How Can You Command Your Social Work Career?



What do you wish you had known about the social work profession before graduating with your social work degree? Before going into social work leadership?

I hear and see many social workers express how they have struggled to navigate or advance in their careers, and I am guilty of looking up and realizing that I have been in a position longer than I planned. I have asked myself numerous times, “how did I get here”.

Who should social workers turn to for help?

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the largest membership organization of professional social workers in the nation. NASW’s primary functions include promoting the professional development of its members, establishing and

maintaining professional standards of practice, advancing sound social policies, and providing services that protect its members and enhance their professional status

The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) is the nonprofit organization of social work regulatory bodies in the United States and Canada, including all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and all 10 Canadian provinces. ASWB’s mission is to strengthen the protection of the public by providing support and services to the social work regulatory community to advance safe, competent, and ethical practices.

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is a nonprofit national association representing more than 2,500 individual members as well as graduate and undergraduate programs of professional social work education. This partnership of educational and professional institutions, social welfare agencies, and private citizens is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as the sole accrediting agency for social work education in this country

There is so much I could say about how each agency has restricted the profession and failed social workers, but there is not enough time while I write this post. I will say one of the main things that all 3 have in common is the indoctrination that if you want to expand your career opportunities and be successful in social work, you have to get licensed. If a license is the golden egg, why are so many licensed social workers still struggling to advance into leadership, earn living wages, be appreciated in their positions, or transition into different fields of social work? There are also many social workers who are flourishing but do not have social work licenses.

In the not-so-distant past, it was very commonplace to hear career advice like:

  • Take the pay cut so you can get the experience
  • Stay in the (toxic) job so you can get your supervision hours
  • Don’t bring up salary on the interview, let them bring it up
  • Just work hard and do your job well and you will get noticed or get promoted
  • Don’t expect to be paid well as a social worker

I am so glad that both new and seasoned social workers are realizing the fallacy of the career advice above. Let me add, ‘don’t just take what comes to you, decide then determine the direction where you want your career to go”.

Command = to direct with specific authority or prerogative; order

5 Strategies to Command Your Social Work Career for High-Performing Women of Color in Social Work Leadership:

  1. Define success on your own terms. There is no one size fits all social work career. Don’t let someone else tell you what you want or need to be and feel successful.
  2. Don’t believe the myths, do your own research. If you don’t personally know a social worker who has attained your idea of success, find one online or in books or ask for introductions through your personal network.
  3. Determine if there are new skills you need to learn to advance your career. Do you need a license, a different certification,
  4. Be proactive. Don’t sit back and wait for the career elevation you want to magically appear without your examining and elevating your beliefs, setting intentions, and taking inspired action. This is not a suggestion to overwork or remain in a toxic work environment, this is a suggestion to replace hustle and grind with ease and flow.
  5. Make yourself your priority. Self-care is essential, not optional. Recognize where you are allowing self-sacrifice, self-deprivation, and self-sabotage. If career fulfillment really is your goal, you must prioritize your health and well-being, not just your career advancement.

If you want to go from overworked, underpaid, and unappreciated to energized by your work, well-paid, and appreciated for your contributions, begin by registering for a 60- minute Career Activation Strategy Session today.


Related: Comfort Zones Provide A False Sense of Job Security



Nicki Sanders, MSW, ushers high-performing women of color in mid-level social work and human services leadership through promotion to senior leadership. As Founder and CEO of Nicki Sanders Leadership Consulting, her mission is simple – to eliminate toxic workplaces by developing skilled, empathetic, and goal-oriented leaders who have the vision, support, and resources to create a culture where business prospers, and employees thrive individually and collectively. Nicki has an extensive background in nonprofit management leading high-functioning, multi-disciplinary teams. She is an accomplished professor, coach, trainer, and group facilitator who has combined her gift for authentic relationships, Master of Social Work degree, and over 20 years of diverse work experience to create a life and career aligned with her values and purpose. Nicki is a lover of cupcakes, travel, and 80’s hip hop and R&B music.

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