by Latonia S. Johnson, Ph.D., MSW, LCSWA
- Flexibility: There are many areas in which social workers provide services. Whether you are new to the field or switching jobs, flexibility is needed in order to meet the specific needs of the agency and those served. There is no “one size fits all” in this field. At the same time, the social worker should be flexible enough to multi-task, as this is more often a requirement than not. It is not uncommon to have many demands on your time and attention at any given moment. Knowing how to prioritize and complete several tasks at once is crucial to getting things done in an effective and efficient manner.
- Creativity: Even people who think they are not the least bit creative usually possess an inkling of creativity when they really attempt to utilize this skill. I’ve learned that there is usually more than one way to accomplish a task, and it takes creativity at times to get things done when the “obvious way” seems impossible. Thinking “outside the box” may mean the difference between seeing what’s needed and getting those needs met.
- Passion: Everyone has a strong opinion about what feels right or wrong and how change should occur. When working to improve and enhance the lives of others, social workers should channel their passion and desire for “the helping profession” into going the extra mile to empower others to lead healthier, more productive lives.
- Empathy: Sympathy says “I hurt with you,” while empathy says “I see that you are hurting and I want to help you to cope and move forward” (the author’s own meanings noted). Social workers should not get “stuck” in just feeling what their clients feel, but we have an obligation to teach them effective skills and strategies needed to move past their present situation and apply to future experiences.
- Trustworthiness: People are more apt to be relaxed and open with someone they feel they can trust. Present your original (yet professional) self to clients They will appreciate you for being “real” with them and respect you more for it.
- Competence: It is very important for social workers to be competent and confident in the services they provide. Stay abreast of online and in-person training sessions and workshops that will benefit you as you continue to hone your skills. Doing so becomes advantageous for you as well as your clients.
- Sense of Humor: I’ve heard it said many times that “laughter is good for the soul.” It eases tension, relieves stress, breaks the ice, and keeps the work environment from becoming too rigid and formal. In taking time to celebrate you in the midst of the work that you do, please find space and opportunities to laugh often. Remember to celebrate small victories.
I have previously worked as a therapist and school social worker/homeless coordinator in the mental health and education fields, respectively, for fourteen years. In addition, I taught at the local university in its Social Work Department. I am currently a counselor at a domestic violence/sexual assault nonprofit organization.Throughout my professional career, I have found these characteristics to be staples in my arsenal of skills and strategies. I hope the reader will agree.
Dr. Latonia S. Johnson is employed as a counselor at a nonprofit organization that provides services in the areas of domestic violence and sexual assault in northeastern North Carolina. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Elizabeth City State University, a Master of Social Work degree from Norfolk State University, and a Ph.D. in Human Services from Capella University, and has previously worked in the areas of mental health and school social work.