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Q. “How do I make my manager understand that I want more responsibility?”

When a reader posted this question on the Admin Pro Forum, we recognized the refrain immediately. Dozens of admins have written to Admin Pro expressing similar feelings: I’m not challenged. I’m bored. I’m tired of all the paperwork. I’m being undermined by older workers. I’m being pushed aside by younger workers. I need a change. I need more!

Those admins may sound like they’re ready to throw in the towel. More likely, though, they’re simply desperate for career development. And odds are, they don’t need to brush off their résumés just yet.

“We talk about this same issue with management, the idea of ‘developmental assignments,’” says Cynthia McCauley, a senior fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership.

“That is, not thinking that the only way to grow is to take on a promotion or a new job,” she explains. “We help people think about ‘development in place.’ It also applies to administrative professionals.”

Here are three strategies for “developing in place”:

1. Reshape your current job by doing something within your control. For example, pay attention to something no one else cares about. McCauley recalls one office that used a lot of interns, but no one managed them as an organizational resource. “So someone volunteered to keep better track of where interns were needed, how to bring them together for learning experiences and that sort of thing,” she says. “This employee essentially created the internship program, and it opened up a whole new dimension for her job.”

You also might try homing in on the difficult aspects of your job or areas that you haven’t paid attention to. For example, a person who doesn’t get along with a subset of workers might say, “I’m going to create better relationships.”

“That’s such an important skill in today’s workplace, where collaboration is valued,” McCauley says.

2. Sign up for temporary assignments that take you outside your department and connect you with others you don’t normally work with. At McCauley’s office, for example, an art committee puts together six art shows per year for the ample wall space. People who volunteer for it are usually art buffs. But that’s a shame, she says, because “it’s a great opportunity for anyone who wants more visibility or who wants to learn how to influence without authority.

“Plus,” says McCauley, “some of the people on a committee like this one will be at a higher organizational level, and they’ll remember how great you were to work with and will recommend you for things later.”

3. Look outside the workplace and apply what you learn. For example, she says, join an environmental or political advocacy group, where you can learn how to be a passionate, effective advocate. Sign up for mediation training through a community center, and become a better negotiator at work.

“Our research has shown that people do bring things they learn outside of work back to the workplace,” she says.

McCauley’s suggestion: Once you’ve mastered a new skill outside the workplace, make it more visible at work by highlighting your volunteer experiences in an internal newsletter.


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