Macro social work – programs and careers

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Introduction to macro social work

Social workers are problem solvers who help people find solutions to life challenges. The field of social work is broad, making it useful to divide into 3 levels of social work interventions: micro, mezzo, and macro. Micro social workers provide one-on-one services to clients, which may include clinical services such as psychotherapy. Mezzo social workers work with groups of people, including communities or organizations. Macro social workers take the widest lens by focusing on institutional and systemic social problems.

What does a macro social worker do?

Macro social workers think about big picture issues. They may work at government agencies, think tanks, advocacy groups, or non-profit organizations. Some roles for a macro social worker include research, community education, advocacy, policy analysis, administration, and organizational development. Macro social workers are found working on most of our society’s most pressing issues such as healthcare access, homelessness, suicide, mental health crises, substance abuse, and racism or structural inequalities. While macro social workers do not provide direct individual services, they have the potential to impact hundreds or thousands of people due to the large scope of their work.

Becoming a macro social worker does not mean that you will be pigeon-holed into one type of work.


Becoming a macro social worker does not mean that you will be pigeon-holed into one type of work. Indeed, macro social workers often work in a mezzo or micro capacity during their careers. For example, a macro social worker doing research on opioid overdose prevention might implement a community-based needle exchange program (mezzo). Macro social workers learn a broad set of skills during their training that prepare them to work in several capacities.

Skills and traits needed to succeed in macro social work

The nature of social work means that the field draws people with a deep compassion for social inequities and injustices. Unlike micro or mezzo social workers, macro social workers do not necessarily work directly with people. To succeed in their work, they draw upon the following skills and traits:

Macro social workers often start up and carry out projects from beginning to end. This requires independence and the ability to stick to a project that may take months or years to come to fruition.

Macro social workers frequently draw upon their critical thinking skills to tackle some of life’s toughest problems. In this type of social work, you will need creativity to brainstorm solutions and apply them to a problem.

Some people think that because macro social workers do not provide direct clinical services, they do not need the same social abilities as micro social workers. This could not be farther from the truth. Although macro social workers do not perform therapy, they draw upon their social skills to work collaboratively with coworkers, research participants, and members of the communities they serve.

A good social worker is adaptable. Rather than becoming fixed on a single way of thinking, social workers need to be able to change plans when something goes awry.

Macro social workers often work in teams of people. They may have supervisory or leadership roles on a team. Knowing how to motivate and lead others is a critical skill.

All social workers need a high degree of personal integrity as they serve some of society’s most vulnerable groups. It is essential that social workers are honest, dependable, and maintain the highest ethical standards.

What education is needed to do macro social work?

Bachelor’s of social work (BSW)

Typically, social workers need at least a bachelor’s degree. There are 2 main types of degree programs: bachelor’s of social work (BSW) and bachelor of arts in social work (BASW). Both programs focus on theories of social work, including methods of addressing societal problems. Some bachelor’s degree programs include internships or other applied experiences to gain practical skills.

Bachelor’s degree programs typically prepare their graduates for entry level positions. Often, these types of positions involve working with other social workers with master’s degrees or doctoral degrees. Rather than designing your own programs and interventions, you may focus on implementing other people’s work. For example, a bachelor’s degree social work position might involve working at a state prison to involve inmates in a new educational program.


Master’s of social work (MSW)

master’s degree of social work (MSW) is a common choice for macro social workers. This type of degree provides advanced education in theory, methods, and implementation of social service initiatives. Before committing to an MSW program, ask questions to determine whether it focuses on macro social work. Clinical social work programs often prepare people to become micro or mezzo social workers and may not be appropriate for those seeking to become a macro social worker.

A master’s degree in social work prepares you to work independently to develop and implement programs or policies. For example, a master’s level social worker may be a community organizer, policy analyst, or program development officer for a nonprofit.


Doctorate of social work (DSW)

Social workers who decide to earn a doctoral degree, often base this decision on wanting to advance their careers within the macro sphere. There are 2 types of doctoral degrees: a doctorate of social work (DSW) and a Ph.D. The DSW degree is typically a practice-oriented degree, meaning you may learn advanced clinical skills. Macro social workers may be more likely to earn a Ph.D., which is more research oriented. A Ph.D. in social work will focus heavily on methodology, theory, and research.

A doctorate degree prepares you to work in higher positions within an organization than a bachelor’s or master’s degree. This may correspond to greater responsibilities or leadership roles. For example, someone with a doctoral degree may work for a state government to change legislation related to physician-assisted suicide.

Do you need a license or certification to become a macro social worker?

Most macro social workers do not provide clinical services such as psychotherapy. Thus, they do not need a license to practice. Aside from successful completion of a degree program, there is no standard licensure or certification process for macro social workers.

People who are predominantly micro or mezzo social workers may do some macro social work.


However, some social workers prefer not to limit themselves to solely macro-level work. People who are predominantly micro or mezzo social workers may do some macro social work. Similarly, macro social workers may maintain a small private practice on the side or perform other clinical services. The versatility of the social work degree is part of what makes it so attractive.

For macro social workers who do intend to work directly with clients, there are 4 main types of licenses:

  • Licensed bachelor social worker (LBSW)

To obtain this licensure, first complete a bachelor’s degree in social work, followed by 2 years of supervised experience, and then pass the ASWB bachelor’s exam.

