People & Human Resources

The nine skills you need to get ahead at work

Eve Ash /

Even if you’re not especially ambitious, many of us want to get ahead at work. It’s not really possible to remain hidden in a corner and hit the repeat button, although some jobs seem to require this. Whether you’re stagnating or gunning the motor, particular skills are called for if career progression is in order. Try these on for size.

Being assertive

This comes naturally to some, but the rest of us have to work on it. It’s important  especially if your workplace has big-mouths who make life rather difficult, or tactless types whose criticisms are bordering on harassment. Suffering in silence achieves you nothing more than embitterment. You have to look after yourself in the workplace. See yourself as a very worthwhile cause that needs advocacy from time to time. Be clear and speak up.

Being able to pitch ideas confidently

Immerse yourself in ideas and strategies, and start thinking of the talents you can bring. You might not enjoy addressing people in a crowded room, but lots of practice articulating your thoughts beforehand helps ease the tremors. Pitch to someone whose opinion you value so they can be a sounding board. Confidence comes with understanding your topic and anticipating likely questions or disagreements. Importantly, be yourself. If you’re an enthusiastic person, sparkle a little. If you take more of a low-key approach, wow people with your ability to be pertinent and knowledgeable.

Work-life balance

Whether you agree with Jeff Bezos that it’s a circle, or believe that work-life balance is more of a juggle, we are all trying for this one. It’s vital to decompress. If you’ve spent a good few hours on a presentation, handled dozens of calls and presided over knotty problems with staff, then go home and switch off to recharge. No media, no screens, nothing. Zone out, look at the sky, go somewhere leafy. Make time for loved ones and friends, or even just yourself. Curl up in bed or go for a run. Listen to music, tinker or cook a new recipe. When you recharge your batteries you regain energy for daily challenges.

Effectively recovering from setbacks

Setbacks build resilience. They are also opportunities in disguise. You won’t feel this immediately, or even in a few days, but by accepting the blow, allowing some grumbles, and then looking for new ways to achieve your objectives, you will better recover. In time, the apparent setback might even have done you a favour. I’m always surprised at how setbacks can ultimately push you forward.

Source: Supplied.

Working strategically and being pragmatic

Not everyone has a grand plan for how they’ll make their way to the ‘top’, nor are we all Machiavellian. If you’ve got challenging colleagues, this might call for some planning, even if it’s how to get through the week without mentally kicking them to pieces. Too much ‘blue-sky’ thinking can cause disappointment, especially for those in a perpetual hurry to attain some personal goal (such as owning a house before they’re 25). Plan, plan, plan. Being pragmatic means realism, not pessimism. This is beneficial because you’re discovering the importance of pacing yourself. Observe those who reach lofty goals and those who seem to get through each week calmly  what was their strategy?

Learning new skills

New skills give you greater adaptability and employability. There are times when undergoing training or even juggling a second job feels too exhausting. Remember that you’re developing new skills that could open fresh avenues in your current organisation or if doors close. Learning new skills may even change your direction as you discover something you love. It can re-energise you and give you more confidence.

Promoting oneself appropriately

One way to approach this is by concentrating on watching all the bit players in movies. Through building solid technique and having a sound understanding of the bigger picture, these actors know how to make their two minutes’ worth memorable. Take a leaf from their book. You don’t have to hog the screen in order to make an impression. Always share credit when it’s due and be sincere. You play a valuable role, as do others. When promoting, it’s useful to remember what you’re doing (and what you’re doing it for).

Understanding management politics

Politics in any organisation is inevitable. Be observant, tactful and honest, without being needlessly blunt. There will be times when you won’t like what you see, and worse, when you’re called upon to take sides. Try to put yourself in management’s shoes and consider the pressures they might be under. Can you ease the way by simply getting on with your work in a timely, unobtrusive fashion? Is an impartial perspective called for? Some emotional intelligence is definitely called for here. Know the difference between necessary compromise and sticking to your principles. Draw the line when asked to do something that’s unethical (hopefully you won’t be) and make your stance clear for the record. It is sometimes best to beat a ‘strategic retreat’ rather than work for bad eggs.

Able to lobby and negotiate

Take note of trends and what’s going on in your industry. Through social media and new platforms, there’s new ways to network and put your company forward. By spotting these, you’re in a position to lobby colleagues and management. Analyse costs and benefits (pluses and minuses) of what you’re hoping to interest others in. Who’s a likely ally? Where might the hurdles be? Consider the end goal and the negotiation required. Join forces with like-minded others. Understand where other players in this space are operating (including other companies, government, and so on). 

However you decide to progress, expend your energies in life areas that resonate. This starts the process of getting ahead in the right way, because it holds deep significance to you.

NOW READ: Does the Australian startup ecosystem have a problem with armchair ‘experts’?

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Eve Ash

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.

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