Defining excellence in practice
March 05, 2019
As someone who has been striving to better my practice as a social worker, manager and student, I was originally under the impression that discussing and defining excellence in practice would be an easy feat. While I do believe there are some skills sets that are vital to effective practice in the human service field, such as giving and receiving feedback with grace or using active listening skills, I have come to realize there is so much more to an excellent social worker or human service practitioner than the hard and fast skills taught from a textbook. Excellence comes from a paradigm that drives a social worker to be a constant learner of the job, preventing him or her from attempting to be an expert in the lives of others. It is the reflective practice techniques that continue to drive social workers to reach beyond their innate talent of understanding people and continue on the journey of self-improvement.
When considering the qualities of an excellent social worker, he or she must be dedicated to fulfilling one of the most mentally, emotionally and (sometimes) physically challenging occupations. Social workers are meeting clients in the most vulnerable moments of their lives. Most often, professionals will be met with the emotions of someone experiencing grief and loss, vulnerability and/or shame, just to name a few. While these individuals may not always act in a way that the professional deems to be favorable to their situation, social workers are responsible for continuing to show unconditional positive regard for these clients and never giving up to support them in their time of need. In order to appropriately sit with clients in their space, social workers are required to set their pride at the door, and create an environment of safety and acceptance from the start.
Social workers often enter this field because they know or have been told they are adept at working with people. The educational experience that supplements this talent is crucial to improve the skill set of the professional. As human service workers progress in their career, the needs of people are constantly evolving, increasing the importance of continuing to pursue higher education and increased skill development. Excellence is seeking out knowledge around every corner and assuming a humble approach of not knowing; it is asking for support and inquiring deeper into both what you know and what you may not.
Social workers are responsible for establishing a vision and pursuing it to the fullest extent. Without a vision, there is no passion; without passion, there is no possibility of embodying excellence. This vision is not to be confused with solely the achievement of self-centered personalized goals, such as moving up the ladder in an organization or striving to get a raise, but rather a vision dedicated to improving yourself as a service provider, to better understand your clients, or to become a better teacher to share your existing talents with others.
As someone who is still in the process of forming my identity as a social worker and leader of this agency, I am constantly seeking out more in-depth understanding of both my personal and professional self and the ways in which it shapes my practice. Naturally, I am more inclined to advance my textbook knowledge than sit in the uncomfortable space where I must peel back the layers and expose my most vulnerable self. Defining excellence has resulted in a shift of perspective from simply accomplishing tasks to understanding the crucial importance of the process that follows my every move. In the words of Ralph Marston “excellence is not a skill, it’s an attitude,” and it is that attitude that is going to let the light you bring truly shine as an excellent social worker or professional.