Macro Practice: Social Work Administrators, Researchers, and Policy Makers

All social workers work with people, but not all are clinicians or case managers. Macro is a term used to describe social workers who are concerned with large units of people. Some macro social workers administer social service programs or manage institutions. They might, for example, have a directorial position with the United Way or a governmental agency. A person in a directorial position at a health agency might have the task of identifying unmet needs in the community. Some social workers work for change on a national or even international level.

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Other social workers become researchers. The possibilities here are endless. The Atlantic describes how a PhD social work professor used research to question the possible overdiagnosis of anxiety disorders in mothers living in poverty – women who had very real reasons to display anxiety. This type of research is not all academic. People wonder: These women need help of some sort, but are they being led to the help that they really need?

Social workers are tackling many issues where human behavior must be placed into its larger context. The National Association of Social Workers puts out a quarterly publication called Social Work Research. Among the issues that have recently been examined: how particulars of re-entry programs for former prisoners affect recidivism and how knowledge of traumatizing experiences (for example, sexual abuse) affects probation officer’s behavior toward youth offenders. There are multiple articles that touch on another serious issue: how people with deep poverty are less likely to use resources than people who are merely experiencing a shortage of resources.

Education for Social Work Administrators, Researchers,and Policy Makers

One can get a start in macro social work at the BSW level. Scope of practice varies by state but typically includes program administration and community organization. Theoretically, a BSW can progress to high levels of management, but NASW reports that a graduate degree is often desired for administrative work.

Advanced macro work typically requires a graduate degree. Once a person moves beyond the first year of a master’s program, education can become very specialized. There can be opportunities to earn certificates as part of the MSW program. These will vary by school, but may include things like nonprofit management. It is also an option to focus on research at this level.

Fordham University's top-ranked School of Social Work offers an online MSW program that prepares students for relevant, integrated practice with all populations. GRE scores not required.

Capella University is now offering an online Master of Social Work that is in CSWE candidacy status. The MSW program helps prepare students to enter the general or clinical practice role (in most states). Capella also offers an online Doctor of Social Work.

Social workers who are interested in administration or research, though, sometimes take their education all the way to the doctoral level.

Continuing education is another way to deepen one’s skills in administration and research. And social workers who publish in peer-reviewed journals can sometimes apply these activities toward their continuing education requirement.

Licensing and Certification

Nonclinical social workers are eligible for licensure in most states. Sometimes the process – and the title awarded – is slightly different than it is for clinical social workers. Nonclinical advanced practitioners typically take the advanced generalist exam, given by the Association of Social Work Boards. In many states, advanced macro social workers also complete a period of supervised work experience.

Some states have a scope of practice that specifies what social workers with different education and credentialing can do – even noting which social workers are qualified to engage in research! Other states are concerned primarily with regulating those who engage in clinical work (particularly those who use therapies to assist the mentally ill).

Social workers sometimes join professional organizations and/or pursue voluntary certifications in specialty areas. NASW is dedicated to meeting the needs of all social workers. The Network for Social Management is a smaller, newer organization for social work managers. They may pursue Certified Social Work Manager credentialing. This is available to social work managers from the BSW level on. It requires five years’ experience in management. Candidates must demonstrate that they have mastered the core competencies.