NASW Pioneers Biography Index

The National Association of Social Workers Foundation is pleased to present the NASW Social Work Pioneers®. NASW Pioneers are social workers who have explored new territories and built outposts for human services on many frontiers. Some are well known, while others are less famous outside their immediate colleagues, and the region where they live and work. But each one has made an important contribution to the social work profession, and to social policies through service, teaching, writing, research, program development, administration, or legislation.

The NASW Pioneers have paved the way for thousands of other social workers to contribute to the betterment of the human condition; and they are are role models for future generations of social workers. The NASW Foundation has made every effort to provide accurate Pioneer biographies.  Please contact us at to provide missing information, or to correct inaccurate information. It is very important to us to correctly tell these important stories and preserve our history.  

Please note, an asterisk attached to a name reflects Pioneers who have passed away. All NASW Social Work Pioneers® Bios are Copyright © 2021 National Association of Social Workers Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

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Richard Woodrow

Specific Pioneering Contributions 

Richard Woodrow, PhD, MS, completed his dissertation 1987, entitled “Influence at Work” that studied a “bottom up” theory and practice of organizational change for social workers. Woodrow explored how social workers in hospitals were oriented to organizational change practice.  In many ways his dissertation findings informed the remainder of his career as he developed evidence for several key principles of social workers’ contribution in their organizations including:  1) giving voice to everyone in the organization, most importantly the less powerful clients and staff; 2) advocating to ensure that administrators heard them; 3) adding program, celebration, and training to strategy, structure, and alignment as means of change; and 4) nurturing an organizational culture that respects and demands attention of its people and their problems. He has employed these principles to impact students in classrooms, social work faculty and deans, and perhaps most impressively, health care systems that are increasingly beholden to profits and bottom lines.  

In all these roles, Woodrow intervened in systems that were often elitist and hierarchical, requiring him to break traditional boundaries of role, profession, and power. He mentored other social workers to give voice to the less powerful, to bravely take on organizational obstacles, and to subtly influence those with authority. No matter the constituency or the institutional auspice, Woodrow maintained his strong identity as a social worker. Even in an increasingly unmanageable health industry, he was able to work from the margins, without being marginalized, and empowered others to influence up, across and down.  
After a long career in practice, academia, and social work in health, Woodrow was recruited into Organizational Development at Mt. Sinai Hospital.  Notably, he viewed this career move as a new use of his professional social work role.  He was, in fact, pioneering the use of social work values, principles, and identity to make change at the organizational level. Knowing that in some ways he was beginning an uncharted journey, he completed the Advanced Program in Organization Development (OD) and Human Resource Management at Columbia University Teacher’s College.  

Woodrow’s work contrasted with others in the OD world because he focused on change from below rather than change from above.  He worked with literally hundreds of departments across the health system that sought his counsel, and was often called in by front-line staff, often around issues of racism and discrimination. For example, the hospital COO asked him to investigate why nurses on the maternity floors went to the newspaper to allege racism by the institution.  Through the trust of the nurses gained through his sponsorship of the Black and the Latino Cultural Committees, he uncovered that Black and Latinx staff were witnesses to what were in fact de facto racist practices commonly utilized in urban hospitals. The hospital admitted private patients with private doctors to one floor, Medicaid patients with residents on another.  As the physical environment on one floor deteriorated, the nurses were witness to unintended but overt racism.   He helped to mediate conversations with senior leadership, who quickly refurbished both floors, changed policies of who was admitted to which units, and reorganized staff. 

Ultimately, Woodrow was brought in by senior management to facilitate transformational change.  He and his department led the team-building leadership development program for new leaders of Care Centers, and disease specific mini-hospitals. He was appointed as a member of the senior leadership team that oversaw the process. His presence assured that the purpose of improving patient care was not overridden by fiscal concerns.  He made certain staff were not laid off because of the work. And he humanized the care on each unit by launching exceptional leadership development programs for each of the mini hospitals.

When Mount Sinai and NYU merged, he was asked to lead a newly merged OD, Training, and Professional Development Department, now a department of 23 staff and leading external OD specialists.  Woodrow became the mentor to a large staff of OD specialists, many of whom have since gone on to lead elsewhere. They attribute their successful careers to his mentorship.  ODL was viewed by both institutions as “the best thing to come out of the merger.”  Ultimately, Woodrow and his team were recruited to NYU Medical Center.  Here he also drove change throughout the institution, and negotiated to avoid ODL staff layoffs, by creating a consulting arm of the department, which allowed him and others to continue work at Mount Sinai.  In partnership with physician and operational hospital leaders, he and his staff developed the Physician Leadership Development Program, that became the cornerstone of the ODL leadership programs and was repeated for many cohorts over the years.  Well over 100 physician leaders were influenced by this program, many of them going on to top leadership positions within NYU and elsewhere. He started a Learning Academy, modeled after the University of Chicago. Working closely with senior leaders, he facilitated a large-scale design in which hundreds of employees participated in developing Service Standards for the institution. Finally, Woodrow was a consultant to the development of the Langone Academy, a strategy to inculcate a consistent culture of excellence at the institution.  

Woodrow also coached many members of senior management, including the person who became the first Dean and CEO of an integrated NYU Medical Center. He helped the new CEO and Dean to craft his vision, and more important to align that vision throughout the organization. The story of that transformation is captured in a recent book authored by a renowned health care leader, William A. Haseltine, World Class: A Story of Adversity, Transformation, and Success at NYU Langone Health (2019) in which Woodrow’s  perspective and contribution are credited with laying the foundations for success throughout the organization  His work included Leadership Listening Rounds, a large scale intervention involving hundreds of employees and focus groups to react to the new vision; and the development of a transformation strategy, including the change of culture to reflect new values. NYU became one of the top ten health care institutions nationally, and Dr. Grossman (the new CEO and Dean) credits Woodrow’s groundbreaking work and continues to seek his counsel.

