As a leadership coach, one of the issues that I hear about from my clients at the GS-14/15 level of the federal government is the lack of opportunities to demonstrate their capabilities and competencies through new and meaningful projects, tasks, or assignments. Often they will express their frustrations by saying that their senior manager does not delegate significant projects or meaningful tasks or that agency management provides meaningful assignments to other employees instead. My clients aver -- and probably rightfully so -- that effectively demonstrating their specific capabilities puts them in a favorable position to contribute even more to the agency’s mission, either through gaining a promotion or obtaining increased authority and resources to achieve performance goals.
While wearing my executive coaching hat in these situations, I ask my clients powerful questions in an effort to spotlight some key distinctions for them, such as:
- What is the benefit of waiting for someone to “give” you something?
- What is the difference between “being given an assignment” and “taking the initiative”?
- What is it to be undaunted?
The answers to these types of questions frequently open up some amazing possibilities for my clients as they reflect on their frame of mind and mull over their various options.
With this in mind--and assuming you are not currently looking to change jobs--here are some ways you might consider for taking the initiative to gain additional developmental experience:
1) Redesign your current job. Ask your manager for opportunities to restructure your current job to take on new assignments and challenging tasks. Sometimes managers assume that you’re already busy enough with your current workload or simply forget that you might indeed be ready for new challenges. Don’t go into this meeting empty-handed. If your boss comes up empty with possible new tasks or assignments, have one or two ideas in your back pocket.
2) Look for assignments outside your direct office. Your boss might have nothing to offer you, but others within your organization might have a burning need for assistance where you can contribute and demonstrate your abilities. These potential temporary assignments could include task forces, one-time events, and short-term projects.
3) Volunteer for a career-related project outside your organization. If your organization has nothing to offer you in the way of a developmental assignment, don’t sit around waiting for something to magically appear. Try to find new challenges and opportunities within your area of expertise or your industry. Consider gaining additional writing experience by blogging about topics that are of interest to you. Seek out leadership roles in professional associations or create your own group of like-minded souls. If your goal is to demonstrate to your current managers that you have the right stuff, volunteer to work on something that they cannot help but notice.
4) Seek opportunities outside the workplace. You can also consider leadership opportunities beyond your current job, career, or industry, such as positions in community groups, school boards, religious institutions, sports teams, and social clubs. In this domain, the sky is the limit.
If you decide to move forward with one of these options, be prepared to deliver. If your current family responsibilities and work/life balance doesn’t allow for you to volunteer for an additional project or assignment with a sizable workload, don’t do it. Assess the amount of time and energy you have to contribute and your ultimate goals for seeking these new challenges before making a commitment. When done right, you’ll be amazed at what you can learn in these types of developmental experiences.
So, any other suggestions for taking the initiative?
Scott Derrick is the Director of Professional Development at the Senior Executives Association, a nonprofit professional association of career federal executives. The views expressed here are his own.