What Does a Social Worker Do (and How Do I Become One)?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn how you can help improve the lives of others with a role in social work.

[Featured image] A social worker holding a case file and a cup of coffee smiles at the camera.

A skilled social worker works with people, groups, and communities to help them learn to live better lives. In this role, you’ll typically work with populations of all ages suffering from poverty, discrimination, or other social injustices. 

Professional social workers aim to create change and encourage the resilience of individuals, families, and communities. Let’s take a closer look at what social workers do, why you should consider a career in social work, and how you can get started.

What is social work?

The government of India describes social workers as having the responsibility to 'help individuals, families, groups, and communities through the provision and operation of appropriate services and by contributing to social planning. They work with, on behalf of, or in the interests of people to enable them to deal with personal and social difficulties and obtain essential resources and services [1].

As a social worker, you can implement important changes in your community. 

Social workers are needed in settings such as:

  • Hospitals

  • Mental health facilities

  • Child welfare and human service agencies

  • Community development organisations

  • Schools

  • Prisons

  • Corporations

  • Orphanages

Tasks and responsibilities of a social worker

Social work combines many aspects of counselling and psychology while focusing on client case management. Take a look at what types of responsibilities you'll have if you become a social worker in one of these main settings:

  • Family and schools: Social workers who work with families in the community may advocate for what’s in the best interest of a child’s upbringing. Social workers in educational settings work with teachers, students, and families to solve problems impacting children, such as bullying and learning challenges.

  • Health care: Social workers in medical and public health settings support critically ill patients and their families by helping them find resources and health care needs.

  • Substance use disorder: Social workers in mental health and substance use disorder settings assist patients with therapy and finding financially available rehabilitation. Social workers may also work in the community to participate in outreach and preventative programmes related to substance use disorder.

Learn more about the three categories of social work:

Social worker skills and knowledge

Depending on where you work, you will need specific skills and knowledge relevant to your working population. Building a solid foundational skill set will empower you to help others in the most effective way possible. 

Set yourself up for success by building the following people skills: 

  • Communication skills help you form relationships with people to gather information about their challenges. This includes active listening and setting boundaries.

  • Empathy equips you to understand how another person feels about a situation.

  • Critical thinking helps you objectively analyse a client’s situation based on observations, interviews, and research.

  • Organisational and time management skills are necessary to manage and document complex cases and the many needs of multiple clients.

  • Self-care techniques empower you to maintain a healthy work-life balance in an emotionally demanding field.

As you earn your degree and progress in your career as a social worker, you’ll build more specialised knowledge targeted towards your day-to-day work: 

  • Core frameworks of social work create the foundation to help you understand ecological systems, social justice, cultural humility, and other practices that define populations. 

  • Active and reflective listening skills equip you to engage in meaningful conversation with someone to understand their thoughts and allow for effective problem-solving.

  • Interviewing and counselling techniques include a range of approaches used with clients to help them understand how they can make desired changes in their lives. 

  • Global assessment of functioning (GAF) is used to assess a client’s functioning ability. 

Why pursue a career in social work?

As a social worker, you can make a real difference in your community by addressing growing problems in mental health, aging, child abuse and neglect, substance abuse, chronic illness, homelessness, and food insecurity. Social work also includes addressing social issues such as domestic violence, discrimination, and unemployment. 

How much do social workers make?

According to Payscale, the average annual base salary for social workers in India is ₹4,15,674. Depending on where you live and other factors, you could earn from ₹1,54,000 to ₹10,00,000 [2].

Social worker job outlook

The job outlook for social workers in India is good as opportunities are available in government and non-government sectors. Social workers can move into management, administrative, and policy planning roles with a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) or a master’s degree (MSW).

How to become a social worker

To work as a social worker in India, you need a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Some of the colleges offering social work bachelor programmes include:

  • Madras School of Social Work, Chennai

  • Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh

  • Jamia Milia Islamia University, New Delhi

  • Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar College, University of Delhi

If you’re interested in pursuing a master’s degree in social work, the following schools offer programmes:

  • Department of Social Work, University of Delhi – MA in Social Work

  • Loyola College of Social Sciences, Chennai – MA in Social Work

  • Karve Institute of Social Service, Pune – Master’s in Social Work (MSW)

  • Faculty of Social Work, MS University of Baroda – Master’s in Social Work (MSW)

  • College of Social Work, Nirmala Niketan, Mumbai – MA in Social Work

As you pursue a career in social work, you can choose whether to work in a clinical or non-clinical capacity. 

As a non-clinical social worker, you can offer job, career, and academic counselling services or work on policies that affect welfare and social assistance. Your responsibilities as a clinical social worker require specific knowledge to handle many demanding situations, including substance abuse counselling and support, family abuse cases, and working with patients with post-traumatic stress disorders. 

Get started with Coursera.

If you are passionate about helping others, take the next step towards a career in social work with the Social Work: Practice, Policy and Research MasterTrack® Certificate online course from the University of Michigan, the top-rated school of social work in the United States. You can earn a university-issued credential in as little as six months. If you decide to enroll in the University of Michigan Master of Social Work (MSW) programme, your coursework will count towards your degree.  

Article sources


Government of India Career Guide. “Current prospects of social work in India, http://employmentnews.gov.in/Current_Prospects_Social_Work_India.asp.” Accessed April 3, 2024.

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