‘How I overcame imposter syndrome as a social worker and manager’

Are you passing up opportunities because you doubt your skills or lack confidence? Yewande, a senior manager and practice supervisor, explains more.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio/ Pexels

As a newly qualified social worker, Yewande doubted whether she was good enough to be a practitioner with immense responsibility and accountability for others. As a manager, that feeling resurfaced, and she doubted whether she was prepared or qualified to become a leader. She explains how you can overcome imposter syndrome.

What is imposter syndrome in social work?

Imposter syndrome is when ‘an individual experiences unwarranted feelings of inadequacy in relation to their own abilities. Often linked to self-efficacy, individuals who experience [imposter syndrome] doubt their own skills and attribute their successes to luck as opposed to themselves’ *(Urwin, 2017).

This might cause you to pass up opportunities that you felt underqualified for.

Your manager might have selected you personally to attend some training in supervision, but you declined because of a lack of confidence or a belief that you were not skilled enough.

I am sure most of us can recall an experience when we have declined opportunities because we felt that, perhaps, someone else was more equipped to take them up.

Self-doubt and questioning

Sometimes, we view the opinions of others as fact. I remember in my initial role as a newly qualified social worker, someone questioned why I had turned up to complete an assessment because, in their view, I did not look ‘experienced enough’.

As someone who was, in fact, a young social worker, this immediately threw me into the mode of self-doubt and overthinking. And it did not seem to matter that I had passed both placements, got my social work degree and received really good feedback about my work with children and families.

In this scenario, I found that debriefing with a manager or a more experienced member of staff helped me talk through some of the things I was questioning.

Another thing that helped was going to visits jointly with someone more experienced and just having them observe me for any feedback.

Time was one of my biggest resolves when it came to these feelings of self-doubt. In hindsight, I probably expected too much of myself so early on, and I needed to accept that I would grow and develop as I progressed in my social work career.

“Do I actually belong here? Am I qualified enough? I’m not experienced enough to be a social worker.”

I started comparing myself to others and feeling that I needed to work ten times harder to prove my worth. I could not keep up and it started to chip away at my physical and mental wellbeing, when, in reality, the work I was already doing was more than enough.

Personal and professional character

The impact imposter syndrome has on how your personal character aligns with your professional is something I do not feel is spoken about enough.

We can’t keep our professional social work hats on all the time. Sometimes it is those feelings of self-doubt that we carry in our personal relationships and life that create the illusion that we are equally not capable as a professional. What do I mean by this?

Well, when I think back to how I was when I was growing up, I was never the confident or outspoken child in a group. I was very reserved and kept to myself.

And so, coming into a role like social work, where your voice becomes the most valued or heard in a room, was daunting. The thought of respectfully challenging or being in spaces of confrontation or conflict scared me. I’ve heard also this from other practitioners often during my career as a social worker and manager.

Some ways that I used to address this in my personal life was to acknowledge it and understand how this personality trait could prove challenging in my work life.

While I can still be shy and reserved, I have learned how to control how this manifests day to day. I reflect on my behaviours, push my limits to try new things, surround myself with new and like-minded people and also accept that uniqueness about me.

Steps to tackle imposter syndrome

  1. Recognise, process and move on – acknowledge that what you are feeling is imposter syndrome and that these are real and natural feelings to have at varying times in your social work career. It’s all part of your growth and development.
  2. Face your personal challenges – a ‘SWOT’ (strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats) analysis of your personal life is just as valuable as one for your professional life. Recognise those threats that might be holding you back and find methods to deal with them appropriately.
  3. Celebrate your successes – people are not always great at looking at all the good things there are about themselves. Take some time to jot down all your accomplishments and the things that you have done that have brought you to where you are today. Remember to celebrate the small wins!
  4. Seek support and guidance from people who matter – are you being supported to grow and see your full potential? In a challenging profession such as social work, you need support from others. It is important that you look around you and check who is in your space to reflect, discuss and offer assurances that those feelings of imposter syndrome are nothing more than hindrances to something bigger and better. Your manager or employer should be linking you in with a buddy or matching you with experienced staff who can coach you through those issues.
  5. Mistakes might be made – as social workers, we can take on the weight of the world. Making mistakes can make a significant difference to someone’s life, but we are human, and mistakes can happen. However, making a mistake should not automatically call into question your skills and abilities. Nor should it stop you from taking positive risks. It has been important for me to surround myself with people who have a growth mindset – a belief that you can develop your skills and talents – and not a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset, by seeing your abilities as fixed, can leave you stuck in your ways. A growth mindset gives you an open mind to learn from your mistakes.

pexels/andrea piacquadio

Remember this…

During a time where there is a national shortage of social workers, and with employers struggling to recruit, the skills and experience that you bring are especially valuable.

There may be times when you question how and why you are where you are. But you should focus on cultivating the belief that you are deserving of your position.

*Urwin, J (2017) ‘Imposter Phenomena and Experience Levels in Social Work: An Initial Investigation’, British Journal of Social Work, 48(5)

Yewande is a manager and practice supervisor. She provides her experiences, thoughts and advice on topics relating to social work on her YouTube channel and Instagram pages @YBSW and @YBSWN

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One Response to ‘How I overcame imposter syndrome as a social worker and manager’

  1. Christina D June 21, 2023 at 1:41 am #

    An interesting feature.

    It was only yesterday I was having this conversation with an ASYE. (I will share this information with her).

    I have been qualified for nearly 20 years and still have self doubt.

    We should all remember that ‘Every day is a school day’ and we can always learn and improve ourselves as human beings.

    Very well done to you Yewande. I will have a look at your You Tube Channel.