Five common barriers to promotion

content promotion

Do you feel that you deserve a promotion but not getting one? In my work as a psychologist and career coach, I am often asked to help professionals who feel frustrated that they are not getting promoted. In my experience, there are certain common reasons why people's careers stall.

Are you falling into any of these five career traps?

1. Making demands rather than contributing

Most of the professionals that I coach do good work. They perform all of the tasks and duties that are asked of them. But when they ask for a promotion, they still get turned down.

Many professionals make the mistake of believing that simply fulfilling the obligations and responsibilities associated with their role is enough to get promoted. In reality, achieving all of the targets and objectives within a job is only enough to retain the privilege of keeping the same job for another year. Putting that another way, doing all of the work associated with your job is only enough not to get fired.

Simply doing what is required of you in your job description and then asking for a promotion is rarely enough to get promoted. Instead, promotion is more likely to come your way when you have made important, additional contributions to the success of your team or department.

In practice, that may mean volunteering to participate in work groups or projects designed to improve the organisation’s efficiency or performance – for example, installing new processes or systems. So, explain to your line manager that you want to improve your skills by getting involved in more strategic pieces of work that are not already part of your job description. Only when you have made repeated, substantial contributions to improve the functioning of the wider team should you think about asking about promotion.

2. Focusing too much on technical competence

Many dissatisfied professionals have complained that promotions within their organisations seem to be awarded to certain favoured individuals rather than on the basis of merit. But such complaints are based on a misunderstanding of the kind of merit that it takes to get ahead.

Decisions makers do not look to promote people who only have good technical skills. They also look out for people who have great interpersonal skills. Such skills include the ability to explain things well and listen – both in informal groups as well as formal presentations. Good interpersonal skills mean also being able to influence and persuade using different strategies – for example, changing your behaviour to become assertive, humorous, compromising or compassionate depending on the requirements of each situation.

So, don’t just work on tasks that build up your technical skills. Speak up and interact both in formal meetings, as well as informal discussions. Invest time talking to your colleagues and getting to know them. Build up friendly, trusting working relationships so that they rate you not only for your technical competence but also for your warmth and interpersonal skills.

3. Failing to manage your manager

When it’s time for you to be considered for promotion, your line manager clearly has a very influential point of view on your readiness. To what extent are you managing the relationship with your line manager to ensure he or she has a strong and positive impression of you?

Begin by more consciously observing your line manager’s interactions with other people. What are his or her likes and dislikes? What is it that other people say or do that makes him or her more pleased and satisfied? What are the things that annoy or irritate him or her?

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For example, some managers prefer to receive updates and communication via email while others prefer to speak in person. Some managers like to get involved in detail while others would rather only deal with bigger issues. Once you have figured out the answers to these sorts of questions, you can begin to mould yourself into the kind of model employee who can earn your line manager’s respect.

4. Neglecting key decision makers

You may have heard about the importance of networking. However, studies tracking the career progression of professionals confirm that different types of networking matter for different purposes. Networking outside of your organisation improves your chances of getting a new job, but networking within your organisation will boost your chances of getting promoted.

Ask yourself: who are the key decision makers (apart from your line manager), who would likely be involved in discussions about whether to promote you or not? This key group of people might involve the managers of other departments that you interact with. Your line manager’s own line manager may also be involved.

So, make an effort to raise your profile with these key decision makers. When you are given the opportunity to attend meetings at which any of them will be present, see if it might be appropriate for you to attend too. Think ahead about points you might want to communicate or smart questions you might want to ask. Don’t just turn up and sit mutely. Use such meetings as an opportunity to speak up and make a positive impact on the decision makers who may one day discuss your career.

5. Failing to understand your reputation

Many professionals who feel they are not making fast enough career progress assume that they are doing good work. But such assumptions can often turn out to be wrong.

Don’t simply assume that your performance is adequate. Instead, ask people to tell you how you are doing.

Begin by telling your line manager that you would like feedback on your performance and how you could be more useful. Explain that you are keen to improve and that you want his or her honest comments. One question that many professionals find useful is: ‘What adjectives would you use to describe my personality and how I come across?’

When your line manager does offer you feedback, be prepared to hear some critical comments that may not be to your liking. Perhaps your line manager may say that some people find you ‘ quiet’ or ‘quick to jump to conclusions’. But whatever you hear, express your gratitude for the feedback.

Only when you understand your reputation – how people really see you – can you take action to improve how you come across. Once you have asked for feedback from your line manager, consider repeating the process with other key individuals that you work with.

The more feedback you receive, the more equipped you will be to correct your course and turn yourself into the kind of valued team player who is ready for promotion.

Author: Dr Rob Yeung is an organisational psychologist at leadership consulting firm Talentspace

More information

This article was first published in Student Accountant in July 2022Get the SA app now

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