Profession Offers Many Opportunities to Exercise Leadership

By Kathryn Conley Wehrmann, PhD, LCSW

Kathryn Conley Wehrmann, PhD, LCSW

I thought I would join the discussion on leadership that Alison Laurio began in the Dec-Jan issue of Social Work Advocates. Ms. Laurio's article featured exemplary social work leaders and resources we can turn to in order to develop and enrich our leadership skills.

There are also several best-selling books that deal with leadership through different lenses. In one book, leadership is examined through examples from history (Jon Meacham), another looks at how a person's leadership ability formed over the course of a life (Michelle Obama), or a career (Wendy Sherman), and in yet another case, through the research and personal experience of a social work academic (Brene Brown).

I am very appreciative of authors who deal with leadership as a developmental process and take into account life experiences and efforts to be better at leadership. I am also invested in our need to reflect on what we as social workers naturally bring to leadership roles of various kinds and what we can do to realize our leadership potential.

Our profession offers so many opportunities to exercise leadership both formally and informally. And NASW offers resources that support the leadership potential of its members. I invite you to think about what you are doing to realize the full benefit of your NASW membership to nurture your leadership gifts and potential. For example, have you visited the MyNASW Online Member Community to read and contribute to the national discussions taking place there? It is an invaluable resource where professional contacts can be made and consultation offered.

Have you taken an opportunity to check out our Research Library? You can use the Library to find resources that support evidence-informed social work practice. Your NASW membership gives you unlimited access to more than 25 international databases with thousands of documents from leading research institutions, think tanks and advocacy groups. These databases include ERIC, SocINDEX and PubMed. You will also find relevant resources from government agencies such as NIH, HHS and DOJ. So often, once we graduate with our social work degrees, we lose access to many of these resources. The NASW Research Library allows members to stay up to date with the evidence base underlying our practice.

Do you have young social workers in your life as students or new professionals you might be able to mentor and involve in NASW membership and activities? Now is the time to help them become part of a powerful and professionally supportive organization that will only get stronger in its influence as NASW attracts new members who will lead us forward. In case you did not know, social work students are able to join NASW at greatly reduced rates before gradually moving into full dues status. Visit for more information on student membership.

Are you a faculty member or a field supervisor who is both teacher and a role model for our up-and-coming social work professionals? You are in a key position to acquaint them with other vital tools for practice that NASW offers. I am thinking of Social Work Speaks — an amazing text for policy students and for others who are interested in the macro side of social work practice. It represents the work of many social workers across the country who serve as delegates along with other NASW members who are subject matter experts. Together they work to review, develop and update our policies. Once this process is complete, the policies are made available online for public comment by NASW members. Delegate Assembly is the last stop for approval of the policies under review. Overall, this is an inclusive process that we should be proud of because it represents a tremendous act of collective member leadership and provides social workers with a resource that reflects the very best thinking in our field. And, in addition to "Social Work Speaks," members can tap into the NASW Legal Defense Fund for information and resources about legal issues and legal briefs.

Maybe you are a new social worker who has become a member and are still learning about NASW and its benefits nurture your leadership potential by visiting the NASW website to explore firsthand all that is available to you. It will be well worth your effort! 

A second important step in developing leadership skill is to check to see how you can be involved with your state chapter — leadership opportunities are waiting. You will find that our NASW chapters offer many chances to further develop and hone your leadership skills through service as a board member, helping create professional development programs, or submitting a proposal for a presentation at a chapter conference. Your state chapter is also a great source of information about legislative advocacy efforts under way in your state. You can be a leader in this arena because of your perspective as a social worker on issues that affect individuals and communities. 

Lately, I have seen this quote on various social media sites: Leadership is not about being the best. Leadership is about making everyone else better. I think this really speaks to the heart of what leadership in social work is and what we can do. 

Contact Kathryn Wehrmann at