If you have your sights set on a promotion in 2023, now’s the time to kickstart your plan of action. Because landing your next career step is rarely the result of a quickfire conversation. Instead, it’s a process that takes patience, precision planning and close collaboration between employer and employee. Before taking on a new role, support professionals often confirm promotion criteria and objectives well in advance, then work with their execs towards mutually agreed milestones.

Advancing in the business support space is unique. Executive Assistants (EAs), Office Managers and Receptionists might share the same title from firm to firm, but their roles, responsibilities and pay structures vary significantly. An EA in one company could focus solely on diary management, email and travel, while another could lead strategic C-suite projects.

There’s also a striking lack of performance review mechanisms and career pathways across the industry, possibly because the scope of business support roles is routinely underestimated. Unlike their sales, finance and operations colleagues, business support professionals often work without clear vertical and lateral growth opportunities within their organisation. And the higher they climb, the harder it can be to progress.

For top-level EAs and PAs, career support and mobility are often driven by the senior execs they work with. Some leaders take time out to conduct appraisals, provide feedback and set development goals, but others may delegate review responsibilities or skip them altogether.

Important work is underway to introduce shared standards of excellence across the support sector. The Global Skills Matrix from the World Administrators Alliance provides a standard framework for administrators and HR teams to identify levels of work and progression opportunities, from entry-level to Chief of Staff roles. However, most companies have yet to put the structure into practice.

So, the power is in your hands. The absence of a common business support career path is a critical concern, but it can also be a liberating call to action. Without a prescribed route to follow, there’s opportunity to map your own way forward and engineer your ideal role.

Achieving a promotion is just like any other project, requiring organisation, initiative and commitment to a crystal-clear objective. In other words, the key competencies of an outstanding business support professional. So let’s make it happen.

Define your goal

Before raising the idea of promotion with your manager, visualise exactly what you’re asking for. Think about what advancement looks like to you – and how it aligns with your current team structure, responsibilities and company aims. Are you hoping to move into a vacant position, create a brand-new role or extend your existing remit? What will you achieve as part of your new appointment? What benefits and value will you provide?

Ask for what you want  

Schedule a meeting with your boss to discuss growth opportunities and voice your desire to move up. Promotions usually follow months of dialogue and performance tracking, so you’re unlikely to walk out with a shiny new job in the bag. Instead, focus on starting strong and proving the viability of your plan.

  • Prepare a short presentation that outlines your ideal role. This should include your predicted responsibilities, deliverables and position within the organisation – as well as the value you’d bring to your team and the wider company. You know your exec best, so pitch your ideas in their preferred format.
  • Show how you’ll add value to the role and organisation with concrete examples of your new role’s requirements in action. Use stats and feedback to detail your strengths and impact, such as implementing a new system for 500 colleagues or boosting social engagement by 15% with an interactive webinar series. Once you’ve summarised your achievements, explain how they’ve prepared you for the next step.
  • Anticipate concerns and be ready to address them. If you’re short on project management experience or don’t know how to read a P&L report, head into the meeting with a ready-made solution. Share how you’ll round out your skillset with training, mentoring, leadership opportunities and stretch projects that you’ve researched in advance.
  • Suggest a timeline for transitioning to your new role. Take into account current project deadlines, handover proposals and succession planning, so your manager sees you’ve considered your move from every angle.
  • Decide what comes next. Whether your boss agrees you’re readyfor an upwards step or not, establish a road map for after your meeting. Work together to set SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) that contribute to your overall objective and schedule regular check-ins to track progress.

Request your boss’s support

Although you need to be specific when exploring promotion possibilities, you also need to stay flexible, helpful and humble. Ask your manager what they want to see from you and the milestones you need to hit to earn promotion. Take their ideas on board and work their recommendations into your personal progression plan.

Remember, your boss may offer up alternative avenues, so be ready to compromise and collaborate.

Keep building your skillset

Your initial meeting is mainly to sow the seeds of success, so don’t get discouraged if you’re asked to remain in your present position for the time being. Stay positive and focused on your aims, grabbing every chance to grow your knowledge and suitability for a future leap forwards.

  • Look for ways to considerately expand your remit. Without stepping on colleagues’ toes, search for opportunities to work outside your current role, raise your profile and add value beyond your immediate team. This could mean contributing to cross-department projects, leading an event, training and mentoring recent recruits or implementing new processes and systems. Every piece of experience counts.
  • Keep a running tally of everything you achieve, focusing on outcomes and tangible business benefits, such as saved time, money and resources. Spotlight the hours of multi-tasking magic your manager never sees and everything you do to make their day run seamlessly. You’ll need this info for your upcoming milestone meetings.

Research and reach out to people already doing your dream job, both inside and outside your organisation. Gather their advice and understand their approach, taking note of their key skills, characteristics and capabilities. Learn what their day entails, what they love about their work and the pressures and problems they encounter. If you need to increase your knowledge in a particular area to become a stronger candidate for promotion, initiate informal conversations with your in-house experts, or set up some casual coaching sessions to bridge the gap.

Regularly revisit your plan

Making it to the next level in business support might demand a dose of self-promotion that pushes you outside your comfort zone. Many EAs and PAs have built their careers working tirelessly behind the scenes, dedicating hours to ensure their exec’s success – often at the expense of their own development needs.

However, your boss can be your biggest ally on the track to promotion, so position your advancement as a shared venture. View your progression from your manager’s perspective, considering how your new role or wider remit could be a collaborative win. Could you push forward a project they find important? Could you take ownership of a key objective, developing your own capabilities as you deliver on their behalf?

It’s in your firm’s best interest to help you fulfil your potential, but you may need to speak up to set the mutual benefits in motion. Prioritise your future, maintain sight of your objective and hold your manager to their promise of regular reviews, feedback and support.

When preparing for promotion, the journey is just as important as the destination. This is your chance to make yourself even more indispensable – and when your gifts of proactivity, resourcefulness and persistence pay off.