Let’s face it. Times are tough, and many industries are still experiencing cutbacks, layoffs and salary freezes. That doesn’t mean it’s time to slack off at work, however. It’s just as important – if not more important – to make yourself a valuable resource and to try to move ahead with your career, even if your options are limited.

To that end, supervisors and managers can be a valuable resource when climbing the corporate ladder, not just because they sign your paycheck or approve that promotion, but because they can offer you valuable knowledge – knowledge that can lead you toward career advancement and a sense of fulfillment.

Your supervisor is a great resource for you to learn about the history of your company, how to improve your job performance and how to increase your chances for promotion. Instead of avoiding, loathing or fearing your supervisor, try to view him or her as someone who can help you advance your career.

Here are three ways to utilize your supervisor as a resource:

1. Model their behavior.
If your supervisor is in the position you aspire to, “model” them. That doesn’t mean to dress, walk or talk like them. It means researching their rise and taking similar steps in your quest. Finding out as much as you can about your supervisor’s climb up the corporate ladder can provide you with a potential blueprint for how you can achieve that same position.

When the time is appropriate (such as lunch time or during an office party), get to know your supervisor or manager better. Try to ask the following questions:

  1. What did they major in? What type of degree do they hold?
  2. Did they take any specific on-the-job training?
  3. What about their work history – did they work different positions in the company to get to where they are today? Was it one specific job that got them where they are today or was it a progression of jobs?

If your supervisor seems annoyed by these kind of questions, take a hint and do not persist. You want to learn from their professional experience, but back off if he or she seems unwilling to share.

Recommended reading: Performance Breakthrough: A Radical Approach to Success at Work

2. Communicate regularly – not just once a year.
Talking with your supervisor about your progress and how you can improve your chances for promotion can help you immensely. The majority of employees dread the annual or semi-annual evaluation. Instead, use this review to your advantage. Ask what he or she sees as your specific strengths and weaknesses. Ask, “What can I do to improve my overall job performance?” This eliminates any guesswork trying to figure out what you can do to get that promotion. A good supervisor will always be honest with you and tell you what you can do to improve your job performance.

When a supervisor informs you of your weaknesses in terms of job performance, don’t take it as a harsh criticism. Be grateful for this type of information; use it to forge ahead and show that you are eager to improve. Treat your supervisor with respect and show her you have the right skills and drive for advancement. Good managers and supervisors want to see you succeed! The more knowledgeable you are about performing your job and improving your work performance, the more “noticeable” you will become to your supervisor. When they are meeting with business executives and leaders to discuss forthcoming promotions, you will have a good chance of being one of those people nominated. Or, you may be the first person they think of if a new position becomes available.

And, don’t forget to touch base with your manager or supervisor on a regular basis. Yearly reviews aren’t enough in terms of communication. Go out of your way to discuss ideas, business trends, and company or department improvements with your supervisor on a regular basis. By taking a proactive step toward communicating in a positive, helpful way, you can be the person that stands out in his or her mind when the time comes for a promotion or raise.

Co-workers may also be a reliable resource to you. They may not know specifics about the supervisor you are trying to model, but they may know general requirements expected or preferred for the type of job position you desire.

3. Network.
Use your supervisor as a liaison to network with executives and leaders in your company. Getting face time may sound shallow, but people don’t really know you unless they meet you. E-mail is not enough to create a solid networking relationship. Your supervisor can introduce you to influential people (company leaders, industry experts, important clients) who can help you in your career advancement. Through your supervisor or manager, you can find out about conferences and social events where you can start laying the “groundwork” for beneficial relationships. Getting your name and face out there will help influential people remember you.

Another way to make network connections and get noticed is to volunteer for company events. Always go to your supervisor first and ask permission to participate in any volunteer activities within your company, and make sure it does not disrupt your day-to-day business activities or make your supervisor’s job difficult.

Working with your supervisor instead of against him or her can help you get ahead in your career. You should never fear your supervisor or feel inferior. Use your supervisor’s knowledge and experience to your advantage. You do not have to agree with his or her personal ideas, laugh at his or her jokes or obey that person’s every command. However, you should show your supervisor the respect you would want in return. By using your supervisor as a resource, you can gain the knowledge and connections you need to advance your career.

About the author:
Kim Goff is a professional speaker, freelance writer and author who currently works as a communications director for the United Way of York County. She speaks on overcoming obstacles, life balance and women in the workplace, and is author of “Female Empowerment – A Personal Journey.” For more information, e-mail: kimandbill1@comcast.net.