In this post, I want to address how to gain visibility at work when everything else fails. How to get ahead at work, especially in those cases where the projects you work on might not give you enough exposure. Or your day-to-day work simply does not allow for it. Everybody knows that being on the toughest projects and working with the most demanding clients are surefire ways to get promoted quickly. But what not everybody knows is the reason why that happens. At least one of them. And the reason I am referring to is very simple. It’s the fact that these projects give you exposure to the right people. The people that hold the cards and make the decisions. It does not mean that the people on these projects actually do a better job than you do. It’s just that they’re noticed by the people holding the decision power.
But what happens when there are not enough “tough” projects for everyone? Or for whatever reason, you’re simply not up for it? Well, in that case, you can stir things up internally. You don’t have to be the brightest star if that’s not what you like, but know that exposure is power. Especially if it’s exposure to the right people. That is why I often strongly advocate for leading an internal initiative whenever you want to make yourself noticed. This will usually get you involved with leadership – either in your own department or at the organizational level. And that is how you get ahead; by being present in the minds of the right people.
With that said, here are a few ideas that can help you gain visibility at work when all else fails.
Take up an internal initiative
In most teams and departments, there are always internal initiatives lying around waiting to be picked up by someone. People usually avoid those because they’re afraid it’s more work and no reward. And that is true in some cases. But I would argue that they can help propel your career forward when the value they bring is visible. However, what’s extremely important here is to know your organization well enough. To understand what is valued and what is not, and pick things strategically.
Have there been times when you just wished a process was different or you thought you could come up with a more streamlined one? Simply come up with a proposal, gain some allies so you have some supporter backup, and make it your mission to push it forward. Some people have a knack for processes, and they always notice things that can be improved. If you’re this type of person, take full advantage of it, because it’s a real strength.
Know that it does not necessarily have to be a big process. It can be improving how you work with other teams or departments, introducing some automation to routine activities in the team, improving documentation, or whatever else could work for your team/department. If you go down this route, know that bringing change can be difficult sometimes. If you really want to move something forward, make sure you gain a following before presenting your idea more formally. Reach out to key people beforehand – it can be either formal or informal leaders in the teams – and get them on your side first. This way you will have support and things will move easier. Oh and don’t forget to share the work you’re doing. Advocate for yourself and the value that what you do brings to the table.
Become a subject matter expert
If processes are not your thing, there are also other ways to do it. Are you an expert in a specific area of your work? Is that something that other people can benefit from? Put together best practices and volunteer to present them in the next team meeting. Or organize an internal learning session. It can be an informal “lunch & learn” or a more formal “training” session, depending on what works at your company.
If holding training sounds like too much, you can also start smaller. A good place to start is by putting together documentation and templates, or even coming up with frameworks or cheat sheets that apply to your type of work and make sense based on your experience. If you want to take it to next level, make templates where applicable and incorporate them into existing processes. This serves two purposes: first, you showcase your expertise, and second, you gain visibility both in the eyes of peers and managers. One word of caution I would share here is to have common sense. Don’t be tone-deaf to challenges and actually try to make people’s lives easier, instead of just advancing your own agenda.
Take on team responsibilities informally
Now, you don’t want to be stepping on the toes of your manager when it comes to responsibilities, but everyone loves some help. Same thing applies here though, make sure you pick wisely and don’t end up grinding at low-value tasks. Be strategic about it. There is a bunch of things you can be doing, such as mentoring or coaching junior team members, buddying new joiners, onboarding new joiners from other teams, or supporting your manager with reporting. Just to name a few examples.
The reason why I like this is that it shows you have an interest in leadership. Secondly, you get to try it out for yourself in a low-risk environment if you haven’t had the chance to do it before. Thirdly, you get to prove to your manager, team, and organization that you are reliable and invested in the people and the organization’s success. A secondary effect of this is that you build a network of people that will help you along the way. Yes, maybe a new joiner will not have much to offer right now, but in the future, they could be supporting an initiative that you want to move forward and that will give you visibility. Additionally, supporting people around you in the right way shows that you have a certain level of seniority to look beyond yourself, which can help you land the next step in your career.
Now let’s be clear with one thing. When I say team responsibilities, I don’t mean organizing office parties, Friday drinks, and birthdays. You have to strategically pick them based on how your organization operates. A great place to start is by volunteering to moderate the next team meeting and do it in a fun and thoughtful way. An easy way is to start with an icebreaker, and ask people to share a highlight and a lowlight before getting to the usual meeting agenda. People like to have fun when they work and I promise you they will love the format. I like this one because it strengthens your position within the team and in the eyes of your manager. It’s a small and fairly easy thing to start with but it can easily snowball into more.
You can start with whatever feels most comfortable for you. Perhaps, taking a more active role in team meetings is a good first step and closer to your comfort zone. That should help you build your confidence and over time you will be eager to pick more things up.
With these tips, you can argue that you’re taking on more “unpaid work”. Or that you’re taking on “responsibilities outside of your job description”. I disagree that it’s the case and I am the first one to advocate for working healthy hours. The type of activities suggested above are ways to help you address how to gain visibility at work. How to make sure your work has visibility, so you can progress to the next level. If you are somewhat in control over your workload, you should be able to give and take to a certain degree and incorporate the things outlined above. But if you’re concerned about that, what I would advise you is to take a hard look at all of the low-value work that you spend countless hours on, and focus more on high-value tasks so you can accommodate work that will get you ahead.
Gaining the right visibility at work, is a key part of the “playing the office politics game on your own terms” post I wrote a while back. And the truth is you have the work for it. There are different ways of doing it and depending on your approach you might not like it. To me, this is a clean way of playing the game. Having an impact and making sure that impact is noticed by the right people.
Thank you for reading so far and let me know, how do you do it? What “tricks” do you use to gain visibility at work?