How to handle responsibility – Career Counselling – getting your ducks in a row

How to handle responsibility

A 5 minute read • Simon Q

Part of our career counselling series. Maybe you’ve been promoted at work or perhaps just have new responsibilities. You may even have been offered the chance to manage other members of staff. How should you handle your new responsibility and make sure you are successful?

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This article is for you if:

  • you have recently been promoted
  • you have been given responsibility for a new project – or an expanded role in an existing one
  • you have been asked to improve an established process
  • you have been given the chance to manage another person
  • you simply want to do a better job and make yourself ready for promotion

There are plenty of books available that explain ‘how to be a great manager’ but few seem to cut to the core of what you really need to do when you take on any new responsibility.

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In my experience, whether or not you succeed is mainly down to you – how you behave and how well you enlist the help of others.

We’re going to look at some specific behaviours that will help you to handle your expanded responsibilities – as well as some traps to avoid.

Behaviours that will help you

Successful people in the workplace show particular behaviours. Here are some that have helped me in different jobs:

Take accountability – when you accept responsibility for something personally you are making yourself accountable for it. Your accountability is apparent to you, your boss and the people you work with. It can be a potent motivator!

Be goal oriented – if you are focused on clearly stated goals then you know what you’re aiming for – and are better placed to work out what you need to do to get there.

Set and stick to priorities ruthlessly – for many this is a tough one. It means staying focused on tasks you must complete and goals you need to achieve – while avoiding distractions. It’s the latter that most struggle with – distractions can be internal (daydreaming, checking social media) and external (gossiping co-workers or a demanding boss).

Be flexible – the best laid plans can be scuppered when something changes. Business can be very fast-moving and sometimes you have no choice but to change your plans. If you can shrug your shoulders and adjust your priorities and plans – and refocus – you’ll be doing yourself and your company a service.

Make contingency plans – this is a fancy way of telling you to have a Plan B. A smart operator can preempt some degree of change and have a Plan B up their sleeve, especially when they know that specific parts of project may be difficult to complete. This tactic has saved me from embarrassment countless times.

Communicate well – you’ll need to keep people up to date with your work so find a way to do this easily and effectively. It’s important to find out what people need to know. Think about the who, what and how of your communications to work out the best way to keep your boss and coworkers up to date.

Keep learning – one of my personal mantras is to learn something new every day. With an open mind and a willingness to try new out new things, you’ll be able to refine the way you work and become more effective.

“But we always do it like that around here!”

Challenge the status quo – no workplace is perfect and many hang onto outdated processes. You’ll possibly even hear the dreaded “but we always do it like that around here”. If you can see that something is ineffective, it’s good to call it out as such. But do this respectfully: don’t be critical of other people and offer a solution that will make a difference.

Build influence – if you need (or want) other people to help you be successful then you have to influence those people. This is so important that the next section covers it in more detail.

People skills are essential

You may not manage other members of staff but you will interact with a range of people during your working day. Usually this will be your manager and immediate team but could also include people around the company and in other parts of the world if you work in an international business.

To be successful in your job you will need to learn how to influence people to get the help you need – or to reduce the impact of someone who seems to be a barrier to your progress.

People skills

Here are some tips to help:

  • Make an effort to get to know people you need to work with – this will help to build positive relationships
  • Try to spot people’s work styles – are they collaborators or lone workers? What are their personality traits that could help or hinder you?
  • Be open to ideas from others as they often know something you don’t
  • If you need someone’s support, tell them why and help them to understand why your request is important
  • Always acknowledge the contributions of others. Everyone hates a selfish show-off
  • Be culturally aware – business etiquette can be different in some countries. A quick Internet search can help you get ready to work with other cultures
  • If someone seems to be hindering you, try to find out why. You may need to change your approach or style to get what you need – or they may simply have different priorities to you

Mistakes to avoid

We’ve covered the helpful behaviours. Here are some to avoid or at least keep in check if you spot yourself falling into their trap:

I’m always right – you may have a first class degree and lots of experience but you don’t have a monopoly on great ideas and there are many ways to skin a cat. Being open to alternative ideas is good, especially ideas from your team and people junior to you. It makes them feel valued – and they may just know something you don’t.

How to handle responsibility – Career Counselling – yellow ducks in a row

It’ll be OK in the end – if you are good at planning and have lots of lovely yellow ducks in a row, it really may be OK in the end. But don’t fall into the trap of assuming this, especially when there are signs that all is not well. Faith alone rarely leads to success in the workplace.

Too many assumptions – this is the cause of death for many projects. You may need to make some assumptions – but you will also require a high degree of certainty for the most important tasks on the path to achieving your goal. Reducing the number of assumptions and planning contingency around those you cannot avoid will set you up for success.

Covering up problems or mistakes – this will only come back to haunt you. It’s always better to admit to mistakes and ask for help in fixing them. And covering up problems is a certain recipe for disaster. It’s better to accept that things can go wrong and deal with them in the best possible way.

And finally

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