Here are four key steps to persuading your boss to let you take on higher level work.
1. Be really great at what you’re already doing. This is easily the most important item on this list. Your manager is far, far more likely to give you more responsibility or more challenging work if you’re doing a great job with what you already have. Show that you can be counted on to stay on top of what comes your way and that you approach whatever you’re assigned with excellence, and you’ll have already done a lot of the groundwork in showing your boss that you’re a smart risk for bigger assignments.
2. Have a plan to keep your existing work covered. Your boss might be perfectly willing – in theory – to let you work on that new high-profile project or to let you take on a whole new area of responsibility, but her bigger priority is probably ensuring that none of your existing work slips. Give some thought to how you can take on the new stretch assignment without giving short shrift to the rest of your work, and be ready with a plan that will set your boss’s mind at ease. (Of course, in some cases, the new work might be important enough that the plan might include delegating some of your existing projects to others, but make sure you’ve thought through the options and have a realistic proposal ready to go.)
3. Suggest something low-stakes. If your boss isn’t as enthused as you are about you branching into a new area, suggest something low-stakes at first so that if it doesn’t work out, the impact will be contained. For instance, if you’d like to get more management experience, you might propose managing the department’s interns before you take on managing full-time staff. Or if your goal is to eventually run important client meetings, you might propose just filling in for your boss when she can’t attend.
4. If all else fails, ask what you’d need to do to get a “yes” in the future. If you try all the above and don’t get results, ask your manager what you should work on in order to get a different answer down the road. A good manager should be able to give you candid feedback about what skills you need to develop in order to take on more responsibility in the future.