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Examining the need for good leaders in social work

Leadership is essential in every industry, and social work is no exception. As the social worker’s role continues to evolve to match the rapid changes and developments of the 21st century, effective social work leaders are needed more than ever to support, treat and advocate for the complex needs of their colleagues and those most vulnerable.

Unbeknown to most, the social work profession is confronting enormous pressure. Social care services have been subject to several years of central government cuts. What makes this even more challenging is the rising demand for services, ultimately placing significant and challenging burdens on social workers.

According to a recent Center for American Progress report, funding for critical programs will be cut by as much as 58% under the recent House Republican proposal. With these challenges, there is a need for effective social work leaders to inspire and direct teams in complex and multi-agency social care systems to employ strategies that empower clients and lead others to challenge the status quo and make significant changes.

Social work leaders promote social justice

Unfortunately, social injustice is prevalent in the US. According to Pew Research data, social injustice is frequent in rural, suburban and urban areas. For example, income and wealth inequality in the country is substantially higher than in almost any other developed nation, and it is on the rise.

No thanks to the 2008 global economic shock, the slow and uneven recovery, and the financial debacle caused by the recent pandemic, social work leaders are put in the spotlight to respond to these alarming trends. Being able to effectively respond to these trends allows social care leaders to establish fairness and equity across several aspects of their respective communities.

For example, racism affects roughly 80% of African Americans, 76% of Hispanics and 70% of Asians. As part of their work, social work leaders help individuals experiencing racism within their communities by raising awareness of and promoting racial equity. This can mean teaching individuals to separate one’s race or socioeconomic background in specific situations to eliminate the gap between white people and individuals of color while increasing success for all groups.

However, like everything else, approaches can vary depending on the environment in which social care leaders work, such as using the micro-mezzo-macro framework. This framework empowers social work leaders to identify behaviors and learning opportunities at varying societal degrees. This, in turn, allows them to deploy the right personnel to conduct programs and services that help eliminate racism, with a focus on group interactions, individual counseling and implementing full-scale systems or policies.

Using multiple techniques at varying societal levels empowers social work leaders to alter people’s racial stereotypes and perspectives to achieve a more equitable society. Moreover, it also illustrates the appropriate benchmarks to empower every community and ensure nobody is excluded from the opportunities available.

Social work leaders help with the mental health crisis

The US faces a mental health crisis. According to Mental Health America data, roughly 20.78% of adults experienced mental illness between 2019 and 2020. The same data adds that Americans do not believe mental care services are available for everyone, regardless of the increasing societal awareness of the importance of mental health.

Although several factors contribute to an inability to access quality mental care, everything points to an overburdened healthcare system that cannot deal with the increasing number of mental health patients. According to recent data, nearly half of the population living with mental conditions goes without any treatment. With the severe shortage of professionals, the ball is now in the court of social work leaders to lead their teams in spreading awareness to curb the mental health crisis.

Through mental health awareness, social care leaders can reduce the stigma and encourage more people to seek treatment. Beyond creating dialogue with these individuals, social work leaders can work with journalists and the media to encourage a modern approach to explaining and coping with mental health issues. This makes mental illnesses a less foreign and intimidating topic for everyone involved.

Alternatively, social care leaders can also establish counseling programs within their communities to help individuals overcome mental and emotional distress associated with specific situations and provide holistic care. It is common for individuals struggling with mental health to forego help because of the stigma associated with counseling. However, avoiding counseling can only lead to an individual’s mental health worsening even further.

Through counseling programs, social care leaders can encourage their social workers to use evidence-based techniques that empower clients toward their goals and enhance their overall quality of life. Depending on the individual’s diagnosis, social care leaders can create programs such as cognitive behavior therapy, family therapy and task-centered practice to help clients work on permanently changing self-destructive behaviors.

Social work leaders advocate for administrative policy and research

Although the ways of getting there might differ, social work leaders’ primary goal is continuously improving the status quo. Through this constant advocacy, they can uncover hidden issues, address unmet needs and take the initiative to make positive changes within their respective communities. Unlike typical social workers, social care leaders tackle several issues where human behavior is placed into its more significant context.

One of the most significant responsibilities of social work leaders is helping create the laws and policies that establish the foundation of social work practice. To do such a thing, they perform comprehensive research on existing policies and processes to determine the gaps and implement solutions to improve the practice. They also appeal to local service providers and advocate for and against policies and laws at the state and federal levels.

The initial stage of creating policy is research and determining what issues should be dealt with. During this process, government officials and policymakers need social work leaders to define their communities’ most pressing issues.

Social care leaders will have a team of social workers active at the grassroots level who interact with the most vulnerable communities.¬†These social workers can then communicate the community’s issues to their social care leader. Once the social work leader understands the most pressing problems, they can bring them before policymakers to develop new laws and policies. Through this communication cycle, social work leaders can ensure existing issues and demands are addressed to the concerned authorities.

It is, however, worth noting that the role of social work leaders is not limited to helping policymakers formulate social policies. They also ensure the effective implementation of those policies and let people within their communities know about them. Furthermore, social work leaders must supervise and monitor the implementation of new laws and policies to achieve desired goals and communicate changes should modifications be deemed necessary.

What makes a good social work leader?

A social work leader must master three key roles. They are an architect, a bridge and a catalyst, colloquially known as the ABCs. Social work leaders can create the best environment for their staff and people in their care through these ABCs. To best embody these critical roles, they must have the following skills.

Effective communication

Being able to communicate effectively is at the core of social work practice. The social work industry is highly collaborative, wherein you’ll be dealing with individuals from different walks of life. Good social work leaders must foster an open and good rapport with their clients and their teams to understand issues better and resolve conflicts.

