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How to break the glass ceiling

Climbing stairs for prize

Image : Bplanet / Shutterstock

Dear Working Wise:

I want to advance into a management ‎position, but after 10 years of trying I’m still no closer to my goal. Aside from waiting my turn, what else can I do to break past this barrier?‎

Signed The Glass Ceiling Makes My Head Hurt

Dear Aching Head:

You’re not alone—many workers are frustrated with their lack of career progression. I spoke to a few other managers to get their advice and tips and here is what they recommend.

Be outstanding at your job. Go above and beyond on every project, report, and task you do. Earn your manager’s trust by being dependable and helpful. Make your manager look good and wow them with hard numbers that back up your success.

Tell your manager that you want more responsibility and to contribute more. Ask them for their advice and to keep you in mind for future vacation coverage opportunities, chances to train new staff or work on cross-department projects. Offer to help your manager with any extra projects that they don’t have time for. If you don’t have a good relationship with your manager, find a mentor.

Find out what the core competencies are for the role you want and look for opportunities to add these competencies to your skill set. Attend training, volunteer to lead new projects, or make a lateral career move to get the skills that you need.

Develop your leadership skills through formal training, reading books, and volunteer opportunities. Good managers don’t tell their staff what to do – they inspire them to do their best. Volunteering in your community is a great way to gain valuable leadership experience.

Develop your interpersonal skills. Leaders must like and care about other people, and be likable themselves, to build trusting relationships.

I once heard a story about an IT manager. He wanted to become a manager, because he thought that’s what everyone should aspire to be. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a people person and found his new job listening to staff complaints about hours, vacations, parking, etc., annoying. He eventually decided to go back to his old job.

Adopt a great attitude. Look at tough challenges as opportunities to show your abilities. Dress and act professionally, be punctual for work and meetings, attend company social events, and live the organization’s values. Be a good team player and get along with everyone.

Suggest ways to save money or improve quality/service. If you spot a problem, come to them with the problem and your solution.

Ask for feedback from your manager and other leaders in the organization. Explain your career goal and ask them what they think your strengths and weaknesses are. This will tell you what you need to work on.

There are a number of things you can do to help you stand out from the crowd, but there are also some realities you have to keep in mind.

First, there must be opportunities. You need to be working for an organization that’s growing or has a lot of turnover or be looking for opportunities outside your organization.

Second, unless you work for a small company, promotions are no longer handed out—you have to apply. Most organizations hold open competitions to ensure that they get the best candidate and provide a fair process to all employees.

Good luck!

Do you have a work-related question? Send your questions to Working Wise, at Charles Strachey is a manager with Albert Human Services. This column is provided for general information.


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