What Makes Me A Social Worker?



My career coaching clients come to me when they are ready to uplevel their social work leadership positions or exit toxic workplaces but are unsure how to define success on their own terms and package their achievements to obtain their dream job. My social work education and training sets me apart in the career development space. Think for social workers by a social worker.

No, I do not have a social work license. Why? Because I have not, do not, and will not provide any therapeutic services. Yes, I feel that licensing all social workers with a general degree is gatekeeping. I believe that my Master of Social Work makes me a social worker. I believe that a BSW, MSW, or DSW makes you a social worker. The LMSW (formerly the LGSW) means that someone passed a test after graduation, it doesn’t mean they are a good social worker. Amazing social workers have failed the test and not-so-great social workers have passed it. The cost can also prohibit good social workers from taking the exam – especially given the traditionally low wages for the profession.

Contrary to popular opinion, I believe that work experience, training, and supervision make you a good social worker. Here is my caveat, I absolutely believe that clinicians/therapists should be licensed. I believe that those who provide clinical supervision, oversight of a clinical program, or other clinical services should be licensed. My graduate education consisted of a concentration and a specialization, so if the ‘M’ in LMSW stood for macro or mezzo and the exam was specialized like the clinical exam, I would probably sit for it. I just do not feel that a general test validates my value as a macro/mezzo social worker. In fact, I find it kind of offensive.

I must admit that I hesitated before writing this blog because I understand that my beliefs can annoy some and offend others. I’m publishing it because I am committed to operating in integrity with myself. If any schools of social work or agencies do not want to hire me or work with me because of my personal opinion their decision supports my belief about gatekeeping. I believe honest, respectful dialogue about differences of opinion is what will propel our profession forward.

Here are my beliefs about the social work profession:

  • I believe social work education (bachelors, master’s, or doctoral degree) from an accredited school of social work makes one a social worker.
  • I believe that social workers should be paid more for our education and expertise.
  • I believe that all clinical social work students should take a couple of macro courses.
  • I believe that licensing should be the same across all 50 states.
  • I believe that the LMSW is gatekeeping, not title protection.
  • I believe that racism and oppression exist in social work education and in practice
  • I believe that all clinicians/therapists should be licensed (LCSW or LCSW-C).
  • I believe that a macro and/or mezzo exam could be a game-changer because it shows equal value for these practice areas.
  • I believe that it’s all social work (more on this one later).

I would love to hear your opinion on any of my opinions. Let me know.



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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