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Don’t stifle your career. Go beyond your job description responsibilities

Article published by American City Business Journals on November 6, 2022.

Some employees complain that they’re asked by their boss to work on initiatives beyond the responsibilities outlined in their job description. They protest, “That’s not what I was hired to do.”

An employee with this type of attitude “will not be promoted because they never show any willingness or desire to stretch beyond his or her role,” wrote executive coach Brandon Smith in a July 2019 article headlined, “My employee has a bad attitude—they only do what’s in their job description.” If you are asked to perform menial tasks or if you are being underpaid for what you do and have the market data to back it up, have a conversation with your boss.

My experience during a career rising through 11 jobs to become a CEO is that if an employee hopes to get promoted, they need to demonstrate initiative, be willing to get out of their comfort zone and take on additional responsibilities. This is an attitude that bosses look for when deciding who gets promoted. It differentiates you from your peers.

Writer Fraser Sherman has a different point of view. In a January 2022 article, Sherman wrote, “Recognizing the importance of working within the limits of your own role and responsibilities maintains good relationships with colleagues who might otherwise think you’re stepping on their toes.” The additional responsibilities I refer to go beyond the work of your co-workers.

Sherman does write, “If the extra work isn’t unreasonable, it might be worth going along with the request.” Rather than embrace the opportunity, Sherman wrote as if you are doing the boss a favor. This is the wrong attitude.

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Even though it is one of the keys to competitive advantage, few companies ask their employees, including those on the factory floor, to self-initiate improvement projects within their area of responsibility. This should be in every job description. 

For initiatives beyond your authority level, get approval to proceed. My company saved millions of dollars encouraging employees to improve their work processes. It also helped those employees further develop their own skills and enhanced their job satisfaction.

My most impactful experience operating outside of my job description occurred when, as a business manager, I led the initiative with my product manager to sue a large French chemical producer in front of the U.S. International Trade Commission under the guidance of an international trade attorney.

The French company was dumping a competitive product in the U.S. below their home market price, causing us to lose market share. I wrote an article about this experience in April 2019. Not only did we win the case, but operating way outside of our comfort zone taught us a lot about ourselves. We learned that credibility builds trust, and this will favor you in borderline decisions. There was no better way to learn this lesson.

By not operating beyond your job description, you deprive yourself the opportunity to gain experience and demonstrate that you are worthy of a promotion into a position of increased responsibility. Don’t stifle your career. Want to impress your boss? Go beyond what is expected of you.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.

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