Social Work

Community Service Manager Careers: Everything You Need to Know

Community Service Manager Careers: Everything You Need to Know
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Molly Shea September 3, 2019

If you're great at organization and strong on compassion, you might make an excellent community service manager. You'll drive the processes that keep social services running and helping clients in need, and you'll make a nice living in the process.

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Champion boxer and social activist Muhammad Ali once said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.” How would you like to live that maxim and also pay the actual rent in the process? If that sounds appealing, a career as a community service manager may the right one for you.

Community service managers dedicate their lives (or at least 40 hours per week) to helping community members access the social services they need, from food and housing to health information and counseling. Armed with an education—often in social work or public health—and experience in the field, community services managers make sure:

  • Their organizations run smoothly
  • Their clients’ needs are met
  • Their employees are satisfied
  • External vendors and service providers meet their obligations
  • Processes are reviewed and analyzed to maximize efficiency and effectiveness
  • The funding keeps coming

Becoming a community service manager is a tough but gratifying job, ideal for those who relish helping others.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • The pros and cons of becoming a community service manager
  • Kinds of community service manager careers
  • The education commitment to become a community service manager
  • Licensure and accreditation for becoming a community service manager
  • Resources for becoming a community service manager
  • The typical advancement path for a community service manager
  • Further accreditation or education for a community service manager

Pros and cons of becoming a community service manager

Community service workers provide necessary and valuable help to their neighbors and environments. If you know someone who receives free daycare services, meals or food donations, or health education, there’s a good chance they’ve been helped by a community service worker. A community service manager likely oversaw whatever process provided that service.

Pros

  • It’s easy to see the impact of your actions
  • Many community service members feel called to the work they do
  • Community service managers earn an average annual income of around $65,000, toward the upper end of the social work pay continuum
  • There are many jobs in the field, and the field is projected to grow by 18 percent in the next ten years

Cons

  • Earning a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree takes a significant amount of time and money—it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into
  • Frustration and burnout are occupational hazards of this stressful job
  • Bureaucracy and society’s general apathy toward the clients you serve could cause you to grow disillusioned with your mission

The frustration of the job leads some to pursue leadership or public administration positions in an effort to promote positive changes in the field. Many others, however, give up; there’s a high attrition rate in the community service profession. If you’re easily disappointed, community service work might not be the career for you.

Test the waters by volunteering for a community service organization and paying attention to what your manager does with his or her time. Or, you could take a related course at a local community college. You might even consider shadowing a manager or case worker to get a better sense of the kind of work you’d be doing.


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There are a couple of significant practical considerations:

- A Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in social work
- A license to practice or required social work certification

Credentials vary among careers, states, and territories. Licenses include:

- Certified Social Worker (CSW)
- Clinical Social Work Associate (CSWA)
- Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker (LAPSW)
- Licensed Advanced Social Worker (LASW)
- Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW)
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
- Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW)
- Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)
- Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP)
- Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)

Most of these licenses require a Master’s or Doctorate, along with additional coursework or clinical internships. (source)

A survey of 2017 social work graduates by the National Social Work Workforce Study found that social workers with Master’s degrees and Doctorates made substantially more than those with no advanced degree. (source)

- People with MSW degrees made $13,000-plus more than those with only BSW degrees
- MSWs make more in large cities or urban clusters
- People with doctorates earned $20,000 to $25,000 more than people with only MSW degrees

University and Program Name Learn More

Kinds of community service manager careers

Community service manager is no one-track career path. There are many kinds of community service manager jobs in, among others:

  • Addiction services
  • Emergency services organizations
  • Local and state government government
  • Nursing homes and other health facilities
  • Social advocacy organizations

The top employers of community service managers in 2016 were individual and family services organizations; these accounted for just over a quarter of the jobs in the field. Religious organizations, nonprofits, and professional groups employed another 12 percent of all community service managers; local government snapped up another 11 percent, with nursing and residential care facilities hiring about as many.

Many community service managers coordinate programs, ensuring that community members are aware of and can access the services and benefits that should be provided to them. Others work in budget management,, policy implementation, and issue advocacy. Managers work with everyone from children to senior citizens, handling situations from homelessness and substance abuse to unemployment and food instability.

Those who work for government organizations or nonprofits might focus on one specific area of community service, while those who work for smaller, more local organizations might wear many hats, coordinating a variety of services.


