People Management: Coaching Session

Q: I am ambitious. I am young. I want the top job. What practical steps can I take to get up the career ladder?

A: There is an adage that "patience is a virtue". It is not one I particularly follow - nor, I guess, do you. I admire your ambition.

It might be worth reflecting that the age profile at work is changing. You can probably expect to work in a full-time job until you are around 70, so you do have a lot of time to achieve a number of "top jobs".

The first tip is to deliver in your current job and be seen to deliver. This is not just a simple matter of doing what is in your job description; it is about ideas and contributions that go far wider. In particular, it is about helping your boss.

Have a good hard look at your boss. What are they trying to achieve? What do they want from you? When you have worked this out, go out of your way to deliver it. Your boss will be trying to contribute to the organisational strategy. They will be keen on ideas that help them move things forward. You must also avoid being seen as difficult or awkward, so don't be too pushy or cheeky.

Do remember that even in the third sector, with all our talk about "empowerment", office politics can be a brutal battlefield. If you are ambitious, less talented colleagues might be envious. Don't let them put you off. Don't let them discourage you from making proposals or developing ideas.

Don't fall into the trap that being jolly with your workmates and not supporting the boss will help you get on. In the BBC satire The Office, the buffoon manager, David Brent, tries to be both the corporate brown noser and a great mate to his staff. In practice, of course, he is disloyal to everyone.

Look after your own professional development. You should be an active member of your professional association. You should have a personal professional development plan. Get yourself a mentor, probably someone with good experience.

You should be networking and making contacts across the sector. You should be getting yourself known. And don't just limit this to the third sector. Don't be afraid of being brash and bold, but be careful that you have the knowledge to back this up.

- Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send questions to

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