by Bill Berman, author of “Influence and Impact: Discover and Excel at What Your Organization Needs From You The Most“
Put Your Hand Up
You can certainly tell your manager that you are looking for additional challenges and want to take on expanded responsibilities. This makes it possible for them to look for cross-functional assignments, secondments, and committees where you can bring expertise to the table, or where you will learn new skills or competencies.
It is even more effective if you proactively look for ways to solve ongoing problems for the business, for your manager, or for stakeholders. Let your boss know that you want to help with a particular workstream. Ask them to assign this type of work to you. Consider volunteering for work that isn’t immediately in your remit, but where you may be able to leverage generalizable skills like problem-solving or analytic skills.
Actively volunteering for new assignments can be somewhat riskier. The upside is that your boss will likely at least consider giving you more responsibilities. You’re proving yourself more than capable of dealing with the responsibilities you’ve got and there’s always more work that could be done.
The downside risk is that some may question your motives. If you’re overdelivering and not talking about it, they assume you love the work itself. If you tell people you want more responsibilities, they may think you’re overdelivering just to prove you deserve more responsibilities. Being explicit about wanting more responsibilities may prompt them to give you more. Just be careful. You may hate office politics, but you can be sure some people will play them with you.
Jump In and Fill the Gap
Sometimes it makes the most sense to jump in and solve a problem without waiting for permission or assignment. This runs some risk of annoying others or getting in the way of a colleague. If they are resentful or competitive, they can throw obstacles in your way. Nevertheless, this approach will probably be appreciated, and your message will be communicated, particularly if you are stepping into a crisis situation or if your manager is distracted by other crises.
One of the best ways to jump in and fill a gap is to work with your First Team (Manager’s direct reports) to create alignment, maintain priorities and focus, and inspire the team to persist when the manager is absent or unavailable. Think of this as being a leader among peers. This has to be done with a fair degree of political intelligence to be effective, of course. And when done over time, it has everything to do with leadership, and nothing to do with authority.
The classic example of how NOT to become a leader among peers was Alexander Haig’s approach to being Secretary of State before and in the days immediately following the Ronald Reagan assassination attempt. Haig’s infamous quote to the media was:
“Constitutionally, gentlemen, you have the president, the vice president and the secretary of state, in that order… As of now, I am in control here, in the White House.”
Haig’s problem was not just that he did not know the order of presidential succession. (He forgot about the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, in that order). He apparently had been lobbying to take control of all aspects of foreign policy and asserting authority over other cabinet members. Instead of building relationships and aligning interests, Haig repeatedly forced others’ hands, asserting without authority that he was responsible for various aspects of the executive branch.
While the specific situation was quickly resolved, Haig continued to battle with other members of Reagan’s cabinet, and ended up resigning after eighteen months, with a somewhat sullied reputation.
Leading a group of peers without line authority is perhaps the best example of having influence and impact. It requires several skills, including:
- Having a clear strategic understanding of the priorities of the First Team (your manager’s direct reports).
- Having a history of listening to and sharing problem-solving with peers on the First Team.
- Having an authentic leadership style that clearly places the good of the organization at the top of your personal priorities (ego will definitely interfere with this).
- An ability to remain calm and resolute in the face of challenging situations (the opposite of Haig).
If you repeatedly take on particular additional responsibilities, eventually people will start assuming you’re going to do them, and they will become part of your job.
*Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from “Influence and Impact: Discover and Excel at What Your Organization Needs From You The Most“ by Bill Berman and George Bradt. Copyright (c) 2021 by Bill Berman and George Bradt. All rights reserved. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.
Bill Berman is the author of “Influence and Impact: Discover and Excel at What Your Organization Needs From You The Most“. Berman is an executive coach with experience as a psychologist, senior line manager, and organizational consultant. Since founding Berman Leadership Development in 2005, he has been a trusted advisor to general managers and C-suite executives across multiple industries.