Top support worker skills

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 10 November 2022

Published 25 June 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you enjoy social interaction and also derive satisfaction from uplifting and helping others, working as a support worker may be a good option. Apart from the fact that the job is hugely rewarding, a career as a support worker also comes with other perks. For instance, the occupation has relatively low access barriers and typically involves lots of variation in daily activities. In this article, we list the most important support worker skills and qualities to help you gauge whether you're suitable for this occupation.

What does a support worker do?

Support workers need a wide range of skills since they work with people who come from different backgrounds and suffer from various conditions. These include physical disabilities, autism, learning disabilities and mental health issues. They typically also work in a variety of settings, including at care homes, in the community and at people's residences. To help you understand what a support worker does, here's a list of some of their typical daily responsibilities:

  • Helping clients live more fulfilled and independent lives by showing them how to take care of themselves and supporting them in everyday tasks

  • Assessing the needs of clients and developing individualised care plans

  • Monitoring the progress of clients and amending care plans as needed

  • Involving clients' families to provide clients with holistic and effective support

  • Liaising with other professionals, such as social workers or psychiatrists, to ensure that clients receive comprehensive treatment

  • Maintaining and updating case reports and client records

  • Encouraging the development and well-being of clients by helping them pursue hobbies and participate in healthy activities

Related: How much does a support worker make?

Top support worker skills

To successfully execute their daily tasks, support workers need the following core skills:

Communication skills

Since the job of support workers involves constant interaction with their clients, they need to be effective communicators. Apart from the ability to share information in a clear and easily understandable way, support workers must also actively listen to their clients. Active listening involves paying attention to what a speaker says and carefully considering their views before responding.

Since some clients may be experiencing challenges when it comes to expressing themselves or speaking clearly, support workers should also consider non-verbal cues such as body language and tone of voice. Such cues can provide valuable information regarding how a client is feeling and the underlying messages they may be trying to bring across. In addition, it's important that support workers remain aware of their own body language and tone of voice. They should aim to come across as friendly and non-threatening so that clients can feel safe and relaxed in their company.

Interpersonal skills

Apart from effective communication skills, support workers also need superior interpersonal skills. The level of success that support workers are able to achieve in their work is largely dependent on their ability to nurture trusting relationships with their clients. Support workers need to effortlessly interact with a diverse range of people, who may vary in age group and come from different backgrounds and cultures. They need to build rapport with their clients and should put them at ease by speaking about topics that fall within their range of experience and knowledge.

Besides seeing to the physical and immediate daily needs of their clients, it's also the responsibility of support workers to pay attention to their emotional needs. People who are facing mental and physical challenges can be lonely and may not have many opportunities for social interaction. By engaging them in conversation, showing an active interest in their lives and thoughts and accompanying them on outings, a support worker can provide a client with much-needed companionship.

Compassion and empathy

To provide clients with the necessary care and support, support workers should be compassionate and empathetic. Since clients often face difficult challenges and hardships in their everyday lives, they may at times become frustrated or irritable. It's vital that a support worker has the ability to imagine what a client is experiencing and what it must feel like to be in their position.

By not merely reacting to a client's actions but rather considering their perspectives, emotions and experiences, a support worker can act with sensitivity and understanding. Since clients may at times feel that they're misunderstood or unfairly judged by others, a compassionate approach from a support worker can help them break through emotional barriers and assist them in developing confidence and trust.

Flexibility and adaptability

Support workers work with a diverse clientele, who all have their own unique needs and quirks. To conduct their daily duties effectively, support workers must employ a flexible approach. Since they typically see multiple clients in a day, they need the ability to easily adapt their approach according to the individual needs of clients. Also, although it's necessary to stick to a care plan, support workers should be flexible enough to adapt activities according to a client's mood and immediate needs.

Clients may require the services of a support worker on evenings or weekends, or may request that they stay overnight, so support workers also need to be flexible as far as their work schedule is concerned. In addition, a support worker's clientele may be spread across wide geographical areas, so they must be willing to travel.

Organisational skills

There are many aspects to the job of a support worker. Firstly, supporting clients with their everyday needs typically involves multiple and diverse tasks. These may include helping clients with their strengthening exercises, administering medications, running errands, doing health checks or preparing healthy meals. Since the omission of a task can have serious consequences for a vulnerable client, support workers must work methodically and systematically.

Besides providing their clients with effective and comprehensive care, support workers have to also pay attention to various administrative tasks. They need to regularly update, maintain and complete various documents, including logbooks, case studies, assessments and reports. Completing the relevant documentation accurately and with the necessary detail is important, since other professionals, coworkers or management may need access to this information.

Problem-solving skills

Support workers aim to improve the quality of their clients' lives by helping them become more self-sufficient and independent. They can make a positive difference by providing a fresh and objective perspective and coming up with innovative solutions to the challenges their clients face on a daily basis. Whether they reorganise a client's kitchen to make appliances more accessible or provide nutritious and easy-to-cook recipes, solving the everyday problems of clients in creative ways can provide much-needed relief.

In addition, support workers must also have the ability to make quick decisions and find effective solutions when unexpected events occur or a client needs medical attention. In such situations, it's imperative that support workers remain calm and implement the necessary action to ensure the best possible outcome for their clients.

First-aid skills

Although support workers don't supply professional medical services, the fact that they work with clients with various mental and physical disabilities means that they must be able to provide basic first-aid and life support. People who suffer from mental health problems, are physically disabled or are frail may be more prone to accidents or issues with their health.

For this reason, it's vital that support workers are prepared when an emergency situation arises and have the knowledge to provide the necessary first-aid services until medical service providers arrive. Examples of situations in which a support worker needs to supply first aid or life support include when a client stops breathing, has a seizure or experiences a bad fall.

Emotional maturity

To succeed in their job, support workers need emotional intelligence and maturity. Since their clients depend on them for support with tasks they can't do on their own, it's important that support workers are reliable and responsible. This includes being on time for shifts, executing all necessary duties with care and precision and providing compassionate and kind support. Since support workers often work in isolation, they must be willing to take full responsibility for the health and well-being of their clients during their shifts.

Since they work with people who are facing various challenges in their lives, the job can be emotionally draining at times. It takes an emotionally intelligent and mature person to remain positive and resilient, even when things go wrong or clients are dealing with especially difficult circumstances. Although a sunny disposition and a positive nature are beneficial in this career, support workers can apply various coping mechanisms and can develop their emotional intelligence in multiple ways, such as by attending courses or reading relevant material.

The ability to work both individually and in a team

Although support workers often work alone when they're providing daily support for their clients, the job also requires collaboration with other professionals. People who face mental or physical challenges often need support and assistance from multiple professionals who specialise in different fields. Such professionals may include psychiatrists, physical therapists, social workers, nurses and medical specialists. To ensure that clients receive holistic treatment, a support worker has to be able to effectively collaborate and communicate with other professionals in a multi-disciplinary team.


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