  • Licensed master social worker (LMSW)

This license requires the completion of an accredited MSW program and passing the LMSW exam.

  • Advanced generalist

An advanced generalist license is similar to an LMSW license except that it requires 2 years of relevant experience supervised by a master’s or doctoral-level social worker. You also need to pass the ASWB advanced generalist exam.

  • Licensed clinical social worker (LCSW)

This license requires the completion of a master’s degree in clinical social work. After 2 years of postgraduate supervised clinical service and passing the ASWB clinical exam, you are eligible to become an LCSW.

Typical careers in macro social work

Macro social workers work to solve society’s most challenging programs. The level of autonomy and responsibility differs depending on the type of degree you earn. For example, someone with a bachelor’s degree might help with day-to-day operations of a community-based activity program. A person with an MSW may develop different programs, such as creating a new relapse prevention program in consultation with administrators, current substance users, and the state department of health. Finally, someone with a doctorate degree might teach at the university level or advocate for public policies at a think tank or within state government.

Following are some common careers for macro social workers:

Social and community service manager

Social and community service managers work for nonprofit organizations or local governments. When they succeed in their role, they can typically demonstrate the positive impact of their programs or services on their targeted demographic. Examples of programs could include an after school nutrition program for at-risk youth or mental health services for homeless individuals.

Total employment


Projected growth (2018-2028)


Degree required


  • Evaluate whether program resources are being used effectively, including quality of staff and volunteer work
  • Develop organizational policies regarding program requirements, benefits, and eligibility
  • Maintain detailed records and reports of program activities, including budgets, employee or personnel records, training manuals, and procedural guides
  • Supervise activities of staff members and program volunteers.
  • Step in to resolve disputes or help individual program members, such as creating a protocol for handling referrals or complaints
  • Maintain professional relationships with other organizations to ensure that services are not duplicated, and a high level of service is being provided to community members.
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Most community and social service managers have at least a bachelor’s degree in social work. Some may hold a master’s degree. This job does not usually require a specific license or certification.

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Healthcare social workers

Healthcare social workers can work in various healthcare facilities.  They may also opt to become an health education specialist – who work to promote healthy behaviors. This typically involves implementing community-based programs that target major public health concerns. A number of types of employers hire health education specialists, including hospitals, clinics, local governments, and nonprofit organizations. Health education specialists often need to hold certification being either a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES), or a Master’s Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) for graduate degree holders.

Total employment


Projected growth (2018-2028)


Degree required

Associate or bachelor’s

  • Prepare health education materials including reports, visual aids, or promotional guides to address pressing public health problems (e.g., smoking cessation, cancer screening, vaccination awareness)
  • Maintain databases to facilitate health education programs
  • Maintain strong professional relationships with key community stakeholders
  • Document activities to demonstrate progress toward a goal, e.g., number of people assisted or attendance at health education fairs
  • Develop and implement health education programs such as conferences, training workshops, or community presentations
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Many health education specialists hold entry level positions. This makes this a strong career option for individuals with an associate degree or bachelor’s degree. People who hold a master’s degree in social work may work in the health education sphere with a greater level of responsibility for program development, policy analysis, or leadership.

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Post-secondary social work teacher

Some macro social workers decide to pass on their knowledge to the next generation of students entering the profession. Working as a post-secondary social work teacher (e.g., college professor or instructor) is a rewarding way to engage students and advance the field of social work.

Total employment


Projected growth (2018-2028)


Degree required

DSW or Ph.D.

  • Prepare course materials, including assignments and exams
  • Prepare lectures for undergraduate and graduate students on key issues in social work theory or practice
  • Conduct research in an area of expertise, including publishing findings in peer-reviewed journals
  • Evaluate student coursework
  • Stay up-to-date with the literature within your field by reading published materials or attending conferences.
  • Network with other colleagues in your area to initiate collaborative research or partnerships
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Post-secondary social work teachers must hold at least a master’s degree in social work. Many have a DSW or Ph.D. There is typically no required licensure or certification for this type of work.

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  • Social work researcher

    Median salary: $64K

    Social work researchers investigate problems with relevance to social workers. This could be best practices in solving an important societal issue such as reducing childhood poverty or improving community mental health.

    Specific tasks and duties

    • Design high-quality research studies investigating topics of interest to social workers
    • Conduct studies with rigorous methodology
    • Analyze data and prepare results for publication in peer-reviewed journals or to present at professional conferences
    • Abide by ethical standards for human subject’s research, including maintaining participant privacy confidentiality
    • Maintain detailed research records, including participant files and survey results

    How to become a social work researcher

    Social work researchers most often have a Ph.D. degree. This is a research-oriented degree that prepares a macro social worker to conduct rigorous high quality research. There is no extra licensure or certification needed to become a social work researcher.

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Social workers take a solutions-focused approach to society’s problems. They work to empower members of communities to improve their quality of life. Macro social workers operate at the most zoomed out level of social work. They work on systemic or institutional issues that affect large groups of people.

Unlike micro social workers, who provide direct one-on-one services to clients, macro social workers often work on broader policies or concepts.


Unlike micro social workers, who provide direct one-on-one services to clients, macro social workers often work on broader policies or concepts. However, the nature of their work means that they have the potential to make a large impact on the people they serve.

The takeaway message here is that the versatility of social work as a profession makes it possible for you to move between macro, mezzo, and micro social work at different stages of your career which allows for greater choice in the work you decide to do.

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