Social work remains one of the most popular sectors around the USA for people to work in. It is also one of the most important, as it involves helping people when they need it most and protecting the most vulnerable in society. Social work can also involve taking on a more leadership-focused role to ensure people get the help they need, and relevant policies/guidelines are in place to help this happen.
If you are considering moving into social work as a career, the good news is that it also comes with various jobs to choose from. These can often be non-leadership roles and positions which do require you to be a leader. But how do you access social work careers to begin with, and what are some of the best non-leadership/leadership roles in the industry?
How do you break into social work?
Before you think about moving into the best general or leadership roles within social work, you must find out how to break into the sector. By doing this, you ensure you have what it takes to forge a career in social work and move into the type of job you desire.
By far, the best way is to gain the right academic qualifications. Having these behind you makes you more attractive to employers and means you have the right credentials for the positions you wish to apply for.
The first step for many is gaining their bachelor’s degree in social work, which is an excellent idea to kickstart your career. Although this is a good start, it can then be worthwhile to study for a more advanced social work award. This is advisable whether you plan to move into leadership roles in the future or more generic roles which are still at a higher level. Click here to learn more about how you go from BSW to MSW at Kekua College and what their flexible online courses offer.
Why pursue a career in social work?
Whatever specific path you take, to begin with, you may wonder why it is worth choosing this career at all. Although more general or leadership roles can offer different things, some common themes make social work appealing to many.
To begin with, all positions within social work come with a high degree of job satisfaction. The buzz you get from directly helping people turn their lives around or being responsible for leading a team of people who do is quite something.
In addition, this is a career that pays well in general and can bring excellent salaries as you progress up the ladder. When you also factor in the demand around the country for trained social workers and that they will always be needed in society, you can see why people choose it when thinking of which industry to work in.
Of course, to get the most from jobs in this sector, you need to find the right area to move into. This broadly splits into two camps – more generic positions, which do not involve leading teams (but can still be senior) and executive-level roles, which do include leading teams/healthcare facilities. But what are some of the best examples of each role?
Top non-leadership social work roles
There are lots of awesome jobs to move into around social work and lots of variety in terms of what they involve. The good news is that if you do not fancy a role involving leading people, then there are some great non-leadership social work positions to think about instead. Although they might not involve managing people, they can still be senior, responsible, well-paid roles and sometimes need advanced social work degrees to move into.
But what are some of the best to consider?
Clinical social worker
Social work has many career paths, be it clinical, non-clinical, or within education. One of the best senior roles to consider is a clinical social worker. This can be an especially interesting job for someone who enjoys helping patients deal with mental illness.
But what exactly do these kinds of advanced social workers do? In short, their main focus is on diagnosing and treating individuals with mental illness, behavioral issues, or emotional problems. This is something that we are seeing more across society now, so the job of a clinical social worker is a career choice with a bright future.
As well as helping individuals to deal with mental issues, these social workers can also work with families and medical teams to fully understand what help a patient needs. A varied position in social work, this role can also include helping families deal with the impact of mental illness and looking into new treatment techniques.
For those who enjoy helping young people achieve their maximum potential, working as a school social worker is a top choice. As the job title implies, this position sees you operating within a school to offer mental and emotional support to students. It may also include speaking with families to tackle issues at home that could impact a child’s education. In addition, this role in social work can suggest ways teachers could help struggling pupils engage more in class.
By giving young people a safe and judgment-free space to talk in, school counselors can really make a difference. As a result, this can be a gratifying job that can feel very satisfying. This can be especially true when young people you have helped show their gratitude or go on to excel in life.
With an average salary of around $50,762 and the constant need for social workers in schools to help students, this is a widely seen position within the sector. If you have a real passion for helping young people, it is certainly one to consider.
Medical social worker
The average salary for a medical social worker, according to PayScale, is around $59,000, which is one reason this widely seen social work role is so popular. It is also ideal if you like to work in a medical setting to help people and advocate for the best patient care. As it offers the chance to work across a range of healthcare settings, this position is also one with real versatility.
Also known as hospital social workers, these professionals offer general support to patients and their families within healthcare environments. This is different from a clinical social worker, who only focuses on treating people who already have mental illness or behavioral issues.
Everyday tasks involved in this type of job include evaluating patients’ emotional health and flagging any issues to healthcare teams. These social work professionals may also coordinate patient care, deliver counseling sessions and communicate information to patients in a healthcare environment.
Marriage and family counselor
This more general role in social work is a good example of a non-clinical role. As the title suggests, it is focused on delivering effective counseling to married couples who feel they need it. These social workers can also help families deal with underlying issues and provide effective counseling.
There is no doubt that this role is key for helping people work through interpersonal issues and come out of it with a stronger relationship overall. The main thing for these social workers is to stay calm, objective, and authoritative. This helps them keep control of counseling sessions and remain impartial figures who all parties respect.
