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Mind the Gap

Get promoted when your boss is blocking the way

Posted by Anne Hamill

At some point in your career you may find yourself in a position where you’re aiming to get promoted – but you can’t take the natural move into your line manager’s job, because it doesn’t seem likely they will move on. This can be frustrating, and it can often seem like a roadblock in your development which is difficult to overcome.

However, the good news is that it needn’t be!

But before we take a look at how you can tackle the problem, take a minute to reflect.  Perhaps you feel your current role gives you a particularly good work-life balance.  You like the team you’re a part of, and enjoy the work you currently do.  If so, consider if a promotion is what you really want at this stage in your career. Many people faced with this situation make a conscious choice to remain in their existing role, and if that’s something you’re happy with, you can invest your energies in a different aspect of your development.

However, if you’re certain you want the next promotion and you don’t feel like you can wait, I’d like to share three mistakes I often see people making in this situation, and then two pieces of advice you can build on to move forward.

  1. Giving in to your frustration. One of the biggest obstacles you’ve got to face in this situation is your own frustration.  If you give in to this, there is a big risk of not getting the promotion through a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you let negative feelings and emotions come through in your work, demeanor and relationships, you’ll make it increasingly unlikely you’ll be looked upon as a suitable candidate when an opportunity for promotion does arise. Instead you need to focus on the positives and the progress you make.

  2. Assuming no-one has noticed. It’s very likely that other managers and HR are aware of the problem, and if they haven’t noticed, there are steps you can take to make sure they are. One thing I’d strongly urge you to consider is to have a conversation with HR or your manager’s manager along the lines of “I’m really keen to move on but I can see limited opportunities. Can we talk about how I can help my career progress?” This will go a long way to helping you understand the situation, possible opportunities arising, and the options you have.

  3. Forgetting that business structures can change. If you’re good at what you do and you know how to demonstrate that, your organization can often restructure to accommodate you and your development. Even better, if you know a restructure is likely in the foreseeable future, you should have exploratory conversations with HR and your manager’s manager about any opportunities which may be coming up.  This can actually ensure that roles are built around your particular skills!  Don’t make the mistake of ‘waiting til the dust settles to see what is available’ – influence those who are responsible for designing the new jobs.

Our Advice
  1. Build a reputation inside and outside your team. When an opportunity does arise, you want to be sure that your name is raised for consideration. Firstly, keep an eye out for projects you can get involved with or lead.  These can help you get out from under your boss’s shadow so that you become visible to senior management and other departments. Secondly, be sure to communicate your actives and successes outside your immediate team – for example you could look for opportunities to be featured in Company magazines, present your work to other interested teams, or keep your wider network aware of your good results by informal emails.

  2. Take part in a ‘CV-growing activities’.  Your CV is not just a document to be submitted when formally applying for roles.  You can also share it with people, when you talk about your career ambitions.  If you make sure your CV speaks for itself, when roles do become available you’ll find you’re much more likely to be considered for the opportunity. So take the time to consider the skills you’ll need to succeed in the role you want and then actively seek out opportunities to develop them. If you need to demonstrate financial acumen, take on some budgeting responsibility; or if you need to be able to chair meetings, look for opportunities to run meetings now.   You don’t move into the role and then get trained to do the work – you should have already demonstrated that you’ve used your initiative to prepare.  That way, they’ll know you will hit the ground running.

The Take Away
If you’re facing this situation, the one thing I’d urge you to remember is to turn your frustration into a positive drive to prepare, share, and chat about what more you can offer.  Look for opportunities to sustain your enthusiasm and ways to celebrate your successes, and let your positive approach become the self-fulfilling prophecy.