Importantly, Woodrow has done all this work with his social work title and skills front and center.  He repeatedly turned down Vice President titles and salary increases that would have disguised his degree and his background.  Known as “the mayor” of Mount Sinai, the “heart and soul” of NYULH, and the conscience of leadership, he helped humanize increasingly corporate, technological, fiscally driven health care institutions and cultures.   

Career Highlights

Woodrow entered the social work profession after a successful career as a musician and high school English teacher. He received his masters and later his PhD degree from Columbia University School of Social Work before entering practice as a social worker in health settings (first psychiatric settings, a labor union, then hospitals).  While completing his doctoral work, he was one of the very rare internal appointments to a faculty line at Columbia, and while completing his PhD remained on faculty, later moving into the role of Associate Director of the Field Instruction Department.  Following his commitment to practice, he then became Assistant Executive Director at Altro, a large NYC mental health agency, then on to become the Associate Director of the Department of Social Services at Mt. Sinai Hospital, once known as the most professional and respected social work department in New York City.  He was so effective in that role that he was promoted to lead the Organizational Development Department at Mt. Sinai, usually given to MBAs and seldom to social workers.  He created and led the ODL Department at Mount Sinai NYU Health during its brief merger. He was then recruited away by NYU Langone Medical Center and led their Organizational Development Department for four more years. He was so successful in that role that he continued to consult as executive coach to senior leadership for them ten years after his retirement, and he is still retained for high level leadership assignments.  

He was appointed to the medical school faculties of both Mount Sinai and New York University. He attended the Harvard Macy Physician Leadership program, as the only social worker. He also was appointed to a School committee to revise the curriculum, redesigning a full-year required course for first year medical students that focused on patient-doctor relationships in context of the hospital environment. 

He has been a consultant to numerous highly regarded academic medical centers and community-based health centers. He was recruited as a facilitator for America Speaks, a national organization that builds communities of excellence.  With them, he facilitated a table of African leaders for the first Clinton Global Initiative focused on health and poverty; the annual conference of Autism Speaks to develop services for people on the spectrum as they enter adulthood; professional planners to redesign the South Street Seaport community. 

He served as President of the Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care (SSWLHC) from 2006-07, after serving as Treasurer and President of the Metropolitan Chapter, then member of the Board of the national organization. As President he invited in a recognized futurist expert and laid the groundwork for strategic planning, established the Leadership Institute designed to build social work leadership capacity in health settings, and initiated strategic alliances with NASW and other key organizations. The Leadership Institute has trained thousands of emerging social worker leaders in healthcare and the program has become the organization’s main stay program. 

In 2010, Woodrow was hired by the New York Academy of Medicine as consultant to what was then called the Academy on Aging for Deans and Directors.  This initiative, originally funded by the John A. Hartford Foundation, was established to help social work educators lead effectively both within their institution and in the larger world of aging and health care services.  For the first time in its existence, Woodrow built an engaging and informative curriculum, offered individual consultation to each member, and helped the group to work on organizational transformation.  During his nine years, he worked with more than 120 deans and directors in this program.  For many of the deans and directors, their work with Richard Woodrow was life transforming and they continue to reach out to him for support.  Individual deans (Hunter College, SUNY Binghamton, SUNY Albany and Monmouth University) have hired him as consultant for their Schools to develop short- and long-term strategic plans.

Biographic Data

Woodrow was born and raised in Yonkers, New York.  He lived in New York City for ten years, and for the last 40 years in Westchester County.  Woodrow lost his father as a young child, and his mother died very young. He knows hardship firsthand.  He has the most wonderful partnership with his wife of 51 years, Charlou Woodrow, a retired teacher and dance choreographer par excellence.  Together they have raised a family that is close and filled with love.  He has two grown children, Danielle is married to Emily, lives in LA and is Director for Netflix.  Michael and Stacey live in Hopewell Junction, New York; both are teachers in the public school system, and they have three children, Eli, Ari, and Mikki. They have a slew of friends and are active in their local synagogue.  

Most people know that Richard Woodrow is an accomplished musician.  He is a brilliant pianist and has a repertoire that reaches from classical to jazz.  What many do not know is that he is also a composer having attended the famous BMI Musical Theatre Workshop for Composers and Lyricists that birthed some of American’s greatest composers. He has written music for local performances, his synagogue, for hospital programs, and had a long running gig as the composer of retirement parties at Columbia University School of Social Work. 

Woodrow's colleagues describe him as a true mensch with an infectious sense of humor, an indefatigable spirit, and a loving nature.     

Significant Achievements and Awards

  • 2010 – Ida Cannon Award, Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care.  Lifetime Achievement award, highest honor bestowed.
  • 1998 – Outstanding Teacher Award, Mount Sinai School of Medicine. For exemplary pioneering initiatives in faculty development.
  • 1997 – Hy Weiner Award, SSWLHC. For excellence in social work education.

Newly Inducted NASW Social Work Pioneer Hortense McClinton 2015

Nominate A New NASW Pioneer

Please note, Pioneer nominations made between today’s date through March 31, 2023, will not be reviewed until spring 2023.

Completed NASW Pioneer nominations can be submitted throughout the year and are reviewed at the June Pioneer Steering Committee Meeting. To be considered at the June meeting, submit your nomination package by March 31. To learn more, visit our Pioneer nomination guidelines.

New Pioneers 

Congratulations newly elected Pioneers!  Pioneers will be inducted at the 2023  Annual Program and Luncheon. Full biographies and event details coming soon.