In my current role, I am "irreplaceable", by which I mean it is very painful to replace me, but doable. It would take about 8 months to train someone to take up my role. I want to move away from the technical side of the business into the client facing side, which would be a promotion.

My boss has verbally agreed to let me move to any role within the company, but he also says he needs me in my current role because they can't afford 8 months to train someone. I also do not have the time for it because we have contracts to be worked on asap.

How do you manage to get a promotion while being irreplaceable? Are these mutually exclusive?

The solution I have thought of is looking for another job, and stressing the importance of training people to increase stability. I am looking for better solutions.

EDIT: I'm not interested in keeping knowledge to myself, I'm not worried about becoming replaceable. I'm asking how to gain a promotion or or move into another part of the company if you are needed so much in your current role

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    The answers to that question and the two questions linked from there adequately answer your question here. Have you gone through those? In brief, you cannot get promoted easily (or at all) if you are irreplaceable in your current role. This seemed to be your main question here, and several of those answers explain this point.
    – Masked Man
    May 27, 2018 at 17:16
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    Get a doctor to write you off for 2 weeks; they'll start to train a replacement. May 27, 2018 at 22:14
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    I saw this situation so many time and the usual outcome is the concerned person give their notice after having found the promotion from another company, at this moment, the current management offer the promotion. If the management was up to their words to give you that promotion, they would have hired someone to replace you, right now, they benefit from this situation. Also, they probably prefer to hire someone for the promoted position because you are excellent at your current position May 28, 2018 at 11:26
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    @masked-man thank you, those answers helped parts of my question
    – pm1391
    May 28, 2018 at 13:48

2 Answers 2


To get out of this situation while staying in the company you need a creative solution. This starts with understanding how you ended up in the predicament in the first place.

Why are you the only person who can do this work?

Poor Oversight

Its possible you ended up as the only person who knows how to do this because you managers didn't realize how important this area was. This can happen when one person is on a small system within a company. The system is critical to the operation of company but not core to what the company does. The company becomes dependent on the system without knowing it.

You can explain to management that they how have a classic "what do we do if I is hit by a bus?" Emphasize that you have not intention of leaving the company but they need to prepare for that possibility because unpredictable life events. They will probably realize this includes the possibility that you will leave for personal advancement. It’s a good thing that they know this so long as you are not using it to threaten them.

Then need someone else to know this stuff. For many kinds of work, training is a slow way to work. People take in little information when told things. People learn much faster by doing. So long as you are doing the work, even if someone is shadowing you it will talk a long time for them to get up to speed.

A better way is to have you stop working in this area without you leaving the company. If the managers replace you someone, then they will have to get up to speed fast. However, unlike if you were hit by the bus you are still around to answer questions. You should agree goals for how much of you time is spent answering questions. These goals should go down over time. If you are not meeting these goals, or you are cheating by working extra hours to help then this is not working and you need a different solution.

Poor Resourcing

If could be that your immediate management recognizes that this is a problem but to keep within budget they have only allocated you to this area of work. In this case you need to talk to them about whether the benefit of this system to the company justifies having more than one person work on it. This additional expense may only exist long enough to train a second person. If the answer is yes then you can hire your replacement. If you do so you must have a training plan in place so that you can transfer ownership.

Complexity or Undesirable Work

I'm bundling the next two reasons together because their solutions are the same. It is possible that your management team realize this is a problem and are willing to spend the money to have someone else learn this area but they struggle to find someone to work on it. This could be because the work is seen as undesirable by others, perhaps you use a technology which is considered outdated or perhaps the work is seen as frustrating and unsatisfying such as delinquent accounts receivable.

Another possibility is the system you work on is very complex and therefore it is very hard for others to get into the work. The complexity my be the nature of the work or it could be because the system which has been built over time have become complex.

The solution to these two problems is not to find someone to learn the system. The solution is to replace the system with something else. This presents a great opportunity for you to demonstrate your ability to solve a problem for the company using creative thinking, technical and even personal leadership. Think about alternatives you have? Can you break the system up or achieve the goals in a different way? Perhaps this involves deciding what the system must do and what you can stop doing because the cost isn’t justified. Is there technology or services you could use to replace you if you were willing to change how the company worked?

If you can present a plan to you managers to replace the work then they can decide how much you want to invest in solving this problem and how much you all benefit from the new system, including the benefit that they are not dependent on you.

While this may feel intractable at the moment, if you are you managers can take a step back from the day to day you may realize this is a great opportunity to work in a much better way for everyone, and get you out of a hole.

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    You had basically described the entirety of one of my past job positions. Not one, bu all of the issues you mentioned applied verbatim; if fixing one of those root issues is extremely difficult, trying to fix all those issues is practically impossible, which makes it a dead end. In such cases, finding another job with less culturally rooted issues is easier. May 28, 2018 at 5:54
  • Your last solution is impressive, and too often overlooked. If an activity ios getting dangerous, try to get the same result through another activity.
    – gazzz0x2z
    May 28, 2018 at 13:07
  • Great answer, helps a ton and a lot to think about. @DanielCuadra, and how did you cope with this? Found another job?
    – pm1391
    May 28, 2018 at 13:52
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    @pm1391, I wanted fix the situation, so I recollected data points, built slides and met with managers 3-levels up to cascade down the suggestions. We did obtain more staff, equipment and such. Trying to justify your very own existence and value iteratively is exhausting, so I was very worn out after 1 year. That's when I decided to leave the company but under 3 terms: 1) I would wear out 1 extra year to leave the best landscape possible to my remaining peers, 2) I would find a company with the correct culture, and 3) I would document this to help others (see tinyurl.com/y9vngr9g ) May 28, 2018 at 17:12
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    @pm1391 I was the manager is a situation like this. I convinced leadership that this was something that was important but not something we have expertise to do. We found the money to hire a consultant to outsource the system. In the long run it was cheaper and less risky. We had to give up on a lot of special cases in the existing system. There was some whining for a while but then everyone forgot about it because it did 80% of the old system and the 20% wasn't worth it. My takeaway from this for the employee is find a champion in leadership for making a change.
    – Dan Fomby
    May 28, 2018 at 17:19

The problem is that you are leaving them the possibility to choose the option you don't want, which is leaving things just the way they are. While you must focus on provide different ways to ease your transition, if you really want a change you have to make them know that not today, not tomorrow but eventually you want to make sure you move to another role, and if they don't work with you to figure out a plan to make it work for both you will eventually leave. If you are a valuable employee and difficult to replace (and they are a bit smart) they'll take the hint and will do something for you.

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