Most supervisors will tell you that the way to grow your influence in the workplace is by demonstrating you can be a trusted problem-solver. The way to prove this is obvious; solve significant problems. The solution is easy but the pathway toward the opportunity may not always seem so clear. Granted, sometimes being the beneficiary of timing where someone is the right person in the right place at the right time can create this opportunity. This does not mean opportunity had to be left up to total chance. Through some proactive observation, one is likely to be able to spot some areas to lean in and demonstrate some critical and timely leadership. Here are a few scenarios likely to be currently or imminently brewing in any workplace where someone has the opportunity to step in and seize the moment.

  1. Is there a problem waiting to be solved? Every problem is an opportunity for someone to demonstrate his or her value. Many may be lulled into thinking it is only a crisis or major issue that creates these opportunities. This may be true, but the opportunities are not limited to mass extinction-level events in the organization. Begin by looking at what challenges, barriers, or problems exist. Every organization has day-to-day frustrations that stay on the back burner. They don’t rise to the attention of being solved because they are relatively minor or everyone has slipped into a “we’ve always done it this way” mentality.
  2. Is there something in the “more of” category? Many times an opportunity here lies either in extremely new pieces of work or in very established ones. In new work, much focus naturally goes toward launch and execution. What might not be spotted is an area within this that has unexpected traction or concern. Whether it is an opportunity to examine or a problem to be solved there will always be aspects that are unknown until the team is well at the work. Be on watch for something here. In existing work, there are often little pockets of change that have taken effect since the work began. Sometimes these pockets are something that creates a “more of” in that if we were to do more of X then we would get Y in return. Variables and audiences change over time so keeping a fresh look at it could reveal a new opportunity.
  3. Is there something your supervisor does not like to do? If you can’t spot one, then be bold and ask your supervisor. One question might be “if we had more time to dedicate toward improving or solving something what might that be?” Many supervisors will have a short list of things they wish they had time to think about or explore but other priorities and emergencies keep them from it. They might be willing to give you some time to explore one of these and solve a problem for them. Another approach might be asking the supervisor if there is something they don’t like doing that you could take off of their workload. The items we least like doing often get our least-best attention. By taking something like this from a supervisor’s to-do list you would not only be demonstrating value by giving them time back, but you might well find ways to improve that task. Bringing freshness and efficiency to a least-favorite task of a supervisor will definitely get you on their radar.

Career-defining opportunities come rarely. Often too many people are focused on watching for that one big move and miss the many smaller ones that are right there in front of them. Proving one’s value through consistent and proactive good decisions and actions creates a sustaining belief in supervisors. Don’t miss the opportunity to demonstrate you can solve problems of any size and you will become an extremely trusted and valued team member.