You’ve been in your current role for a while, and you’re starting to get bored. You’ve heard that the next logical step is management, so you plan to march into your boss’s office and demand to be a “manager.”
Not so fast. Before you do that, make sure you know what you want, and are prepared to get it.
Leadership or management? Or neither? If you move up, your daily activities may change significantly. Management involves supervising others, getting work done through them, budgets, timelines, hiring, and firing. Leadership involves looking at the bigger picture, setting new directions, and inspiring others to make it a reality. Are these what you want to do on a daily basis?
Exceed expectations. To prove that you are ready for more responsibility, consistently exceed expectations. Execute your duties flawlessly, conduct yourself professionally, and seek additional tasks. Could you supervise a summer intern, train a new hire, manage a project while the boss is on vacation? Taking on a small piece of the job you aspire to will not only show that you can do it, but will also help you find out if you enjoy it.
Point out problems. Yes, really. If you identify a problem at work, point it out, along with possible solutions. Don’t ignore things that are not going well, but also find a better way to do them. Then explain your vision, show your enthusiasm for making it happen, and propose that you lead the project. Demonstrate your initiative, your commitment to the company’s success, and your leadership potential.
Learn. Learn as much as you can about how your company works. Pretend you’re applying for a job and start researching. Learn the company’s mission, vision, and goals. Read the annual report and recent press releases. Study competitors and the industry. Get a sense of the bigger picture: how does your department or division work, and how do the different groups work together? If there’s a department or function with which you are unfamiliar, take someone in that department to lunch, or shadow them for an afternoon to learn about what they do.
Communicate. Advocate for yourself but without bragging. Make sure your supervisor knows what you have accomplished. Share information about volunteer activities in which you played a leadership role so that they start seeing you as a leader. Also make sure your supervisor knows what you want. Detail the specific responsibilities you are looking to take on and the time frame for fulfilling them. Ask for your supervisor’s opinion on your progress and what else you may need to be successful.
Up and out. It may not be possible to move up in your current organization. Maybe there are no openings or maybe your supervisor just can’t see you in a larger role. In that case, you’ll have to move. The good news is that all your new skills will come with you, and all that research you did on your industry will come in handy.
Your career is not static; it will grow and change as your circumstances change. Knowing where you want to go, and taking steps to get there, is the best way to choose the direction of your own destiny.
Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (www.acs.org/network-careers).