Leadership in an MSW Program and Recommendations

Introducing leadership principles and concepts to students early in their MSW program is incredibly important. Going into my undergraduate field placement, I felt very powerless and was unsure what my role would look like. I quickly learned that I had many responsibilities and needed to take on a leadership position if I genuinely wanted to successfully intervene with clients. Except, I didn’t realize that the role I had assumed was that of a leader. Now knowing what attributes are expected of a leader and why it is important for all social workers, regardless of education or licensure level, to be leaders in their field. Going into my master’s placement, I now know what it means to be a leader and how to be an efficient one at that. As social workers, everything we say or do is incredibly important when we’re with our clients. Knowing how to better engage and intervene with them makes us more competent in our professional practice.

6 Shocking Facts about Leadership in the Social Work World | SW 250 at  Binghamton University

I don’t have many recommendations for this course, but I would suggest including more personality and leadership surveys to assist students in revealing more about themselves. A huge takeaway for me has been learning what strengths I currently have and which areas in my life that I need to work on if I want to be a better social work leader. I was also able to learn about ways of strengthening my weaknesses by communicating with classmates through the discussion forums.

Motivation as a Component of Emotional Intelligence

So if you would have told Kaitlynn Harrell that motivation would be something she struggled with in her professional social work practice, she would have rolled her eyes. I have always been a go-getter! Someone that loved getting ahead on assignments and enjoyed working hard to achieve a goal. The truth is, I struggle big time with motivation now.

In Goleman’s article, he describes the importance of motivation in contributing to emotional intelligence. It means taking initiative, being optimistic, and working your butt off to achieve a goal. As social workers, it is imperative that we know what motivates us in order to be successful.

Well, I am incredibly motivated to help others and make the world a better place. However, I’m not at the same time. I often overload myself with so many tasks and projects that I spiral and sometimes can’t even complete one. As someone that has both anxiety and depression, I find it difficult to harness the passion that I have and use it to achieve success.

My goal is to improve in this area of my life. I need to cut back a little bit and only take on what I know I can handle. I also need to make sure I’m well-rested, eating quality foods, and finding time to relax. Basically, I need to incorporate self care into my life. I plan on taking better care of myself so that I can show up to work or my placement ready to help others! If my motivation isn’t there, what good am I to the clients I am supposed to be empowering? According to Stanley, Manthorpe, and White of the British Journal of Social Work, many social workers personally face depression (2007). Taking care of ourselves and knowing what we need can help us to prepare for working with clients and being leaders.


Stanley, N., Manthorpe, J., & White, M. (2006, July 13). Depression in the Profession: Social Workers’ Experiences and Perceptions. Retrieved August 01, 2020, from


Leadership Concepts

Positive Intent! As social workers, it is imperative that we use positive intent in our practice. Our job is to see the best in people and find ways for them to see the strengths that we do! As you encounter a situation, it is important to be aware of where you are on the mood elevator. By knowing where you fall on the mood elevator, you can prepare for better engagement with colleagues, cliens, and people in general. Social workers are expected to be strengths-based and in order to do so, we need to be self-aware of how we are doing.

I used to go into situations feeling defensive and irritated pretty often, especially if I had been recently experiencing stress. Knowing to check in with myself and determine what kind of mood I’m in has been a life saver! I feel like I have absolutely been a kinder person and much more optimistic!

The Mood Elevator.png


Ethical Leadership! Ethical leadership is exactly what it sounds like! It means using our knowledge, skills, and ethics to make decisions as social work leaders. The NASW Code of Ethics provides social workers with the ethical standards that they are expected to follow and uphold. As social workers, it is our responsibility to recognize and address ethical dilemmas. Using tools, like the Reamer Model for example, can assist social workers in working through these dilemmas. Social workers must stay true to the code of ethics, even if there is pressure not to. Social work leaders of quality defend ethical practice.

