Your tech career: How to cope with an unsupportive boss

You're ready to advance, but your manager is asleep at the switch. Here's how to get ahead without a boost from your boss.

IT managers are often skilled computer experts, a trait any techie can respect. But when it comes to managing people and advancing their employees' career goals, many fall flat.

Is it possible to get ahead when your boss is unwilling or unable to support your ambitions? Sure, says Eric P. Bloom, if you're willing to take some initiative.

Bloom, who has held senior executive positions at companies such as Monster Worldwide, Independence Investments and Fidelity Investments, tells the story of a quality assurance worker at one of his former companies who wanted to move into programming.

Her manager wasn't strong on team development, so the QA staffer took matters into her own hands. She learned .Net, and then when her team found bugs in new programs, she could help coordinate fixes with the programmers.

In the process, she became a valuable asset in the eyes of both her own manager and the person who managed the programming team. By successfully bridging the two departments, Bloom says, the QA staffer was able to move into the programming job she had wanted.

Bloom, now the president and founder of Manager Mechanics LLC, a management training firm in Ashland, Mass., says many bosses in IT aren't strong on mentoring and team-building. They often received promotions themselves because they were technically strong, and not necessarily because they had strong people skills or instinctive leadership qualities.

All of which means you might find yourself with a boss who's a nice person but isn't well equipped to help you advocate for career advancement.

The good news: Unless you're truly in a dead-end job, it is possible to get in on those big projects, get yourself noticed and ultimately get a promotion without ticking off your manager in the process. Here are five strategies to help you get ahead when your boss isn't on board.

Be clear on what you offer

Most people aren't very good at articulating what value they bring to the workplace, says Michael Ehling, a Toronto-based executive coach with The McNeill Group of Plantation, Fla. They're too vague on what they offer and what talents they have, often underestimating their value in the process.

So before you begin your campaign for advancement, take some time to think about your passions and motivations as well as your needs at work, he says. You might find you're passionate about solving problems, but you also want to work with cutting-edge technology.

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