5 Steps to Becoming a Social Services Administrator

Research what it takes to become a social services administrator. Learn about job duties, required education, and salary potential to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Human Services degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Social Services Administrator Do?

A social services administrator plans, organizes, and directs programs that provide social assistance to vulnerable or at-risk individuals and groups. Families, children, senior citizens, and people with substance abuse issues are among your potential clients. As a social services administrator, your duties could include researching and analyzing community needs, determining program eligibility requirements and benefits, writing grants, preparing budgets, and conducting needs tests. The work also often involves supervising staff and volunteers, writing training manuals, networking, and providing referrals.

The following chart provides an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Contemporary social institutions; human social behavior; intervention methods
Key Responsibilities Analyze community needs; determine eligibility requirements and benefits; write grants
Licensure Varies by state
Job Growth (2014-2024) 10%* ( social and community service managers)
Median Salary (2016) $50,467** (social services director)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Although degrees in psychology, sociology or public administration might be acceptable, a bachelor's degree program in social work can provide you with ground-level exposure to the range of social problems an administrator is likely to confront. These programs train you to address quality of life, personal change, and social justice issues with individuals and groups. Classes cover contemporary social institutions, human social behavior, intervention methods, and public policy.

Step 2: Gain Experience as a Social Worker

Figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show a majority of these professionals are employed in the areas of individual and family services, state and local government, and medical or mental health social work (www.bls.gov). However, a position in research and policy planning can give you an advantage if you intend to become an administrator. Identifying and analyzing social problems, proposing legislation and fundraising are likely to be the focus of your work rather than direct engagement with the public. All 50 states have minimum credentialing requirements for clinical social workers: licensing, registration, or certification.

Step 3: Consider Earning a Master's Degree

According to the BLS, advancing to an administrative position requires a graduate degree. A number of schools offer master's degree programs in social work with a concentration or emphasis in administration. Master's programs examine the political and economic dimensions of social assistance and provide you with in-depth exposure to the process of social policy planning, organization and advocacy. Organizational theory, social work research, and leadership are other possible course subjects. Some programs require you to research and write an original thesis.

Step 4: Consider Advanced Certification

Advanced certification represents achievement, knowledge and commitment to your profession, but it isn't mandatory. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the leading organization offering social worker credentials. Of its multiple specialty certifications, the two pertaining to leadership include the Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW) and the Diplomate in Clinical Social Work (DCSW).

Eligibility for the ACSW requires membership in NASW, a master's degree in social work from an accredited school, two years of post-graduate experience, and 20 hours of continuing education. For the DCSW, you need NASW membership, a master's degree, 4,500 documented hours, three years of clinical social work experience, 30 hours of continuing education credit, and a current state license.

Step 5: Pursue an Administrative Position

The BLS estimates that approximately 119,770 people were employed as social and community service managers in 2015, and the social work field as a whole was expected to grow 10% between 2014 and 2024. Your largest prospective employers include individual and family services organizations and government agencies, followed by state agencies, residential mental health facilities, and community assistance organizations. Growth in the elderly population, and an ongoing trend towards placing substance abusers into treatment will drive demand for your services.

What Are Some Related Careers?

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors provide a related service to social services administrators. These professionals help those struggling with various disorders, including alcohol and drug abuse, find help and overcome their disorders. Social workers work with people in need to help them cope with various life challenges (physical and mental), generally working closely with social services administrators.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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