According to Saul Gellerman in his book Motivation, when you get recommended for a promotion, your superiors are betting their reputations on you. To make them take that risk, you need to do more than just do a good job. You need to do three more things.
1. distinguish yourself from all of the other good performers
2. become known outside the immediate context of your job
3. learn how to manage your luck
To distinguish yourself, you have to make it clear that youre not just a good whatever. You have to demonstrate competence in a broad range of tasks and a broad intelligence. The better you are at what you are doing now, the greater will be the tendency to typecast you by your present job.
Next, get to know as many people outside your department as possible. Use coffee breaks, get-togethers, and meetings to make your presence known and to get to know others. Show how nice you are, but display your competence too.
Each new contact is an opportunity for several more. Once youve established a rapport with someone, get him to introduce you to his colleagues or even his boss. Create your own personal, powerful internal network on every corporate level. Keep in mind that to successfully climb the ranks, you need the support of subordinates and colleagues as well as superiors.
You can learn to manage your luck the way a good infielder readies himself for a ball that may or may not be hit toward him. The infielder thinks through what he should do if the ball comes high or low, to the left or the right, so he will not have to think as the ball races toward him.
To Gellermans recommendations, I would add the following: If possible, you should try to whatever extent possible to demonstrate the skills of the job you are seeking as soon as you realize you want it.
You want to show the world that you are capable of doing the job you seek well, and theres no better way to do that than by starting to do the relevant tasks before the job opens up.
How do you show the world you can do the job?
First and most obviously, volunteer to help the current jobholder. A job worth having is usually complex and demanding. That means the person whose job you want will probably feel, at times at least, swamped. How could he resist your pleasant proposition to do the chores he doesnt have time for?
He may refuse your offer if he doesnt trust you. If he wants to keep his job and gets the sense that you want to take it from him, expect resistance.
So, if your plan is to replace him, you need to be very careful. But if he is moving on and you are hoping to succeed him, it should be easy to ask him for work. Ask for the grunge work first. The interesting stuff will come later.
Remember, the most important factor in getting ahead is to gain the trust of the people you work with your subordinates, your colleagues, and your superiors. And you cant possibly get the confidence of all three groups unless you merit it. In short, the way to gain trust is to be trustworthy.
I am talking about respecting the fundamental unwritten rule of hierarchy: If you support my position, and you prove yourself to be superior, when it is time for me to move upstairs, Ill recommend you to replace me . . . but only if I can trust you to continue to support me.
One more thing: Identify the superior who is really in charge of your career. This may or may not be your immediate superior. It should be, but in a broken structure, it may be the person above him.
When it comes to self-preservation, people are at their smartest. They listen with their full attention. They watch what you do. They overhear what you say to others.
So be careful. And make up your mind that you will have integrity.