Challenges energize us to do our best work

Kathryn Conley WehrmannFrom the President

As I write this first column as the incoming president of NASW, I am reflecting on those social workers and social work educators I have admired and regarded as role models and sources of inspiration.

I feel privileged and honored to serve as a volunteer leader of the organization that exists to communicate the importance of our profession and advocate for policies and practices dedicated to realizing the potential of individuals, families, organizations and communities.

I am also grateful to three past presidents whose support, advice and counsel during my time as a national board member have been invaluable. I extend a heartfelt thanks to Darrell Wheeler, Jeane Anastas and Gary Bailey for the fine examples they set as leaders of our professional organization.

In my platform statement for president, I outlined five major goals:

  1. Support NASW in its efforts to provide excellent service to its members.
  2. Make sure social work is “at the table” when it comes to developing and advocating for social policy.
  3. Promote our profession’s knowledge and skill in addressing problems that confront our society.
  4. Manage our organizational resources to the best advantage of our members.
  5. Ensure our student colleagues have a special voice in creating NASW’s vibrant path to the future.

As our organization finishes its first year of the modernization initiative, we are looking forward to a bright future. We are realizing successes as we achieve major milestones in our modernization plan, despite the growing pains that change brings with it.

Day by day, NASW grows stronger as efforts to reach out to members increase and the pursuit of excellent member service and an overall strengthened organization continues. I cannot wait to see the new products and services that will become available to our members.

We have seen a major shift in our political landscape under the Trump presidency, which has added urgency to our role in advocacy.

NASW prepared a comprehensive response to a change in administration that articulates our positions on social issues. As is so clearly laid out in “Advancing the American Agenda: How the

Social Work Professional Will Help” (, our organization will respond to proposed legislation in a manner that aligns with our Code of Ethics and with our policy statements in “Social Work Speaks.”

We will use our ability to advocate for the communities, groups and clients we serve in a political environment that seems not to fully understand the value of guaranteeing that all of America’s people have a right to education, health care and employment opportunities in order to be full participants in our country’s prosperity.

It has been in times like these — when we have had significant inequality and increasing numbers of people becoming more vulnerable due to loss of health care and financial resources — that social workers have emerged as leaders.

I am committed to continuing to address goals set by my predecessor. Darrell Wheeler emphasized the need to increase the visibility and validation of social work practices, align NASW with the needs of its members, create products of value and significance to them, and maintain fiscal responsibility over the association’s investments and expenditures.

Wheeler’s areas of focus will be ongoing for me over the course of the next three years as they are crucial to the challenges that lie before us. Success in each of these areas will place us front and center in being social healers and innovators in our society.

I also have questions I will seek answers to during my time as president. I want to know what we need to do to help our up-and-coming young professionals in training.

How can we extend mentorship and support in helping them develop their social work careers in a rapidly shifting environment? How can NASW help them envision their professional futures?

Part of this effort involves helping them find their way into our organization so they can obtain what they need to grow professionally.

Few would disagree that the last presidential election threw into sharp focus the deep political divides in our country. Many of us experienced political schisms within our own families and have had to cope with maintaining relationships and finding ways to communicate constructively about the differences.

We can be leaders in the effort to listen and learn across differences. Our organization is, and can continue to be, a major influence in this arena. We have a role to play in facilitating those conversations within our families, within our communities, and with our legislators and colleagues.

NASW and its 55 chapters are committed to expanding our professional might. The association produces an incredible amount of professional support, opportunity and advocacy to members.

As a unified organization, we have the opportunity to learn from each other and develop even more effective approaches to serve our members and our profession.

I look forward to an exciting and productive presidency that begins with presiding over Delegate Assembly on Aug. 4.

It will be my honor to work with delegates from across the U.S. as we vote on the priority program goals and social policies that will guide our organization.

We have hard work ahead. But when social workers are most challenged, we are energized to do our best work.

Along with all the members of the national board that I serve with, we promise to be good stewards of your membership dollars and trust.

Contact Kathryn Wehrmann at