A well-paid role many people move into when first starting in social work shows just how far reaching this non-clinical side of the industry is within society. If you enjoy helping people work out their problems and want to help people without being in a clinical setting, this is a top role to consider.
What are some of the top leadership roles within social work?
As the above shows, there are some very interesting non-leadership roles within social work to move into. It is also true to say that this sector also has a number of executive jobs which do involve leadership. These positions can be something to target if you enjoy being in charge, like managing people, and can handle the responsibility they bring.
But which leadership roles for social workers stand out most?
Corporate social responsibility manager
This leadership role enables you to have a direct impact on social responsibility in the commercial world. This shows yet again the sheer breadth of social work roles and the different settings you may operate from.
But what might this role involve? There is no doubt that leadership is something that you will be expected to show here, and you will most likely have a team of people underneath you to look after. CSR managers essentially create, monitor, and oversee the social responsibility objectives of an organization. In addition to leading people, you will also be required to liaise with more senior figures in the business and stakeholders/the public at times.
If you enjoy managing people and creating policies around social responsibility in business, and possess the drive to make them work, this is a very rewarding position. If you prefer the idea of working in the commercial world compared to the clinical or educational sector, it is also a good option.
Director of rehabilitation
Another leadership position within social work that many aim to move into is director of rehabilitation. This comes with an average salary of around $85,000 per year and is a financially appealing role as a result.
If you enjoy working with a team of people to get the best from them and inspiring them to provide high levels of care to patients, this is a good career path to take. As with all leadership jobs in the sector, it is also a top choice if you wish to work away from the front line and have a direct influence on policy.
But what do people in this position do exactly? The main duties include overseeing therapy team members to ensure they deliver the best possible service. In addition, you would be responsible for ensuring they adhere to the latest guidelines and liaising between the community/team members. You would also have a responsibility to be involved with recruiting new team members, ensuring any therapy programs deliver what the community needs and looking into the latest data around therapies.
Executive directors can often be found in non-profit organizations and charities. Their main tasks include managing and developing fundraising activities for their organization. In addition, they can also host outreach events in the community and get involved with planning out marketing campaigns. As you would expect from this leadership role, they are responsible for managing staff within the organization and ensuring they perform to their best abilities.
Networking can also be a vital part of this high-level social work role, and you may be required to increase your organization’s community presence by attending relevant events. It can also be expected for executive directors in non-profits to draw up admin policies and take charge of dealing with third-party services.
People in this role earn around $81,542 per annum on average and tend to enjoy the status it offers. If you like working with people and across your local community, it is also a good choice. As a busy and varied role, it is one where the knack for working under pressure comes in handy.
Health services administrator
If you want to step up to a leadership role within healthcare settings in social work, this can be a superb option. Health service administrators not only have a direct impact on the team they manage but also on the policies which are implemented. This can make it a very satisfying job and one where you can have a major impact on the world around you. If you enjoy more desk-based work and digging into data, it is a top choice.
In short, healthcare service admin staff take charge of the teams in healthcare facilities and the overall operation of the facility. The major tasks include drawing up staff rotas, managing the facilities budget effectively and training new staff.
In addition, you may also be involved with planning new policies, updating old ones, and ensuring high levels of patient care are delivered. You may also communicate the latest healthcare guidelines to staff, make sure they follow them and liaise with colleagues in various departments across your facility.
How do you know which type of social work role is right for you?
The above clearly shows that there are some very rewarding and interesting roles in social work – whether you move into ones that involve leadership or those that do not. But how do you know which type of role suits you best? This is important to figure out because, just as knowing how top office makeover ideas can help staff get more from their role due to their working environment, moving into the right sort of social work position can help you get the most from it.
It really all comes down to personal preference and what type of role you enjoy best. If you like managing people, leadership roles could be a great choice. These jobs in social work can also be a good option if you prefer to work on a more macro level and not be on the front line of care. Leadership roles also come with their own kind of pressure due to the responsibility that managing teams/setting the overall direction for a facility can bring. If you enjoy this, they could be for you.
In terms of roles which do not involve leadership, these can often see you more directly involved with those who need help. If this is what you like doing best, they can be the way to go. Even though they do not include leading people, these positions can still be senior and come with high status. As such, they can also be good options when looking to advance your career. If you do not feel you are ready to manage teams of people yet or simply do not like this, they might be for you.
Top non-leadership and leadership roles in social work
As the above shows, social work is a diverse sector with some very rewarding and interesting roles. In a broad sense, this can be broken down into positions that see you leading people and those that do not. It is important to note that non-leadership roles are not necessarily entry-level and can often need advanced degrees to move into.
By the same token, executive-level leadership positions in social work can also need more advanced degrees to apply for. The real trick is to think carefully about which type of social work role you would enjoy best and find out which qualifications you need to get into it.