How to tell your boss you’re ready to lead

Climbing ladder

A pivotal moment in the musical Oliver! comes when the main character, still hungry after finishing his bowl of gruel, has the audacity to ask the staff of the orphanage for more. He’s quickly turned out on the street as punishment for being ungrateful. There begins a classic story, but none of us want to experience a similar fate. If you find your appetite for more opportunities at work has sharpened you can avoid a negative response by following these guidelines.

Ask yourself what makes you ready to take on more

Look over your most recent performance evaluation. Have you addressed any development areas listed there? Review your attendance (including punctuality) for the last six months. Any issues that need to be corrected? Have you mastered a new skill or obtained a certification in a new discipline? In short, look at yourself as your boss will and decide if now is the time to make your case.

Don’t let it come as a total surprise to your supervisor

Once you have a credible track record at work, and almost without exception that will be sometime after your first performance evaluation, casually begin to let your boss know you have hopes and dreams. When the opportunity presents itself you can say things like “I’d like to learn more about Project Management,” or “Development is an interesting department,” or “What do you think our opportunities are in Central America?”  A savvy boss will understand that you have interests outside your current responsibilities and won’t be caught off guard when you officially ask to be considered for other duties.

Show initiative

Volunteer for projects, propose well thought out solutions to problems, assist your co-workers without being asked. These are mature behaviors that signal your ability to handle more responsibilities.

Know what you want more of

More doesn’t necessarily mean a promotion. You may be happy in your job, but want more variety in your day, more contact with your end users, or more opportunities for education and training. Define for yourself what you are seeking and learn whether or not your company is in a position to provide it.

Make your case

A good time to officially broach the subject with your manager is during your performance evaluation. There should be a section that lists your goals for the following year. Expressing your desire for growth opportunities in this setting is appropriate and advisable. Be definite but don’t lock yourself in anything too specific. “I’m interested in exploring project management opportunities” is better than “I want to be the assistant project manager on the Dalin project.”  Be able to say what makes you ready to take on more and be comfortable sharing any praise and commendations you’ve received from customers or colleagues.

Make new friends, but keep the old

It can be difficult to stay focused once you become restless, but it’s more important than ever to keep up with the responsibilities in front of you. Even the best boss will be a little disappointed that you want to leave and less secure managers can be hurt. Don’t let looking forward cause you to fumble any current duties and cast doubt on your readiness for a change.

It can be intimidating to speak up and make your ambitions known, but your manager will never know what you want if you don’t tell him or her. Good employees are hard to find and important to keep.   Your manager may not want to lose you but the company wants to keep you. It’s better to move you within the company or modify your existing job than lose you to an outsider.

One last word of caution. Just as in Dickens’ day there are people in authority who, for a variety of reasons, will respond negatively to your request for more. Before you ask, look around your department and see what your manager’s history of employee growth has been. If you find yourself in an environment that has little record of growth from within, limited opportunities for education and advanced training, or doesn’t provide investment in the future of their employees you may decide your best chance of getting more will come from another source.

How have you positioned yourself for more responsibilities at work? Share your tips below.

Lou Ella Hobgood is a learning officer for a large non-profit hospital and has been involved with a variety of training and learning for over 20 years. 

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