Taking initiative at work doesn't have to be a daunting prospect, but it also doesn't mean anointing yourself "Queen for a Day." Instead, think of the old business adage -- "Find a need and fill it." Use this same approach as your guide to showing initiative in the workplace. Whether it's a new client project or organizing the company picnic, find an activity that needs to be done and that you can do successfully. Then, volunteer to do it. Look especially for projects that will let you showcase your work or organizational skills -- always a plus at evaluation time.
Keep alert to opportunities to head up a new project, run a committee or something else the boss mentions. Don't volunteer for something you hate or can't do, but be open to filling a gap at work. And, don't wait to be asked: the whole point of showing initiative is taking the bull by the horns and doing something before you're asked. So, if the boss announced in the last staff meeting that he just got in a couple of new projects or wished out loud that he had a committee to do a new employee handbook, go into his office and volunteer to take the lead.
Research a subject, make some preliminary plans or come up with ways to solve a problem. Organize your information and make an appointment to discuss it with your boss. Open with something like "I noticed we're still using the same delivery service for our overseas clients we've used for years. I did some checking, and found a few options that offer better delivery times, more competitive prices andadditional services for the same price." Your boss likely will appreciate your initiative, particularly if it's something he hasn't had time to tackle himself, solves a long-standing problem or saves the company money.
Step up to fill a void if something's not getting done that needs to be. Be tactful about it, but if you've got the time and skills to take care of a meeting in the boss's absence or meet with a client when a co-worker is sick, do it. Don't try to take over, but just do what needs to be done. When your team needs to get started on a new project that the boss just discussed with you, and then his wife goes into labor, go ahead and get the ball rolling. Call the group together, pass on the boss's vision for the project and share information so your co-workers can get started.
Keep an eye out for non-work projects or efforts, too. If you love party planning, stop by the boss's office and offer to organize the annual office holiday party -- he'll probably be thrilled to have it taken care of. And by taking the lead, you can make sure the group doesn't get stuck with last year's "mystery chicken" for an entree this time. Maybe you're an athlete -- get a group together to represent the office in the local softball league. And even if you've never wielded a hammer in your life, you can organize the office group to participate in a community building project.
- Take care that your efforts at initiative do not involve committing company personnel or funds, or becoming involved in areas beyond the purview of the company's interests or capabilities. And don't be arrogant about it -- showing initiative is about stepping up as a leader and team player, not stepping on other people's toes to prove you can do something better than they can.
As a national security analyst for the U.S. government, Molly Thompson wrote extensively for classified USG publications. Thompson established and runs a strategic analysis company, is a professional genealogist and participates in numerous community organizations.Thompson holds degrees from Wellesley and Georgetown in psychology, political science and international relations.