Public Administration & Policy

How (and Why) to Become a Social Welfare Administrator

How (and Why) to Become a Social Welfare Administrator
If you have a drive for helping a specific demographic—such as immigrants and refugees or youth under the care of child welfare—social work administration can be an extremely rewarding career for you. Image from Unsplash
Suzanne Wentley profile
Suzanne Wentley November 22, 2019

Want a career in administrative social work? You need to be the type who can solve big problems and won't be faint of heart when the paperwork (or paycheck) hits. You're in this for a higher purpose: creating real change for people in your community.

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“Make the world a better place” isn’t just a dreamy, utopian answer to “What do you want to do when you grow up?” Millions of people work at it every day: they’re called social workers.

There are sixteen social work practice areas, all involved in helping a specific subset of the population: at-risk children, families living below the poverty line, the elderly, and other marginalized groups. Social work administration—which involves connecting communities in need with the programs and services that can help them—is one of those practice areas. It may not feel as hands-on as working with clients who have a substance abuse disorder or with military personnel in distress, but it’s every bit as essential.

You’ll need a high tolerance for piles of paperwork to become a social welfare administrator. You’ll also need soft skills like trust-building and communication to do your work effectively. This is a selfless job, but far from a thankless one. You’ll work hard to connect those in their region with the programs and services that they need. At the end of the day, you could very well be saving lives.

In this guide, we’ll discuss:

  • What does a social welfare administrator do?
  • Steps to become a social welfare administrator
  • Top skills for a social welfare administrator
  • Education requirements needed to become a social welfare administrator
  • Job outlook for a social welfare administrator
  • Should you become a social welfare administrator?

What does a social welfare administrator do?

As a social welfare administrator, you’ll work to develop services, programming, and/or policy to
help your community. Your programs may address:

  • Domestic abuse
  • Eldercare
  • Food insecurity
  • Housing instability
  • Mental health issues
  • Substance abuse disorder
  • Unemployment

Social work administration is different than working in mental health counseling or other clinical social work. Social welfare administrators are community advocates who typically work on a regional level to facilitate change across a population. You’ll be less likely to work one-on-one with someone, beyond answering the questions they may have about a particular program you are implementing. Your work, however, will likely impact many more people.

What are the responsibilities of a social welfare administrator?

The responsibilities of a social welfare administrator involve either connecting people with the services they need or helping to craft those policies and service offerings. Either way, you’ll need to have an in-depth understanding of the social needs and cultural context of the community you hope to assist.

As a social welfare administrator, you’ll be tasked with:

  • Analyzing and solving problems
  • Overseeing a social worker group
  • Maintaining records
  • Implementing new programs
  • Raising and managing funds
  • Organizing special events
  • Collaborating with other agencies in the community
  • Budgeting and planning for future service programs

If you work with a government agency, you’ll also need to be up-to-date on a variety of public welfare policies such as Medicaid, nutritional assistance, and child health insurance.

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Steps to become a social welfare administrator

Some professionals begin their careers in public welfare as social workers in the field. Entry-level social workers aren’t required to have a license or even a master’s degree, but you will be more competitive for future leadership roles if you have both, even if that degree is from the clinical side of social work. In order to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), you’ll need to complete a Master’s of Social Work (MSW) as well as two years of supervised clinical work. Licensure requirements vary by state.

How long does it take to become a social welfare administrator?

If your long game in social work is to take a leadership role in social welfare administration, it will take approximately:

  • Up to four years to complete a bachelor’s degree program
  • Two years for a master’s program
  • An additional two years of supervision before you are eligible for licensure

You’ll also need to acquire managerial experience as well as policy and procedure expertise. Working in nonprofits is a great way to accrue work experience while also directly helping the people and missions you care most about.

Top skills for a social welfare administrator

Social welfare administrators, whether focused on policy and services for mental health advocacy, child welfare, or another element of social services, always have a lot to juggle. The ability to multi-task and stay organized is just the beginning. You must also possess:

  • Strong ethics: You need to have the ability to determine what is the right thing to do in many different situations. Even under tough circumstances, you cannot lie or “bend the rules” to help some people over others. Your policies must be fair, honest, and effective.
  • Strong communication skills: Whether you’re dealing with the social worker who implements the programs you administer or with the public who benefits from them, you’ll need to have the ability to communicate clearly. You’ll also have to understand different cultural norms and age-appropriate ways of speaking. Talking to pregnant teens requires a very different skill set than discussing fundraising plans with retirees.
  • Problem-solving skills: Sometimes, a person may not qualify for a program but still clearly needs help. Can you creatively connect them with another agency that can provide the necessary assistance?
  • Compassion: This is a tough job, both for the service managers working with you and the clients you serve. Every day, you’ll meet people facing challenging times in their lives. Your role is to help them work through it with care and empathy.

Educational requirements to become a social welfare administrator

To work in this field, you will need at least a bachelor’s degree. Some administrators major in public health, public policy, or health services, but most bachelor-level administrators hold the Bachelor or Social Work (BSW) degree. A minor in management wouldn’t hurt, either.

You may find that that the administrative opportunities open to someone with a bachelor’s degree are pretty limited. Most employers require you to have a master’s degree. Look for programs with lots of courses—or better still, a concentration—in public policy, administration, or social services studies.

What are the best social welfare administrator degree programs?

When deciding on a school, you’ll want to make sure that the program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. The following programs offer coursework in social welfare administration:

Of course, there are hundreds of accredited programs that offer degrees in social work. Since years of clinical work will be part of your training and education, it may make sense to find a program in an area of the country where you wish to work.

Many excellent schools now offer the MSW online. Research accredited online MSW programs to get an idea of coursework and specializations.

Top online social work degree programs include:

Social welfare administrator job outlook

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of social work jobs should grow by 13 percent between 2018 and 2028. That’s more than twice the rate of the US job market as a whole.

Additionally, social work administration is one of the better-paying fields of social work. According to the BLS, social work administrators earn $65,320 annually. Payscale reports that a social work administrator with an MSW earns an average salary of approximately $72,000 per year. Compare that to the average salary for all MSWs, which, according to Salary, is $63,760.

Should you become a social welfare administrator?

Social welfare administration is not a job for the easily exhausted or emotionally overwhelmed. You must be patient with the often-formidable processes that are in place, while being compassionate for the clients, and fellow social workers, who are likely frustrated before they even walk through your door.

Are you passionate about a particular population or challenging issue facing cities or communities? If you have a drive for helping a specific demographic, such as immigrants and refugees or youth under the care of child welfare, social work administration can be an extremely rewarding career for you. It will offer many avenues to explore, and many opportunities to help numerous clients.

Whether your social welfare administrator role is working with the public as part of a nonprofit agency, a government office, or for a for-profit company, you’ll still have the same goal—improving the lives and needs of your neighbors. Once you gain the skills, education, and experience you need for the job, your day-to-day sense of self-worth from your career can skyrocket—and you’ll get back what you put into it. As a social welfare administrator, you’ll help solve big-picture problems.

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