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What Is Community Social Work?

December 13, 2023

The field of social work is broad, and many practitioners spend their time advocating for the well-being of entire communities. Those who perform in this capacity are engaged in what’s called community social work.

Individuals who are drawn to social work and wish to see entire communities flourish may find this to be a rewarding field. The first step toward success in community social work involves obtaining an advanced degree to master the skills and competencies to successfully advocate for communal change.

Understanding Community Social Work

The role of the community social worker is to help empower communities to thrive. While many social workers intervene on behalf of individuals or families, community social work may focus on the broader well-being of a neighborhood, a school system or a city or state.

By its very nature, this type of social work is complex and multi-faceted, which means different professionals may focus on different types of issues or different types of change. For example, someone engaged with community social work may focus their attention on promoting economic justice, advocating for environmental stewardship or pushing for superior educational outcomes. One community social worker may direct their attention to mitigating the communal effects of climate change, while another may work toward greater racial justice.

Social workers in this field may find employment in a number of environments but often work for government agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or nonprofit organizations.

What Do Community Social Workers Do?

Specific duties and responsibilities vary from one position to the next, but community social work entails a number of common tasks.

1. Building and Organizing Community Engagement

One of the primary jobs of a community social worker is to raise awareness around a specific issue and to organize the community’s interest in and involvement with that issue. This involves a number of different elements.

  • Providing adult education, alerting community members to what the issue is and why it matters
  • Identifying and nurturing leaders within the community, empowering them to build, organize and advocate on their own
  • Creating alliances and fostering collaboration with business organizations and nonprofits within the community

In this way, a social worker might rally support for positive initiatives to address racial discrimination, educational inequity, houselessness or other issues.

2. Shaping Policy

Some community social workers analyze, research and advocate for specific policies. This might mean determining the potential root causes of specific social issues. The goal is to arrive at a more informed conclusion about how those roots might be addressed. It could also mean participating in creating public programs and building community buy-in for those programs.

3. Listening

Community social work isn’t just about dictating policy initiatives. It is just as important for the social worker to engage in active listening to better understand the community’s needs. This might mean holding town halls and public listening sessions or conducting more rigorous community health assessments. Regular listening can be important for matching the right solutions to the most clearly identifiable problems, and for communicating with community members in a way that earns their trust and engagement.

Working in Community Social Work

Those who are interested in this field will likely have questions about work environments, educational requirements and salary.

Work Context

Community social workers can find work in a range of contexts. Some examples include:

  • Disaster relief and recovery
  • Crisis mitigation
  • Managing and developing community programs (for health, education, etc.)
  • Coordinating pilot and research programs designed to gain a better understanding of trends in community needs and resources

Educational Requirements

To pursue a career in social work, it is crucial to develop foundational skills and education, starting with earning an undergraduate degree. Many positions also require a master’s degree in social work or a related field, including positions with higher salaries and greater leadership responsibilities.


In addition to pursuing an advanced education, aspiring social workers might also wish to become licensed. Serving as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) usually entails a higher salary range, and many positions require a license. Licensure means earning a Master of Social Work (M.S.W.), completing a set number of supervised clinical hours that vary by state and passing licensing exams.


The annual median salary for social workers was $55,350 in 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). A number of factors can affect salary range, including level of education, years of experience and geographic location. The BLS also projects strong job growth for social workers, with positions in the field expected to grow 7 percent between 2022 and 2032.

Pursue a Career in Community Advocacy 

Flourishing communities don’t emerge by accident — they come about through a concentrated effort among citizens and can be supported by experienced social workers. Community social work can be a rewarding option for anyone who longs to advocate for change on a large scale.

To prepare for long-term success in the field, consider pursuing an advanced degree through the Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) Program online format from Virginia Commonwealth University. The program is designed to provide a well rounded set of skills that can translate into a career of maximum impact, whether in a neighborhood, school system or other community setting. 

Discover more about advanced social work training today.

Reviewed by Kathleen M. Korndoerfer, M.A., LPC.*

*Kathleen Korndoerfer, M.A., is a licensed professional counselor with over 10 years of experience in the fields of mental health and social work. Kathleen currently practices in Colorado and specializes in the treatment of PTSD & trauma-related disorders and child and adolescent counseling.

Kathleen Korndoerfer, Licensed Professional Counselor, Montrose, CO, 81401 | Psychology Today