In my undergraduate field placement, I had to utilize ethical leadership in many ways. I remember encountering one ethical dilemma that will likely resonate with me throughout my professional practice. I was working in the food pantry, helping clients make their selections, when a member of the agency’s maintenance team stopped by. She told me that she was hungry and could not afford to feed her children that evening. She asked if she would be able to just take a few items to satisfy their immediate hunger. I didn’t know what to do, as the food pantry was only available to university students. After filling out a Reamer Model worksheet, I concluded that it was important to recognize her dignity and worth and allowed her to take the items that she needed.


National Association of Social Workers. (2008). Preamble to the code of ethics. Retrieved August 1, 2020 from Code/code.asp

Social Work and Other Disciplines

Social workers often find themselves working with professionals belonging to other disciplines. Collaborating with other areas of specialty and people that serve different roles in working with clients has the potential to produce successful outcomes. However, progress can be hindered if there is a negative relationship between social workers and other professions. As social workers, we have a very specific code of ethics that indicates what our responsibilities and roles are in working with clients and professionals. Other disciplines often have ethical codes or standards that they have to follow as well. Being a good social work leaders means understanding what the social work role is and looks like and making sure to commit to it. Helping people of other professions to understand our ethical code and its importance can pave the way for successful collaboration and prevent miscommunication.

It can be challenging to work with other professionals to ensure the best treatment of a client. For example, nurses are often concerned with the physical wellbeing of a patient, while social workers are more concerned with their client’s social environment. Instead of stepping on one another’s toes, the social worker and nurse should reach a point of understanding regarding each other’s respective field through rapport and openness.


Micro and Macro Leadership

To be successful as a micro-level social work practitioner, there are several attributes one must obtain. First, a social worker must be able to establish rapport with clients and gain their trust. A social work leader understands the importance of the sixth CSWE competency, which focuses on engaging with individuals, families, and communities. Establishing connections with clients is a great way to initiate treatment. Great micro-practitioners are able to empower their clients and lead them to see what they can accomplish! Confidence and self-awareness are other attributes that micro-practitioners should have as well. Feeling confident and comfortable approaching a supervisor with a concern is another great way to exhibit leadership.

Macro-practitioners are also leaders, but have different skill sets to utilize! Macro-level social workers advocate on the behalf of clients, but on a wider scale. We advocate for policy changes to be made in order to promote social justice and empower large populations of people. We also work with communities to confront or alleviate a problem that the people living there are facing. Personally, I am interested in macro-level work and hope to utilize these skills to be the best social work leader I can be!


Check out this awesome video on social work leadership!

Power in my Position?

As a social work student, I intend to be observant and learn from professionals in the field. My undergraduate field supervisor, Abbey Rutschilling, is an amazing example of a social work leader that exhibits the characteristics associated with the role. She was honest, provided input, and encouraged me to take advantage of every opportunity I was presented with. As a student, I took initiative, engaged in learning opportunities, and showed up each and every single day with a positive attitude. Going into my master’s field placement with NASW, I will demonstrate the same characteristics. However, my goal is to take each one a step further. I want to take even more initiative and gain every piece of knowledge offered. While being a student can mean that you don’t necessarily have a lot of power in your role at your placement, it does not restrict your power as a leader! You can absolutely exhibit leadership qualities as a student, which will gain you the trust of your clients and your supervisor. People will be able to count on you!

Abbey and I attending the Ohio Hunger Dialogue in 2019 to learn how food insecurity was being addressed in higher education! We learned a ton and had the opportunity to share the work we were doing!

Leadership in Social Work Practice

Being a leader means a plethora of things to me! It means taking charge, confronting adversity, being compassionate, demonstrating confidence, maintaining integrity, etc. The list truly goes on and on and on. However, leadership has taken on a new meaning as I begin engaging in social work practice. It means creating a safe space for people, regardless if they are clients or colleagues, to speak their minds and initiate challenging conversations. It means connecting with vulnerable people to earn their trust and advocate on their behalf. It means confronting difficult and uncomfortable ideas in order to kick-off change that needs to be made.

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Hi! My name is Kaitlynn Harrell and I am an MSW student here at OSU! To me, being a leader of substance and quality is important, especially in social work practice! Join me as we explore leadership in social work!