Leadership in the Human Services

Information for applicants with a Non-BSW Degree

Ready to lead?

Get the "tool kit" you need to lead. This MSW provides practical skills, built on a foundation of theory, that will help you become a transformational leader. You education includes everything from strategic planning, budgeting and human resources, to transforming an organization to achieve its mandate.

Two students working at our Calgary campus

Course- or Thesis-Based MSW?

The course-based MSW program is designed to enhance the practical knowledge of social workers. Courses mirror real-life situations. The goal of this program is to graduate independent professionals to the social work profession.


The thesis-based MSW program is designed for students who intend to pursue doctoral studies and/or anticipate a career requiring advanced program evaluation and research skills.

The first year of your MSW

About your foundation year

The foundation year provides you with the crucial concepts, theory and knowledge you'll need to pursue graduate-level, social work education. Have a look at what your first year will look like.

More details

Every student who who has a degree from a discipline other than Social Work has to complete the foundation year (12 months).

You will advance to your specialization courses after you complete the foundation year - no new application is required. 

Course requirements:

The foundation year consists of 9 courses (27 units), including 426 hours of field practicum (equivalent to 1 course):

  • History and Foundation of the Profession
  • Professional Communication and Interviewing
  • Practice with Individuals, Families and Groups
  • Practice with Organizations and Communities
  • Social Policy and Social Justice
  • Human Behaviour in the Environment
  • Models of Practice
  • Issues in Social Work Research
  • Foundational Field Practicum

You must complete all foundation courses before you will be allowed to register in your specialization courses (described further below).

Course-based MSW

The specialization consists of 12 courses (36 units), including 500 hours of field practicum (equivalent to 2 courses):

  • 4 courses of Advanced Social Work Practice (12 units),
  • 4 Specialization courses: The Practical and Transformational Leader (12 units), and
  • 4 courses of Field Education, Integrative Seminar, Research Applications and Exit Requirement (12 units).

The four specialization courses build your knowledge sequentially, so you need to follow the curriculum plan. 

Your MSW degree consists of 21 courses (63 units).

Expected completion time is 36 months.

As established by the Faculty of Graduate Studies, the maximum completion time is 6 years for a course-based master's.

Thesis-based MSW

The specialization consists of 10 courses (30 units) followed by thesis research and oral examination.

  • 4 courses of Advanced Social Work Practice (12 units),
  • 4 Specialization courses: The Practical and Transformational Leader (12 units), and
  • 2 Thesis research courses (6 units).

The four specialization courses build your knowledge sequentially, so you need to follow the curriculum plan. 

Your MSW degree consists of 19 courses (57 units).

Thesis students may complete a field practicum (SOWK 660), but, this isn't a requirement. Thinking of completing a practicum? You must consult with the MSW Thesis Coordinator after you're admitted.

Expected completion time is 48 months.

As established by the Faculty of Graduate Studies, the maximum completion time is 4 years for a thesis-based master's.

If you are considering the thesis route, take a look at our Faculty Directory for potential thesis supervisors whose area(s) of expertise match your own research interests. If offered admission, the MSW Thesis Coordinator will help you select a supervisor.

Note: You're initially assigned an interim supervisor.

The final examination involves an oral defence of your thesis conducted by your examining committee consisting of:

  • your thesis supervisor,
  • a faculty member from the Faculty of Social Work,
  • an approved faculty member from a faculty outside of Social Work at UCalgary, and
  • a neutral chair.

The Practical and Transformational Leader Courses

We'll deconstruct organizational structures and management of human service, government, and other community based organizational contexts in which social work leaders operate and navigate diverse leadership practice issues. The major issues we will pursue and focus on are governance, strategic and business planning, risk management and operations, and organizational culture and diverse work places.

We'll study a variety of leadership theories and supervisory practice models in order to examine and explore how these concepts are operationalized in human service workplaces with both employees and clients. We will attend to leadership theories, human resource practices, social work supervision, and ethics and ethical dilemmas.

We'll focus on learning practical knowledge about budgeting, financial management and the developing sphere of social enterprise/finance. Practical research applications will be explored to advance organizational existence/sustainability and demonstrate success for both clients and the program/organization. We will concentrate on four main areas: social enterprise and social finance; funding mechanisms, fund development and proposal writing; appraising research and evidence informed practice; and program evaluation and utilizing outcomes.

In this course you'll learn the necessary skills to work with others inside and outside organizations, and utilize advocacy and diplomacy to manage dilemmas and other organizational challenges. Our specific focus will be on partnerships and collaborations, professionalism and use of self in the organization, funder and donor relationships, and impacting policy and working with policy makers.