The term social worker generally brings to mind the healthcare professionals who help others overcome life’s challenges. But client-facing social work, or clinical social work, isn’t the only path within this field. A hefty amount of work needs to be accomplished behind the scenes so that clinical social workers have the resources they need to do their jobs effectively. The social workers who provide this support are known as social work administrators.
Social work administrators juggle the financial and legal priorities within social service organizations. On any given day, their duties could entail balancing budgets or writing grant proposals—all crucial aspects in supporting clinical social workers and their clients. Also responsible for crafting policies for their organizations, social work administrators serve as decision makers. Their in-depth expertise of social work policy and delivery of social services makes this possible.
While education is key in the path to becoming a social work administrator, there are other factors that might affect your decision to pursue this career—scope of practice, earning potential, and job demand, for example. Considering a future in social work administration? Keep reading to learn more about this social work specialty.
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Common Steps to Become a Social Work Administrator
Becoming a social work administrator may look different in different states and be dependent on factors such as agency size, organization need, or others. Be sure to check with your state on licensing or positions in your locale related to social work administration for more information.
1. Complete a bachelor’s degree.
Some social work positions require that candidates obtain a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) at minimum. A BSW is not always required to earn an MSW, making the degree a feasible option for individuals seeking a career change. Some schools will accept applicants with a bachelor’s degree in a related discipline.
2. Consider a Master of Social Work (MSW) program.
A number of MSW programs allow students to specialize in social work administration or policy, providing them with a macro-level understanding of the field in addition to a clinical one. Courses within this track could include Management Practice and Theory or Group, Organization, and Community Dynamics. Note that a MSW program may not be required to become a social work administrator, but may be helpful.
These degrees are also becoming more accessible due to the growing number of online programs. According to a 2018 report from the Council on Social Work Education [PDF, 1.7 MB], nearly 50 percent of social work master’s programs offer a portion of their MSW online. MSW programs typically last two to four years, depending on whether students are full-time or part-time.
3. Become a licensed social worker.
A master’s-level license, or what is commonly called an LMSW, does not require post-degree experience. By law, a license is required to practice clinical social work, but not social work administration—however it can be useful if you wish to advance professionally within the field and expand your scope of practice. Qualifications for licensure vary between states but, in general, you will need to complete your MSW degree and pass the National Association of Social Work Boards exam to become licensed.
4. Further your training in the field.
It is not unheard of for social work administrators to have a background in business or public health. It’s important to note that having experience in clinical social work may allow administrators to better understand the mission of their organizations and the needs of the communities they serve. Similarly, clinical social workers who are trying to advance into an administrative role may find it beneficial to complete additional seminars and workshops. The responsibilities between these two positions can differ greatly. Further education and/or continued learning may help one prepare for the change.
Is a Career as a Social Work Administrator Worth It?
For some, social work may be a taxing career path. Professionals in this field dedicate their days to helping people overcome difficult life situations. Those who feel drawn to the field but prefer working behind the scenes over working with clients, social work administration may be an appealing option. Some social workers even take on administrative responsibilities while still helping clients part-time.
In addition to enjoying the rewards of making a difference in different communities and among different demographics, social work administrators may reap versatile professional skills. These include:
- Goal development. Setting organizational-wide goals and working to achieve them
- Policymaking and execution. Recognizing the impact of external policy, crafting effective internal policy, and implementing both effectively
- Leadership. Supporting and guiding a team of clinical social workers towards success
- Finance management. Budgeting, grant writing, and fundraising for an organization
- Community outreach. Organizing events to further the mission of an organization and connect with those in need of services
- Public relations. Crafting the image of an organization as a whole
- Advocacy. Understanding, listening, and fighting for the needs of marginalized communities
What Is Social Work Administration?
Social work administration is like running a business in many ways, but it comes with the added complexity of balancing an organization’s mission with business priorities. In other words, social work administration involves aligning client needs with the monetary constraints of an organization and the legal system in which it operates.
While clinical social workers help clients with mental and behavioral challenges through discussion and therapy, social work administrators focus on the workings of the organization as a whole and how those workings affect, serve and impact these clients. These professionals maintain the well-oiled, mission-driven systems which are necessary for clinical social workers to do their jobs.
It is common for social work administrators to wear many hats, especially if they retain client-facing responsibilities. One task may require an administrator to be a decision maker, and another will involve the development of programs and fine-tuning the delivery of those programs.
A deep understanding of business, government, and human relations in addition to a firm footing in the world of social work can help an administrator day to day.
What Do Social Worker Administrators Do?
Social work administrators help run organizations that provide social services. Often, they oversee the financial side of social work, which includes allocating funds to different initiatives, setting budgets, writing grant proposals, and coordinating fundraising efforts. They may also monitor the performance of clinical social workers to make sure they are meeting organization-wide objectives, and craft the policies that put those objectives in place.
They work in a range of environments just like licensed social workers. These work settings include nonprofits, community organizations, drug or alcohol treatment centers, schools, corporations, and government agencies. Wherever clinical social workers are employed, there are typically social work administrators working behind the scenes to facilitate that important work.
How Much Do Social Work Administrators Make?
Social work salaries can vary depending on employer, specialty, location, level of education, and experience.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for social workers is $51,760 per year as of May 2020. The BLS also notes that employment opportunities in the field are expected to grow—the anticipated job growth for social workers, from 2019 to 2029, is 13 percent.
Social Work Administration Resources
A variety of organizations provide resources to practicing social workers, social work administrators and prospective students in the field. Here are a few of them:
- The Council on Social Work Education sets accreditation standards for social work programs of higher education, supports research within the field, and provides opportunities for professional development.
- The National Association of Social Workers is a professional organization of over 120,000 members—the largest organization of social work practitioners in the world.
- The Association for Community Organization and Social Action is an organization of community leaders, activists, and professionals—including social workers—that sponsors events and provides resources for members.
- The American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work sets national standards for clinical social workers.
- The Association of Social Work Boards, composed of state regulatory boards across the United States and Canada, organizes the nationwide social work licensing exam.
- The Network for Social Work Management supports social work managers and administrators across the world in a variety of organizations, helping them grow their networks and learn best practices.
- Influencing Social Policy is a nonprofit organization that informs social workers on ways to impact policy decisions and help the communities they serve on a broader level.
Information on this page was last retrieved in June 2021.