If you want to build the capacity of communities, organizations and policymakers to advance human rights, social justice and the well-being of all people, then Organizational Leadership & Policy Practice may be the right focus for your master’s degree in social work.

The Organizational Leadership & Policy Practice specialization will prepare you for practice at community, organizational and societal levels. Community social workers use leadership skills to develop programs, lead and manage organizations, build community coalitions, craft and analyze social policy, implement programs, engage in policy research and advocate for policy and program change to support best practices for social service and social change. You’ll learn to work effectively in community-based settings and organizations that address a range of social problems and policy issues, including poverty, human rights, health care, homelessness and education.

The Organizational Leadership & Policy Practice Pathway includes focus areas such as:

  • Organizational Leadership Focus: Prepare to work as a organizational leader and manager, fundraiser, program evaluator or program manager, for example.
  • Policy Focus: Prepare for a career as a policy researcher, advocate or policy evaluator in nonprofits, government organizations or in the legislative arena.
  • Community Organizing Focus: Prepare for positions such as community organizer, coalition leader, communications manager or social justice advocate.
professor jeff jenson

Your Career Options

Organizational Leadership & Policy Practice careers respond to social work’s ethical mandate to challenge social injustice and pursue social change by working to influence policies, programs, communities and systems that affect individual lives. Given the need for this work, the Council on Social Work Education has created a commission to advance this type of macro social work practice. With an MSW specialization in Organizational Leadership & Policy Practice, your community social work career could include:

  • Leading the development of new programs
  • Managing organizations
  • Building community coalitions
  • Crafting and analyzing social policy
  • Community organizing for social change
  • Advocating for policy and program change
  • Implementing program and policy research

Featured Courses

  • Social Work & Law | SOWK 4712

    This course examines legal principles and procedures relevant to social work practice with families and children, including the structure and operation of the American legal system, principles to follow in conducting legal research, basic principles of constitutional law and law related to juvenile delinquency, child protection, child adoption, education and domestic relations. The course also covers legal aspects of social work practice, including licensing, confidentiality and professional liability.

  • Grassroots Organizing for Social Justice | SOWK 4435

    This course examines grassroots approaches to community organizing and social change for social justice. Topics include power and empowerment theory, insider/outsider considerations, development of critical consciousness and popular education techniques for organizing, history and genealogy of community organizing and social movements related to social work, direct action tactics and strategies, arts-based organizing, campaign development and ethics and skills for working with diverse communities.

  • Social Policy Advocacy | SOWK 4660

    This course facilitates student learning within policymaking arenas. You will be paired with health and social service agencies and coalitions to assist in agenda-setting, legislative research, and issue-advocacy development and implementation in the state legislature and bureaucracy.

  • Disrupting Privilege through Anti-Oppressive Practice | SOWK 4732

    This course examines the barriers to the professional use of self as an ally to historically disenfranchised groups, both in the context of day-to-day relationships with clients as well as in the context of community and macro-level interventions. It will help you understand the personal, situational, structural and cultural influences that impede justice-oriented social work practice. You will develop strategies, skills and approaches to anti-oppressive practice.

  • Human Trafficking | SOWK 4786

    This course is relevant for students who are interested in trauma, human rights, international issues, prevention of child abuse, interventions with high-risk youth and victims of violence and child abuse and PTSD. You’ll study human trafficking from a social work perspective—prevention, intervention and support of victims—and these perspectives change in different regions (Asian, African, European, and Latin American). The course also investigates human trafficking in the United States, both with domestic and international victims.

  • Poverty & Community Economic Development | SOWK 4530

    This course focuses on poverty, low-income neighborhoods and local economic development, beginning with a thorough review of the literature related to poverty, sustainability and the concentration of poverty in low-income neighborhoods. You’ll learn about public and private responses to poverty and local responses to the concentration of poverty in low-income neighborhoods.

“My social work skills have been “incredibly handy” in my coaching role. For instance, an employee may be working full time and have multiple kids at home; I help them figure out how to fit college into that busy life while maintaining mental health and well-being.”

Haley Pachelo, MSW ’22, Senior Education Coach for Guild Education Read More
Haley Pachelo

Learn more about the Organizational Leadership & Policy Practice Pathway.

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Explore some of our field education locations with a focus on Organizational Leadership & Policy Practice

  • U.S. House of Representatives, Congresswoman Diana Degette

    The district office of Congresswoman Diana Degette focuses on helping constituents resolve problems with federal agencies, community outreach, developing public events and working with constituency groups on issues related to business, education, health care, veterans and more. Interns learn about the inner workings of the federal government, attend community meetings, direct constituents to appropriate resources and assist congressional staff with projects. Interns also engage with federal, state and municipal agencies and leaders.

  • Bell Policy Center

    The Bell Policy Center is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that uses in-depth research and analysis to advocate for progressive public policies in Colorado. It identifies and promotes policies that help individuals and families, especially those in low-income or marginalized communities, to access opportunities and move toward self-sufficiency. Interns analyze the impact bills have on marginalized communities, publish policy briefs, interact with policymakers, participate in stakeholder meetings, testify in committee hearings and engage in community outreach.

  • One Colorado

    One Colorado is a statewide organization dedicated to securing and protecting equality and opportunity for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Coloradans and their families. One Colorado has a strong commitment to social justice and uses an anti-oppression lens to do its work, which includes grassroots organizing and public policy advocacy. Interns work on electoral organizing and political advocacy, gaining experience in grassroots organizing, public policy advocacy, coalition building and voter mobilization.

  • Office of the Alternate Defense Council

    The mission of the Office of the Alternate Defense Counsel (OADC), through the practice of holistic public defense, is to help adults and children whom the government has charged with criminal and delinquent offenses. The OADC’s holistic practice model fosters ethical, informed and standard-driven best practices in public defense. The OADC allocates resources in a manner intentionally designed to rebalance the disparate power wielded by the government in the criminal legal system. OADC advocates for every client’s inherent worth and dignity by centering the client’s lived experiences and voice to achieve the best legal outcome.

  • Office of Immigrant & Refugee Affairs

    The Denver Office of Immigrant & Refugee Affairs (DOIRA) partners with nonprofits, community-based organizations, residents and government agencies to develop and implement policies, practices and programs that influence the various paths of immigrant integration.

  • Envision:You

    Envision:You seeks to close gaps in behavioral health outcomes for LGBTQ+ individuals through co-created community programming, advocacy engagement, public awareness campaigns and evidence-based training.

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Featured Faculty

Heather Renicker

Heather Christine Arnold-Renicker

Clinical Associate Professor

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Ramona Beltran

Ramona Beltran

Associate Professor; Interim Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development

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Daniel Brisson

Daniel S. Brisson


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Mónica Gutiérrez

Assistant Professor

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Sophia Sarantakos

Sophia Sarantakos

Assistant Professor

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Marquisha Lawrence

Marquisha Lawrence Scott

Assistant Professor

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Shannon Sliva

Shannon Sliva

Associate Professor

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Application Information

Upcoming Final Application Deadline: Summer 2024 Denver Campus Advanced-Standing MSW Program

Craig Hall building

Denver Campus Info Sessions

We offer 1-hour, virtual and 3-hour, in-person information sessions for our Denver Campus MSW programs. During these sessions, we will discuss the MSW program, admissions process and financial aid options. There will also be a Q&A where you can chat with current students about their experience at GSSW.

The in-person information sessions include a tour of GSSW and the surrounding University of Denver campus. After the tour, prospective students and guests will receive tickets for a complimentary lunch at DU's Community Commons.