in some form, and any sector remotely involved in health care will have a particularly daunting regulatory task. Documentation, auditing, proper billing procedures, and similar issues are all critical in the social work sector, and they typically involve getting a wide range of stakeholders involved in following and enforcing best practices. Supervisors don’t always need to be regulatory experts — many organizations will have dedicated regulatory specialists — but they will need to know enough about the legal side of the industry to protect themselves and their employees. An advanced degree in social work will typically expose students to conversations around policy, practice, and system-level issues so they’re ready to deal with relevant regulations.


    1. Understanding diversity

      Managing a social work team often means working with individuals of varied ethnic, cultural, or belief-system backgrounds. Learning how to foster healthy relationships in diverse environments can go a long way in improving leaderships skills in such settings. Students can expect to explore issues pertaining to diversity as they pursue an online MSW.


    1. Research

      Many social work organizations participate in research to improve the industry or work in partnership with groups studying a specific issue. Managers and supervisors can play a key part in supporting this type of research by guiding their teams through specialized data gathering and collaboration with stakeholders. An MSW program will typically cover research issues and best practices specific to the social work sector to prepare leaders for such situations.


  1. Policy

    While similar to regulatory compliance, working within the confines of industry policies can be a bit different. Regulatory compliance often deals with issues of data management and auditing. Understanding and enforcing policy, on the other hand, is often more a matter of communicating best practices across the organization and helping employees engage with key policy decisions in the industry.

An online Master of Social Work at Regis College can help you develop leadership skills needed for management and supervision in the sector. Contact us today to learn more about how Regis College MSW covers these issues.

Recommended Readings:

What is accreditation, and why does it matter for you?

How the MSW Prepares you for Clinical Social Work



Online MSW Curriculum by Regis College