Early in my career, I worked with a man who was our department’s expert on reporting. He had manually created all of the reporting templates and was the only one who really understood how to populate them. Everyone on the team depended on him for their data. People would sometimes joke about the problems we’d face if he were to get hit by a bus one day. While he had great job security, he had made himself irreplaceable.
It may sound counter-intuitive but it is possible to be too good at your job. Because you are a trusted, reliable asset to your team, your manager likely cringes at the thought of losing you. Nobody else understands your business like you do. If you were to leave, how could they ever find someone to step into your role?
I’m not suggesting that you start compromising the quality of your work. Your expertise and reliability are important elements of your brand, which you do not want to damage. But there are steps you can take to make yourself less indispensable and more promotable.
1. Demystify your work
If your skill set is highly technical or specialized, it may intimidate others who are less familiar with it. Whenever possible, try to explain things in more understandable terms. Even your manager may not fully understand what you do. When providing updates or reports to him/her, include some detail about how you got there. The more accessible your work, the less daunting it will feel to others.
2. Mentor others on your team
When you’re busy and highly skilled at your role, you might not feel the need to interact regularly with your team. If you want to get ahead, though, not engaging with your team is a missed opportunity. Mentor individuals who are interested in your work or perform related roles. Schedule a lunch and learn to teach your team how to use key tools and resources. The more your team understands your role, the less you’ll be perceived as a standalone performer.
3. Groom a potential successor
Until your manager can find a suitable replacement for you, he/she will have a difficult time letting you go. Is there someone on your team who has the potential to step into your role someday? Talk with them about their interests and goals. Consider delegating some activities or partnering on key projects with them. Even if you remain in your role for a while, it’s valuable to have someone else who can pick up the slack when you’re out of the office or tied up with other priorities.
4. Discuss your goals with your manager
If you’re interested in pursuing a new role, it likely won’t happen overnight. Let your manager in on your plans well in advance to allow for a seamless transition. Share your thoughts on a successor, offer to transfer your knowledge to the appropriate people, and let him/her know that you’ll be available for occasional questions after you leave. The more comfortable your manager feels about a future without you, the more support you’ll receive.
If you excel at what you do, keep up the great work! But if you want to get ahead, don’t be irreplaceable.