Working with your boss requires a balancing act. On one hand you need to know how best to work with your boss and maintain a good relationship. (Read my article “Successfully manage your boss to boost your career.”) On the other hand, you need to know how to emerge from the background and assert your own standing within the organization, to promote your value to the organization.
The contradiction in having a good boss is that while they can shelter you from office politics and lead you and the rest of the team effectively, they can also leave you in their shadow. You need to ensure you have enough visibility to others within the organization, to participate in your own networks, and to generate sufficient influence in order to enhance your career prospects.
Being the right hand person to your boss only gets you a certain distance along your career path. You need others – influencers and decision makers – to be aware of your value. Those people, not only your boss, will shape how fast you progress in your desired direction.
You can take steps to enhance the appreciation that your stakeholders have of your role:
Without overdoing it, ensure others can see your good work. For example, in one of my previous jobs, the procedures meant that any policy documents written for the Executive Committee were signed in the name of senior managers. Therefore, my papers on issue management and crisis communication for the committee were in the name of my boss, a general manager. This meant that I was not given credit at that level for my work. So I had to find ways for these senior people to understand and appreciate my role in this policy development. Accordingly, I made sure I dealt with them directly from time to time through emails and meetings to consult them and also let them know my thinking. This was positive for relationship development as well as well as being a way to promote my value to the organization.
See if your boss is open to including you in presentations and discussions with senior management about your department’s work. You can provide clarifying comments or additional information during those times, as long as you don’t put down your boss by implication. Instead, talk about how “we” developed that initiative.
Similarly, ask your boss if you can sit in on important meetings with clients, customers or external service providers in the interests of your self-development and learning. Try to do your homework on the subject of the meeting so you can speak up constructively in a way that adds value to the discussion when the opportunity arises. But ensure you support your boss, not interrupt or undermine their points. You can offer to take notes and distribute them afterwards in your name Above all, don’t appear obvious that you are trying hard to impress others for your own benefit.
Visit your company’s operations or even areas like a call centre to learn what happens at that level and ensure you can network with management and staff in those areas – and ensure you learn their jargon. Many people from other departments think PR people don’t bother to learn much about the ‘real’ activities that take place within the organization, so they will appreciate it if you make the effort to visit and talk with them. You can develop positive relationships during those visits and find out who can be valuable to your career.
Over time, you would become aware of the formal and informal influencers within the organization who you would assess as being worth getting to know better. Find ways to provide helpful and topical information to them on relevant topics. Dealing with information in daily work is a big advantage to PR people because it enables us to provide information to others as a helpful gesture.
Another opportunity is to go early to meetings so you can chat with those who arrive early. And you can linger after meetings to ask questions or talk with them about matters in common. Make an effort to have informal lunch with them and chat at social gatherings – again mentioning topical news you have come across in your job. Purposeful social chat is helpful to develop a good relationship with contacts. It helps to decide beforehand what would add value to chat about.
If you are on PR staff, you are ideally placed to play an active part in organizing the organization’s intranet and social media activities. This would give a great opportunity to network with internal influencers as well as create the opportunity to participate actively in conversations, which would widen your network. It gives others insights into your sparkling personality as well…
External digital activities on behalf of your employer would also be a great way to reach out to influencers in the community and come out from your boss’s shadow. You never know – some of those contacts could be very useful if you decide to seek another job.
Volunteer for committees and projects that enable you to meet new people and learn new skills.
You can plan your own stakeholder relations program to progressively take on board the above suggestions. These will pay off for your career. But don’t be impatient. If you are perceived as pushing your own interests too much, people will become wary. Just consistently do these things and then you are likely find opportunities unexpectedly opening up that will enable you to emerge from the shadow of your boss.
You can read some valuable research findings in my article, “Become more influential in your corporate communication role.” In addition, Matthew Royse’s 2021 article, “How to stay top of mind with your boss and colleagues,” provides some useful thoughts.”
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