Build Your Leadership Skills to Thrive on the Job

Adopting a leadership mindset can strengthen your contribution as an administrative professional. Learn how to work to your potential.

If you don’t have staff to manage, you may not think the word “leader” applies to your role. But the skills that help you excel as an administrative professional can also help you influence your company or department. Adopting a leadership mindset can pave the way to higher-profile responsibilities and more senior roles.

Sandy Geroux, a professional speaker and author with nearly 20 years of administrative experience, explains how you can achieve this mindset.

Think Outside Your Title

Don’t let the lack of a management title or business card stop you from voicing your opinions or contributing in situations where you could have an impact, Geroux says.

“If you think, ‘I’m just an admin, why would anyone listen to me?’ that becomes the reality,” she says. “Remember: A title on its own does not make a leader. Focus instead on the value you can bring to your organization.”

Perhaps you have a great deal of institutional knowledge or are exceptionally skilled at keeping projects on track. Or, maybe you can quickly size up a situation and decide what needs to get done.

“If your job is to help effect change in the organization in some way, then you are a leader,” Geroux says. “Everything needs to flow from that mindset.”

Clarify Your Vision

Great leaders inspire others when they set clear objectives for their company. Administrative professionals can do the same.

“Maybe your vision is to be a fantastic strategic partner for your boss,” Geroux says. “If that’s the case, ask your boss what his or her vision is — for the company, your department and your roles together. Find out how you can help bring their vision to light.”

Initiating this conversation can help to reset your relationship with your boss. It also helps you shift from reactive to proactive mode at work. “If you’re always playing defense — simply handling whatever requests or tasks are thrown your way — you have no opportunity to plan your days or strategize about how things could be done differently or better,” Geroux says.

Build a Skills Portfolio

You may take your work achievements for granted or forget them once they’ve happened. To build a leadership mindset, keep track of your successes. Start gathering records of your accomplishments in a portfolio that shows the influence and impact you’ve had.

“Include work samples or even ‘dummy’ projects that highlight your skills,” Geroux says. For example, if you use complex Excel formulas to assemble budgets or reports, create a sample that leaves off confidential information about your company. Also include in your portfolio training certificates, testimonials and emails that speak to the difference your work has made.

Having a written record helps you recognize your progress and boosts your self-confidence. It can also highlight skills that are transferable to other, higher-powered positions.

Seek Out Skill-building Opportunities

If your skills portfolio isn’t as robust as you’d like it to be, look for opportunities to firm it up. Volunteering for projects in the areas you’d like to develop is one way to do this. In a recent Staples poll of administrative professionals, nearly half said that they’ve taken the lead on projects to build their leadership skills.

“You may have strong analytic abilities, or be good at training,” says Geroux. “If you hear of a project coming up that could benefit from those skills, speak up.” Succeeding in a project can lead to more responsibility the next time around, and, eventually, to heading a project.

If these sorts of opportunities are limited at your workplace, look in your community. You may be able to build your skills by volunteering for a project with a local organization. Those experiences can then be added to your portfolio.

Hone Your Powers of Persuasion

Good leaders are effective because they listen and are listened to. How you present an idea or proposal can make the difference between getting the go-ahead and getting shut down.

“So often, I hear administrative professionals say, ‘I want to do this, but the boss won’t let me,’” says Geroux. “What may be missing is an explanation of how the proposal will benefit the organization, customers and employees.”

Make a clear business case for any suggestions you have. For example, if you want to implement a new system for tracking invoices, explain how it will make the process easier and potentially improve relationships with suppliers. “Leaders have to present their ideas in terms of the big-picture benefits, so doing the same can help you get your ideas approved and show your strategic value to the company,” Geroux says.