To most people, the words “social worker” and “manager,” have nothing in common. We typically think of a manager as someone responsible for leading a team, area of business or a group of people. When we hear the term “social worker,” we typically think of a bleeding heart who works to help the less fortunate.
Both of these definitions are only brief statements capturing a high-level piece of much bigger, more complex roles.
What if we had a more realistic picture of both? Would they still seem so different?
I have been lucky enough to work in both roles, and in my opinion, they are not that different. I actually believe my social work training and background made me a stronger leader.
As a social worker, my job was to collect information about individuals and systems, come up with solutions to problems, connect people with resources, and advocate for the people I serve to have opportunities for more fulfilling lives.
As a manager, my job was to collect information about contracts, regulations and obligations. I provided training, monitoring and oversight to my employees. I was responsible to get involved in complex situations and provide consultation and solutions to problems. In addition, I would advocate for my team to have more opportunities to have greater job satisfaction.
When I entered into management, I had zero management experience. I didn’t know how to hire, train, or fire someone. I had no idea how to lead a team.
However, because of my social work experience, I knew a bit about people. I understood how to listen to them, to gather the information. I knew how to build strong relationships.
Those were the skills that set the foundation for developing myself as a leader.
Some of the best leaders I know are social workers. I have spent a lot of time thinking about what makes them so great, and it is because of their ability to connect with, understand, and inspire people.
Still not convinced? Here are 3 reasons why, I believe, social workers make the best leaders:
- One of the foundations of the social work is the study of human behavior.
More specifically, how a person’s behavior cannot truly be understood without adequate consideration of their environmental factors (social, political, familial, spiritual, economic, temporal and physical).
In the workplace, there are a few things that define the “social environment,” the main ones being work place culture and the work itself.
Understanding how we as people react (behavior) to social stimuli or environmental factors helps managers understand why an employee struggles to adapt to a major policy change, how office gossip can decrease morale, or how another employee might react to rapid growth in an organization.
Naturally, understanding the root cause of an employee’s behavior is one of the first steps to helping an employee work through a challenge or overcome behavioral concerns.
Any experienced manager will tell you direct feedback and coaching conversations are crucial in guiding an employee through a conflict or required change.
Social Workers are specially trained to have these difficult conversations and practicing them is a big part of their education.
- Social workers have a knack for building relationships.
A recent Gallup study found that 75% of the reasons people quit their jobs are because of their managers. (I should note, Gallup was not the first to say this, and they won’t be the last.)
Research consistently shows that people leave their jobs because they are not appreciated, they don’t find their work meaningful, they do not feel a connection to a greater purpose, or they are not utilizing their skills.
As managers, it is our job to not only know our people, but to know and understand what is important to them as people and as employees. Not everyone wants to be recognized in the same way (or even at all).
Therefore, it is a good idea for a manager to acknowledge that Kathy might look for a verbal “thank you” after each task, while Sarah wants Starbucks once a month and doesn’t notice the verbal “thank yous.” Furthermore, Michelle is looking to take on more projects and hopefully to discuss promotional opportunities, while Joe wants to just be comfortable in his role and succeed with little to no change in responsibility.
Leah might prefer one area of her job, the area that Jill hates; a good manager might work with them to explore job sharing opportunities to capitalize on their strengths and what they enjoy the most.
- Social Workers Apply the Strength Perspective to their work.
In social work, we study a school of thought called the Strength’s Perspective. It is evaluating the strengths of a person or situation and emphasizing those strengths to develop a solution to a problem, rather than focusing on weaknesses or limitations.
It sounds like a simple concept, but it can actually be harder to practice than one might imagine.
However, I will say from experience it absolutely works when you are working with a person with a disability, criminal past, or addiction. It also works very well when you apply it to a staff personnel issue, team dynamics, or as a coaching tool.
You may have heard of Tom Rath’s book, The Strengths Finder which follows a similar platform; help people identify their strengths so they can emphasize them.
Rath took this idea a step further and wrote “Strengths Based Leadership,” which is essentially the same thing, just focusing on leadership skills. The idea behind these two best-selling books mirrors the principles of the Strength’s Perspective.
It is no surprise that more and more reputable Universities are creating programs offering dual degrees for a Masters of Social Work and Masters of Business Administration. Schools are recognizing that the combination of both degrees are complimentary; students are taught technical business and personal skills.
In Minnesota, Augsburg University offers the dual degree program.
All businesses need employees who are able to understand people: not only customers, but also employees. Having a social worker on any management team will provide a unique and essential perspective.
At Thomas Allen, a majority of our managers are social workers.
We strive to support our employees, providing support at all levels. Our managers who are also Licensed Social Workers, have the opportunity to participate in a management-focused supervision group each month, as well as receive individual supervision, coaching and leadership development.
These priorities certainly help our managers apply their education and social work experience to their work as leaders.
March is Social Work Month, and a wonderful opportunity to recognize the many skills that social workers are able to offer to any industry. The National Association of Social Workers provides ongoing training and resources, and the Minnesota Social Work Association, (MSSA) is hosting their annual conference in Minneapolis this week, March 11-13, 2020.
Thomas Allen, Inc. continues to experience growth and is seeking new talent to join our employee team. If you have interest in exploring employment as a case manager or a care coordinator, you can learn more about the positions, hear testimonial videos, see our company benefits and more by clicking this link.
What has been your experience? Have you worked with a leader who was a social worker? Comment to let us know if my experience resonates with you. If you are a leader, tell us whether you have also found your social work training to be an asset as a leader.