How do I act "more senior"?


My boss has said I need to be "more senior", that I am not acting senior enough. What does more senior mean? I have a mission statement for my role that guides my activities and I have a client at board level that I serve. I don't dally around or have unnecessary phone calls or other chit-chat. I have a half-year plan and work with contacts on a global level.

If I ask her what more senior means, she shrugs and says non-committal things. I can't get her to pinpoint what she wants. Any suggestions what I can do to become more senior or at least to give everyone the impression that I am more senior?


Ruth Spellman's Answer:

Seniority is not just judged on who you report to and the extent of your contacts. What matters Ė and what you should focus on Ė is whether you are providing a clear sense of direction to your team.

You say that you have a half year plan in place, but can your direct reports say the same? Do they know what their goals and objectives are? Of course, just telling them what needs to be done doesn't work in isolation. To demonstrate your seniority you should ensure that you are regularly assessing team performance against these objectives, adjusting goals according to the macro-environment and resolving problems as they occur.

In the current climate the biggest challenge faced by senior managers revolves around how they handle change. Recent research suggests many individuals believe the best way to pull out of the recession is to foster innovation. Is this something you are able to encourage within your team? Do you present ideas for change to the board contact you have? Right now, if you can demonstrate an ability to make changes for the good of your business, your strategic thinking will become noticed by your boss, and those around her.

But don't be fooled into thinking that demonstrating seniority is just about thinking and strategy. Taking time out for both is vital, but a good leader is also someone who gets involved in daily activities. Get your hands dirty and you give the impression to everyone that you are more senior.

You need to lead by example. If you can show colleagues how you want something undertaken, and that you are prepared to help out, you are more likely to build support.

Finally, think about how you manage yourself. If you want to secure commitment from colleagues, whether at a junior or senior level, consider the arguments that you make in order to get your point across.

For example, to one audience you may need to focus on the financial implications of your proposal, but for another it may be about demonstrating how actions undertaken will help meet year-end objectives. In short, you should ask yourself whether you are using appropriate levels of influence and persuasion.

Your boss may be struggling to define seniority because it means different things to different people. Ultimately, however, your ability as a senior manager will be judged by how well you manage your resources, meet customer needs and lead your team. If your boss can see that others are responding positively to you, it should serve as indication that you are being senior enough.

About our Expert

Ruth Spellman
Ruth Spellman

Ruth Spellman is the chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute, a professional institution for managers, based in the United Kingdom with a mission to promote the art and science of management.

Older Comments

Well I assume that if your boss is asking you to 'be more senior' then you are 'senior'. However, your note indicates that you are not very experienced, and that is ok. Maybe your boss promoted you into a position you were not quite ready for, but still wants you to succeed at.

It sounds like you are not fulfilling a leadership role that is a part of your duties. You say, you follow your mission statement and that you have a 6 month plan. These things are good but not replacements for active involvement with you personnel. Especially if you are allowing the mission statement and 6 month plan to manage for you.

Following your mission statement is always good, but you should also get out of the box a little, be creative, seek problems, and find solutions (hint: these are things senior managers do). No, I am not talking about change for the sake of change. Find a meaningful project that adds value to your operation. Make a few independent decisions based on sound judgment, take some risk and grow into your position.