Education commitment to become a community service manager

Most community service manager positions require a bachelor’s degree, as well as a few years of experience in the field. Applicable degrees include:

  • Social work
  • Education
  • Public health
  • Business administration

These liberal arts degrees typically require four years of full-time study.

Some community service manager jobs require a master’s degree, most often in social work (MSW) or public health (MPH). These degrees typically take two years to complete—including volunteer work and service learning—though accelerated, part-time and online programs do exist.

Because community service manager jobs require mentoring younger staffers, some work experience is usually necessary. Your work history should show a grasp of community engagement and connections with community partners by working as a case worker, as an assistant in a social services agency, or even as a service provider yourself. Once on the job, you’ll likely be required to continue taking classes to maintain skills.


Licensure and accreditation for becoming a community service manager

Becoming a community service manager requires education and work experience, but there’s no formal licensure or accreditation needed. That said, some employers will seek licensed and/or clinical social workers with a background in areas such as mental health. Becoming a licensed social worker is a years-long process that requires:

  • A master’s degree
  • Field experience
  • Passing an intensive licensure exam after graduation

Licensure varies somewhat state-to-state—look for more information from your local chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

Some community service managers might start out as case managers after earning their bachelor’s degrees, then work their way up to community service manager positions without ever earning a graduate degree. Others have master’s degrees in areas outside social work, such as public health, business administration, or psychology.


Resources for becoming a community service manager

Let’s face it: Community service managers have a tough job. Fortunately, there’s help online:

  • Bachelor’s and master’s students can turn to their social work departments for more information on community service internships and career paths, including which degrees to pursue and which classes to take.
  • Because community service managers wear many hats, it’s worth taking classes in subjects such as human resources and business administration. They can help teach the logistical side of the work, and might prove useful should you decide to pivot careers and move out of the community service field.
  • There are scholarships available for those on the road to community service careers—check with your local universities, as well as online.
  • Because many managers work at government or nonprofit agencies, some qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, through which remaining loans are paid off after a certain period of time. More information on loan forgiveness is available online.
  • The good thing about a career as a community service manager is that your colleagues are likely to be very helpful. If you’re trying to get a sense of a path forward, you might consider just asking managers at organizations in your own community — there’s a good chance they’ll be happy to help someone just starting out.

Typical advancement path for a community service manager

Many community service managers begin their careers as case workers, assistants, or community health workers. These entry-level careers can help someone gain both experience and a better understanding of the needs and inner-workings of their community. After a few years as an underling, it may be time to take on a managerial position, coordinating the efforts of those just beginning their careers. Some managers go on to become community service directors, while others transfer to more specialized positions in the field. Because so many government and nonprofit organizations have a staff hierarchy, there can be plenty of room for growth.

Your terminal position will likely depend on the degree you’ve earned. Some organizations might require their managers and/or directors to have a master’s degree or even PhD, and may cover the cost of tuition for long-time employees. Another degree can open doors and allow for more specialization, such as working as a health services manager in long-term care.

Others might choose to leave the community service field after several years, switching to other helping careers such as clinical social work or health education. Some might even work as an advocate for social services or mental healthcare in a private practice setting. Working as a community service managers can provide an excellent foundation for a career in other helping fields. Fortunately, a bachelor or master’s degree in a field related to community service management, such as social work or public health, can transfer to a variety of careers, such as counseling or government service. There are alternative careers to consider as well in philanthropy, human resources, social innovation, and mediation. The same skills that serve you as a community service manager are also valued in those professions.


Further accreditation or education for a community service manager

Because the types of services available to community members are constantly changing, it’s critical that a community service manager stay up-to-date on the latest legislation and practices. Some may choose to continue their education, applying for another degree program. That might mean a master’s in public health, or even a doctorate in social work. Managers can pick up new skills, gain more insight into available services, and pivot to alternative careers.

Certain workplaces might require community service managers to take Continuing Education Units, or CEUs, in order to stay up-to-date on best practices. Having taken classes in certain subject areas can also help on a job hunt, should managers choose to take the next step.

Muhammad Ali, whom we quoted at the beginning of this article, once said: “Don’t count the days. Make the days count.” Working as a community service manager is certainly one way to make the days count; you’ll be helping people who might otherwise not get the help they need. You will run into obstacles, but as—you guessed it—Muhammad Ali once opined: “Impossible is just a word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it.” Community service managers explore that power. To them, impossible is just a word.


(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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