Updated February 2023
Wondering if a career in social services is right for you? One of the best ways to figure that out is by looking at the skills you'll need to succeed on the job.
If those qualities match up with your profile and interests, chances are you're a good fit for the role. And if they don't? You're probably better off in another career.
In this post, we're looking at what it takes to be an effective community support worker (CSW). We break down the top 10 characteristics, interests, and skills needed to really thrive in this job.
By the end, you'll know if a CSW career makes sense for you, and exactly how to get started.
1. Strong Sense of Social Justice
Community support workers help at-risk people get access to important social services—like addiction counselling, safe housing, employment services, protection from domestic abuse, and mental health care.
CSWs believe strongly that everyone deserves protection from harm and access to opportunities. They believe in human dignity and social justice for all.
This is more of a core belief than a skill, but it's a philosophy that impacts the work CSWs do each and every day.
The desire to make our communities safer, healthier, and more equal is behind everything you'll do as a CSW.
2. Open minded & non-judgmental
There is no place for discrimination in social services. Community support workers regard all of their clients as worthy of respect and compassion.
They do not judge people based on their background, current circumstances, or beliefs, and always do their best to assist everyone with the same level of commitment and energy.
3. Excellent listener & communicator
In order to help clients, CSWs must be able to build trust and rapport during interviews and counselling sessions. Being a good listener is a key skill during this process (as is being non-judgmental).
You'll be working with people who have, in some cases, lost faith in the system. It will be difficult to gain their trust, and convince them that you are on their side and there to help.
CSWs who really know how to listen and communicate are better able to gain trust and make progress.
4. Empathetic and caring
Community support workers must genuinely care about the people they help. This means they are able to empathize with their clients' challenges, see things from their perspective, and relate to where they're coming from.
Empathy is key for building rapport and trust with clients. Without it, you won't have the "human" touch required to support people who are going through very difficult times.
5. Well-organized & thorough
CSWs help connect people in need with locally available, appropriate social services. But they also help plan and deliver social programs, working hard to fill gaps in our system that leave certain groups without support.
It takes excellent organization, planning, and follow-through to set up a new service or program, or ensure clients are staying on track with a plan you've developed with them.
For example, you'll follow a client through an addiction treatment program, or make sure a client is progressing toward their goal of safe housing and employment.
This means creating and maintaining client files, knowing how to research local programs and services, and being able to run programs you've developed.
6. Ethical & self-aware
CSWs must have a strong sense of ethics and professional integrity. This means protecting client confidentiality, using your power responsibly, and maintaining professional boundaries with clients.
As a community support worker, you'll need to understand and live by the Canadian Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics (something you will study in community support worker training).
You'll need to be self-aware, and really focus on the details of your practice, to make sure you're living up to those ideals.
7. Self-care & stress-management
Community support work is NOT all about serving others. To do their job well, CSWs must also protect their own wellbeing.
This job can be stressful and emotional draining. It's very important to have good self-care rituals in place, and stick to those routines, to avoid burnout.
If you can't care for yourself, how will you provide effective care and support to others?
8. Good understanding of mental health conditions
Many of the at-risk people you'll work with as a CSW suffer from mental health disorders and conditions.
It's important to understand warning signs and treatment strategies for extremely common conditions, like depression and anxiety—and how to connect people in need with the right kinds of services.
CSW training focuses a lot on mental health and addictions, so you will get a good foundation in these topics at school.
Have you ever noticed a bias in yourself about a particular group in society? Have you ever bought into stereotypes about addiction, homelessness, domestic abuse, or mental health issues?
All of us have biases. We all have certain core beliefs that impact the way we think about and communicate with others.
Some of these beliefs are based on politics and religion. Others are ingrained in us by family, friends, and personal experiences as we're growing up.
Community support workers must have the skill of self-reflection—the ability to become aware of their own biases and belief systems. Why? Because these beliefs impact the way they relate to, understand, and serve clients.
CSWs must be careful not to allow bias or prejudice to impact their work. They must strive to be as fair and open-minded as possible.
10. continuous learning and development
CSWs are constantly learning new ways to communicate with and support people in need.
Whether you're focusing on how to develop new programs, improve your counselling techniques, or expand your mental health knowledge—you'll always be learning new skills as a CSW.
If you're interested in this role, you must be willing to keep growing and evolving throughout your career.
learn more about CSW training
Feel you're a good match for the skills and qualities on this list? Interested in learning more about CSW training and careers?
Take a look at the CSW diploma program offered at Herzing College. The training runs for 12 months and includes a seven-week internship with a local community organization.
Click below to explore the training and chat live with an admissions advisor. Learn about courses, careers, admission requirements, tuition, and financial aid. We're here to help!