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In a nutshell: the CEO of my company keeps on praising me and has been expressing intention of giving me more responsibility in the company, for some time now (ca. 1 year). These have not materialized so far. How can I try and sound out if there is anything material behind these declarations?

I have been working at my current company for around 3-4 years. I have been doing very well (as measured by fairly objective measures), and receiving good feedback. The CEO of the company (who is not my direct manager) keeps on saying nice things about my work and makes claims - in one-on-one conversations only - that he wishes that I take on more responsibility. However, I have been hearing this for some time now - at least 1 year - and so far this did not translate into anything at all. Sometimes the CEO would mention that 'he needs to convince others' of his plans, or that perhaps 'I still need to have more experience'. I mostly enjoy the workplace, but if I'll be stuck in my current role for a while, I probably want to look for another job. This is not about mostly about pay, by the way - rather about the scope for doing more interesting work.

Can you recommend a constructive way to address these issues? I am not keen to be confrontational, since my industry is relatively small (pharma research), even if this was otherwise an efficient way of going around this.

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    Have you told your manager that you want to take on more responsibility? – keshlam Feb 7 '16 at 17:42
  • Yes. Though my manager is not very interested in managing his team (he has plenty of non-managerial duties as well), I don't think this path will take me very far... :( That's why I'm focusing my attention on what the CEO said. – Bennet Feb 7 '16 at 17:44
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    You may have to make it happen, if your manager doesn't point you in the right direction. Keep your eyes open for opportunities to grab a challenging task, or to organize a sub-team, or to educate yourself and then transfer thst education to your department... See if someone more experienced is willing to mentor you. The CEO is telling you to show a bit more initiative, and if you can't do that with your manager's assistance you'll have to make it happen without that assist. – keshlam Feb 7 '16 at 17:51
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How can I try and sound out if there is anything material behind these declarations?

The next time a vague (or direct) promise comes your way, reply right back:

Sounds great - I'm certainly ready for more responsibility! When can I start?

You'll quickly learn if this was just a verbal massage, or a real "promise".

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    +1 The difference between a promise and a platitude is the intent to actually do it. – Jane S Feb 7 '16 at 20:11
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A couple of things do not sound right:

  • If he is the CEO then does not need to convince others

  • One year is enough time for more experience

I think you do need to push back politely. Next time he wishes that you take on more responsibility then come back with:

I am ready for more responsibility now, how do we make that happen?

  • Thank you Frisbee. Makes sense. I agree the whole story, as presented, seems to not quite add up. I'll try to make my stance more assertive, around this theme. – Bennet Feb 7 '16 at 20:00
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  1. Establish an explicit expectation with the CEO about the role you want and what you are doing to prepare yourself for it. There is nothing confrontational about this, and you shouldn't be reticent about looking out for yourself and your career.
  2. Ask for specific, measurable, and actionable goals you can work on to help develop yourself for the role you want. These may include performance targets in your current role, training, exposure to new projects, etc. Identify any perceived weaknesses that could hinder your success in your desired role; work on them.
  3. Give him reasonable time; I don't know the size of your organization, but I could imagine it taking a while to build buy-in with other managers, a board, and/or HR.
  4. Be prepared to walk if they can't offer you a career development path that is appropriate to your levels of effort and skill.
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Sounds to me as though the CEO does believe what he's saying but doesn't want to force it on other manager(s).

Best to have an open and honest discussion about it with your manager. Tell your manager how you feel, but ideally don't threaten to quit. Just go on an information finding mission for now. See how your manager feels about it, try to understand their position. If you hear that you need more experience, ask what areas specifically you can help with to gain that experience.

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You need to be asking the other managers who assign people to the projects you're interested in. The CEO likes you, but he's not going to go too far out of his way to convince others to promote you at this time.

Get specific concerns from the other managers about level of expertise and experience. If they feel you don't have enough, how far off are you? What could you be doing to make them think you are qualified?

It sounds to me like you are not showing everyone how ambitious you are and think a CEO who flatters you in private is enough. Apparently it is not, so take action. If anyone has concerns about CEO approval, let them know what he says about you. When you're mom tells you to "ask your father" and he does the same think when you're trying to get permission, you tell him, "Mom said it was all right if you do too."

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