ILWS - Charles Sturt University
ILWS - Charles Sturt University

Virtuous Practitioners: Empowering Social Workers, (2014-2019)


ARC Discovery grant, $220,130


Professor  Manohar Pawar, Professor Richard Hugman, (UNSW), Mr. Andrew Alexandra  (CSU) & Associate Professor  A. W. (Bill)  Anscombe. (CSU)


The project aims to analyse and develop core virtues of social workers to strengthen the social fabric of individuals, families and communities. The increasing demand for sound judgement and appropriate decision making, often in the unpredictable and uncertain contexts, necessitates a focus on virtue-led social workers' action. The interdisciplinary and mixed method analysis will demonstrate the largely neglected role of virtues and/or character dispositions in facilitating improved social services and in building stronger communities. The research will have both theoretical and practical implications for virtue-led social work practice that will result in communities living healthy, productive and fulfilling lives.

The project will explore social workers' virtues and virtues-based social work practice. The three main objectives are:

  • to identify and analyse core virtues of professional social workers;
  • to explore whether and how social workers develop and apply virtues in their practice; and
  • to develop approaches to cultivating core virtues in their (professional) socialisation so as to ensure better outcomes from the profession for its clients and communities.

The research questions are:

  • What are the core virtues which need to be used in social work practice?
  • Do social workers use the virtues in their practice?
  • How do social workers develop and demonstrate their virtues in practice?
  • What roles do virtues and character play in social workers' practice outcomes?
  • Will the conscious development and use of virtues and character result in sound judgements, appropriate decisions and better social work practice outcomes?
  • How should social workers go about improving their virtues and overcoming virtue flaws/deficiencies?
  • Why does the social work profession not draw more on virtue ethics?

By employing a combination of both qualitative and quantitative research methods, the research is being conducted in three phases. Phase I: Biographic data collection and analysis and a workshop with a view to develop ten biographies of social workers and identify virtues in their practice; Phase II: Data collection from social workers, social work supervisors and social work ethics educators to explore whether and how social workers develop and apply virtues in their practice; and Phase III: Data analysis, report writing publication and dissemination.

Photo taken at ARC Workshop held at CSU Wagga Wagga


A first phase of the ARC discovery project culminated into a two days workshop (10-11 December 2014)  held at Wagga Wagga campus, bringing together eminent social work and philosophy academics from nine Australian universities. Participants critically discussed virtues in ten biographies of Australian social workers and provided rich data for further analysis and interpretation. The workshop was led by CIs, Prof. Manohar Pawar (CSU), Prof. Richard Hugman (UNSW); Mr. Andrew Alexandra  (Melbourne Uni) and A/Prof. Bill Anscombe (CSU), who are finalising biographies to be published as an edited book. The successful completion of the first phase of the project led to the second phase of the project in which data was collected from social work practitioners.

Virtue ethics in social work practiceHugman, R., Pawar, M., Alexandra, A., Anscombe, A.W. (Bill) & Wheeler, A. (2020) Virtue ethics in social work practice. London. Routledge. pdf

Pawar, M., Hugman, R., Alexandra, A. &  Anscombe, A. W. (2020) A search for virtue ethics: Social work ethics curriculum and educators’ survey. ILWS report 128 Monograph. Charles Sturt University: Wagga Wagga. pdf

Pawar, M., Hugman, R., Anscombe, A.W.  &  Alexandra, A. (2019) Searching for Virtue Ethics: A survey of social work ethics curriculum and educators. The British Journal of Social Work. doi: 10.1093/bjsw/bcz106

Pawar, M., Hugman, R., Alexandra, A. & Anscombe, A.W. (2018) Virtue-led social work practice. In Pawar, M., Bowles, W. and Bell, K. (2018) Social Work: Innovations and insights (Ed.). Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing.

Pawar, M., Hugman, R., Alexandra, A., Anscombe, A.W.B. (Eds) (2017) Empowering Social workers.  Virtuous practitioners. Springer

The details of the research project have been presented at the following 12 national and international platforms.

  • Virtuous practitioners: Empowering social workers: the proposal was presented at the Australian Council of the Heads of Schools of Social Work meeting, 6-7 February 2014, Western Sydney University, to engage with the Council and seek feedback.
  • Virtuous practitioners: Empowering social workers. Grant writing experience was presented at the social work and human services research seminar for staff members, seminar room, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, 11 March 2014, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga.
  • Virtuous practitioners: Empowering social workers. The research design was presented at the Humanities and Social Sciences - Higher Research Degree Seminar, Friday 29th - Saturday 30 August 2014, Charles Sturt University Wagga Wagga.
  • Virtuous practitioners: Empowering social workers. Introduction to the project at the ARC workshop, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, 10-11, December 2014.
  • What makes a social development worker? A plenary speech delivered at the 19th International Consortium for Social Development international symposium on Transforming Society: Trends and models in community leadership and social development (7-10 July 2015, Singapore). Drawing on their ARC Discovery project, 'Virtuous Practitioners and Empowering Social Workers', initial findings that focused on core virtues/qualities needed for social work and social development practice were presented.
  • Virtue-led social work practice, joint presentation by Pawar, M., Hugman, R., Alexandra, A. and Anscombe, B., Charles Sturt University’s colloquium, ‘Social Work Education and Practice : insights and innovations’, celebrating 25 years of Social Work education delivered by Charles Sturt, held on Wagga Wagga Campus, 2 – 3 November 2016.
  • Use of qualities in social work practice. A special lecture delivered for social work students at the Department of Social Work, Rajagiri College of Social Sciences (Autonomous), Kalamassery, Kochi, India, 13 November 2017.
  • Searching for virtue ethics: A survey of social work ethics curriculum and educators, Based on ARC Discovery project, this paper was presented at the Joint World Conference on Social Work, Education and Social Development 2018 (SWSD 2018), Dublin, Ireland, 4-7 July 2018.
  • Invited to deliver a special guest lecture at University of Mysore, Mysore, India Addressing students and staff members of the psychology and social work departments of the university, Prof. Pawar presented some of the findings of the ARC Discovery project, ‘virtuous practitioners: empowering social workers,  8 January 2018.
  • I am a social worker.  Drawing from the project findings a special lecture was delivered at the social work residential school, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, 27 August 2018.
  • Personal and professional being. Drawing from the project findings a special lecture was delivered at the social work residential school, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, 20 August 2018.
  • Insights from social work leaders and practitioners. Drawing from the project findings a special lecture was delivered at the social work residential school, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, 9 April 2019.


The expected outcomes include:

  • systematic and greater understanding of the role of virtues in social work practice, which has been largely neglected in the social work field;
  • identification of core virtues in social work practice;
  • methods of developing and using virtues in practice;
  • Publication in refereed journals and presentation of papers in national and international conferences

These outcomes are likely to impact the ways of thinking and doing of social workers; raise the awareness of virtue-led practice and improvement in decisions and the quality of practice; and advance the knowledge base and orientation of the social work profession towards a new paradigm in social work education and practice.


Prof Manohar Pawar
CSU-Wagga Wagga