Because of the collaborative nature of social work, communication is vital to all of your working relationships. This includes taking action when colleagues need assistance and recognizing team members when appropriate. Through effective communication, social care leaders can inspire and empower those around them, ultimately creating a positive ripple effect throughout the organization.

One way of promoting effective communication is for social care leaders to customize their interactions to suit each situation, team member and client. This means figuring out which communication mode each team member prefers and working around it. This allows social care leaders to connect with their team members and build a strong culture of accountability.

Moreover, connecting with their team members empowers social care leaders to identify their strengths and weaknesses. This makes it easier for leaders to help their staff find opportunities to learn and grow. With the social work industry always susceptible to change, being agile helps social workers meet and fulfill existing demands while delivering high-quality work amid significant pressure.

Growth mindset

Social work is constantly evolving. This means what might work for clients in the past may not deliver similar results today. So, social work leaders must adopt a growth mindset to interpret challenges as learning opportunities and better cope with change.

This is particularly important, considering a fixed mindset can be detrimental to the organization and the community that social work leaders are spearheading. A fixed mindset can stifle creativity and hinder the leader’s ability to empower their staff to take on new challenges.

Conversely, adopting a growth mindset empowers social care leaders to seek feedback, learn from others and embrace innovative perspectives. It also helps them deal with the emotional and ethical work challenges that can sometimes be demanding and stressful due to the complexity and uncertainty of the job.

However, unlike other skills, developing a growth mindset takes practice and intention. Although there are several ways to do so, social work leaders can begin fostering a growth mindset by replacing fixed mindset beliefs with growth mindset statements. For example, rather than saying, “I can’t do this,” try saying, “I can learn how to do this.” Challenging themselves lets social work leaders learn from their mistakes and view their failures as a part of the learning process.

Insight and understanding of human behavior

Understanding human behavior is essential in social work leadership since the industry comprises individuals from different backgrounds. What makes this challenging is how interactions between people are always different as everyone has a unique personality profile built from genetically inherited traits and socially acquired customs, habits, values and beliefs.

Effective social work leaders know this and constantly seek feedback to gain an equally good understanding of others. Although there are different methods to do this, an excellent start is for social work leaders to open conversation, conduct team-building exercises, create smooth communication channels and foster trust by understanding every social worker’s strengths, values and weaknesses.

Each social worker has needs, and they direct their energies to meet these requirements as they see fit. Social care leaders must help their team members resolve their issues so that they can perform effectively. As a result, your team can work cohesively as a unit and become more productive in resolving social justice issues and other concerns.

How to become an effective social work leader

Social work leaders intervene in crisis, manage conflicts, advocate on behalf of clients and direct them to organizations that can provide the appropriate resources.

Be future-focused

As mentioned above, social work is a constantly evolving field. As social injustices pile up and the struggle to fight them remains an issue, future-focused leadership is a source of resilience and potential growth for social work leaders. Although present-forward thinking can help, it can only extend to existing assumptions, mental maps and performance frameworks that do not spark sustainable performance.

This is because present-forward thinking deters people from challenging the status quo, which is the opposite of what social work is about. Being future-focused empowers social work leaders to design smart and strategic plans that anticipate future issues and help social workers remain steady in a changing environment. It is, however, essential to remember that success in social work is not only acting on the opportunities that will deliver results tomorrow but also creating results today.

Balancing these two will empower social care leaders to serve their organization best and find innovative ways to move the practice forward. By being future-focused, social work leaders can inspire their teams and give them something to look forward to. This way, they can align the role and actions they perform daily with the overarching and primary strategy of the organization.

Lead but be part of a team

Leadership is often viewed as a position of power and recognition. However, learning to be a team player is equally important since you’ll collaborate and communicate with your colleagues to deliver adequate community support. Social work leaders must listen to input from others and take action based on the information they receive to improve services.

As a social care leader, you must make people feel they are surrounded by equally talented individuals and that their work is extensive and wide-reaching. Making them feel this way increases the likelihood of delivering better quality work and increasing overall efficiency. This is because it allows them to be more accountable and committed to their responsibility of providing a better quality of life to their assigned community.

Seek advanced educational opportunities

The willingness to learn and grow in their professional development is a crucial characteristic every social work leader must embody. This is why it’s not uncommon for them to pursue a Master of Social Work or MSW degree program from a leading academic institution such as Florida State University to brush up their skills and build on their current knowledge. Through advanced education and training, social work leaders can improve their skillset, develop transferable skills and work in diverse industries.

Although increased pay is not often the primary reason social care leaders seek advanced education, those with advanced MSW degrees are paid handsomely. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, MSW graduates earn a mean annual salary of $60,470. Besides the attractive paycheck, an advanced degree also helps social care leaders prepare for managerial and executive roles within the healthcare industry.

While working towards an advanced social work degree, you will complete various assignments such as scholarly writing, attend online lectures and analyze case-study-based scenarios. More practical evaluations than usual are expected since social work concentrates on empowerment, development and change. Additionally, you might participate in rotations and assignments at numerous public and private organizations where you can apply your knowledge and abilities.

Depending on your chosen academic institution, these internship opportunities are coordinated with agencies near your location. This is especially important since these opportunities introduce you to real-world practice under the guidance of an accomplished mentor. Moreover, most online universities will also ask you for a capstone project near the end of the program. This often means completing a research project or thesis and taking and passing numerous written and practical examinations to demonstrate what you have learned throughout the course.

Starting a meaningful career

Being an effective social work leader is important because this role embodies the profession’s very core. By working towards becoming a social work leader, you can change what needs to be changed and advance the practice for the social workers that will come after you.

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