Career development: Growing in responsibilities

In my experience, typical progression of responsibilities in work environments:

  1. Carrying out tasks under supervision (TRAINEE OR ASSISTANT)
  2. Carrying out tasks independently; Taking ownership and responsibility for a task that can be done independently with thoroughness so that no further supervision/oversight is required. (INDEPENDENT CONTRIBUTOR)
  3. Carrying out complex tasks involving multiple people — in coordination and cooperation with several others but takes ownership for the task. A key distinction here is the ability to get others to participate and contribute towards taking “your” (owned by you) task to completion (TASK MANAGER)
  4. Taking ownership and responsibility for project execution — including managing resources (people, funds, infra, etc) at hand, meeting project obligations/ timelines etc; One needs to be able to plan the project, assign tasks to others, orchestrate the execution with multiple parts. (PROJECT MANAGER)
  5. Taking ownership and responsibility for “functions”  in an organisation including managing resources (people, funds, infra, etc) at hand, meeting commitments in timely manner, delivering services satisfactorily etc (FUNCTION MANAGER)
  6. Conceptualising, planning, pitching (to raise resources) and executing new projects (PROJECT LEADER)
  7. Providing leadership for a division/ program including setting up a roadmap to achieve goals, arrange resources, motivate the team, set goals, operate multiple projects towards decided goals. (DIVISION/PROGRAM HEAD)
  8. Taking ownership and responsibility for key organisational strategic objectives and chart the course towards the goals. Organise divisions/programs, set goals for the divisions/programs and facilitate/enable/empower them towards their goals. (LEADERSHIP TEAM)
  9. Setting the organizational mission/core purpose, vision and values. Championing the “offering” and purpose of the organisation. Building the core leadership team. Raising the foundational resources. Motivating and driving collective action. Setting priorities. Takes ownership and responsibility of choices made.  (FOUNDER; TOP MGMT; CEO)

Note: The above is only a typical progression for discussion purposes. In actual practice there will always be differences based on each situation. Very often the same person will be carrying out many different roles — this is especially so in start up environments and small companies.

Some interesting observations:

  • Most young people will immediately notice that they like it when they are growing in responsibilities steadily. A job that is stagnant in responsibilities can get limiting even if the tasks keep changing regularly.
  • However, the common mistake its to assume that responsibilities are “given”. They are “earned”. People who are given greater responsibilities are those who have shown that they can handle smaller responsibilities very well.
  • In some specialised professions, people may choose to remain Independent Contributors but only grow in technical excellence but not in range of responsibilities. That depends on your personal orientation. So, some organisations may have a separate career track that recognises technical excellence instead of increasing responsibilities.
  • Interestingly, there may be no correlation between the nature of responsibilities and the compensation you get. For example, in NGOs or in small companies, you may have much larger responsibilities  but with much smaller compensations.
  • It is often because of the opportunity to take on larger responsibilities that many people may chose to either quit larger companies and create startups or choose to work part-time or moonlight or volunteer with NGOs.
  • Since larger entities drive efficiencies by streamlining tasks, they tend to reduce as many activities as possible into well defined tasks. Consequently, people are hired for  executing specific tasks well. Larger companies can pay well for execution of these tasks.
  • In general, smaller entities give young people a better chance to take up larger responsibilities.
  • You will immediately notice that for students, selected volunteering opportunities with NGOs or organising large events or taking on institutional responsibilities or club responsibilities or being  team captain etc are great ways to learn about and test your abilities in taking different types of responsibilities.
  • Once you have tasted blood in terms of taking on larger responsibilities, it is often hard to slide down to roles with limited responsibilities.
  • If you are on career growth track, it is important for you to realize that you need to show ability to handle larger responsibilities progressively in order to grow. Also, you should not reject opportunities of greater responsibility thrust on you since these are mechanisms to prove your worth. Sometimes, young people seek promotions without trying to build their ability to handle greater responsibilities or build in technical excellence in their roles.
  • If you are a student, you may wish to think about what your jobs and internships will teach you in the context of the above frameworks. Do not shy away from opportunities that stretch your abilities and help you test your strengths.

You may wish to use this framework to think about:

  • Where do you stand today? What kind of responsibilities are you taking up?
  • What is your personal orientation — growth in responsibilities or technical excellence?
  • Where (in terms of responsibilities) would you like to be next and what can you do to prepare for that?