How to Get Ahead Despite a Weak Boss

You're ready to advance, but you've got an unsupportive manager. Here are five ways to boost your IT career anyway.

When it comes to managing people and helping them advance their career goals, many IT managers fall flat. Is it possible to get ahead when your boss is unwilling or unable to support your ambitions? Sure, says Eric Bloom, if you're willing to take some initiative.

Bloom, who has held senior executive positions at companies such as Monster Worldwide Inc. and Fidelity Investments, tells the story of a quality assurance worker at one of his former employers who wanted to move into programming: Her manager wasn't strong on staff development, so the QA employee took matters into her own hands. She learned .Net, so 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 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 advance your career.

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.

1. 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 at The McNeill Group, a Plantation, Fla.-based consultancy. 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 time to think about your passions and motivations, as well as your needs at work, he says. You might find that you are passionate about solving problems but also want to work with cutting-edge technology.

"When you define those [strengths], then you can look out to your peers and boss and ask, 'What are your needs, and how can I apply my value to help you?' " Ehling says. "Being seen as helpful is going to get you projects and promotions. And in no way will you be seen as going around, over or behind your boss, because all you're doing is serving needs."

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