As your career progresses, your thoughts may increasingly turn to how you can transition up to director-level. While this is not an easy move, with a little preparation and career planning, you can put yourself in a strong position for your first director role. Here are my top tips to set yourself up and step into your new role:
Director-level moves take time
For most, the move to a director-level role takes time. When you or your line manager identify a director-level role that is of interest to you, you should start planning accordingly – irrespective of your current level of seniority. Have a proactive approach to your career development by looking through job descriptions and person specifications for advertised director roles in your area of interest – assess any skill gaps and establish a plan to address any areas you lack expertise. Having a plan will help you tackle the weak areas, instead of facing continued disappointment when applying for roles or at interview stage.
Sometimes it looks like the quickest way up the career ladder for a charity comms professional is seeking opportunities in new organisations on a regular basis. After all, most charities have relatively small comms departments, and career progression may need to be found elsewhere. There’s a balance to be struck here – for each career move, assess the short-term urgency to move up the ladder with the fact your long-term career progression will be greatly improved by having stayed in post long enough to see projects through and therefore able to demonstrate the impact of your own work. Short term financial gain and rapid career progression is not necessarily the best route to the right director-level opportunity.
Go the extra mile
So, what if you’re not able to develop the skills you see as needing due to constraints in your current role? Innovate! Think about the ways you could do something differently that would benefit the charity and demonstrate your ability to think outside of the box, despite resource pressures. For example, is your charity taking full advantage of the opportunities presented by digital? Are there ways your comms strategy could be more closely aligned with your organisational strategy? Are there ways comms could better collaborate with other departments such as fundraising, campaigns or services? Invest in a project that will highlight your nimbleness, flexibility and resourcefulness to help close those skill gaps.
Innovations and projects that fall outside of your direct duties are great for your CV. But it’s not just limited to projects. Take advantage of opportunities being presented to you at your current organisation. Can you help people in the organisation by being an effective spokesperson at events, talks and media opportunities? Being a competent and reliable communicator is expected of directors. It’s just one example of something you can develop and hone while also helping your organisation.
Strategic leadership not hands on management
Remember by making the move to director-level, you will be moving further away from your comms specialism. This is especially true in larger charities where the comms remit is increasingly being merged with the work of the fundraising team. Your work will be less hands on. Instead, your time will be spent focused on strategic development and communicating this to your team. It’s important to develop key skills, such as leadership (distinctly different to line management) and delegation. You will want to build a track record of developing managers in your team, take time to improve their management skills, build their skills and confidence to improve overall performance across your team.
Having and becoming a mentor
If you don’t have a mentor or coach, finding one should be high on your list of priorities. Many people benefit greatly from having an impartial guide to work through your strengths and weaknesses and to advise on career planning. It can have a revolutionary impact on the path you follow.
Equally, as your career progresses, you should consider opportunities to become a mentor yourself. The benefits of mentoring can be surprising. This article highlights some of the benefits of mentoring which go beyond the desire to support those at the start of their career.
Become a trustee
As we’ve said before, a trustee role is a fantastic opportunity and can provide invaluable experience. It exposes you to working with boards and charity governance, not only giving you a fresh perspective (and how boards think), but the opportunity to develop skills you might not have had the chance to in your current role. It also adds to your clout, as your expertise is being sought after by another organisation. Trustee roles are a fantastic way to give back to charities but are also a great way to set you up for a director-level role.
A structured career path requires planning and investment. However, by being strategic and avoiding the easier route of falling into roles, you will move in the direction that you want and gain a seat on the senior management team.