Being Seen as a Professional by Senior Leaders

February 2014

This month’s question is answered by Braden Hosch, Assistant Vice President for Institutional Research, Planning and Effectiveness at Stony Brook University. Braden also serves as an IPEDS Trainer. The ideas, opinions, and perspectives expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily AIR. 

Dear Braden: I am interested in advancing professionally, and I have already completed as much formal education as I can reasonably accomplish. What else can I do to be seen as a professional by senior leaders?

Being seen as a professional fundamentally involves getting the day-to-day job done—done well, done on time, and done without complaint. Developing a reputation for delivering results is of paramount importance, and the strategies I describe below won’t make up for missed deadlines or a reputation for a negative attitude. But once the fundamentals are covered, some key principles have helped me convey my sense of professionalism, and I tend to view others favorably who demonstrate these traits.

Be diplomatic. Always. How we interact with people is just as important as the content of the interactions. Awareness that the people with whom I work are invested in their own ideas, positions, departments, and initiatives helps shape how I talk about ideas with objectivity and detachment. This means, in part, that I try to avoid words that express strong value judgments. For instance, using the phrase “that’s a bad idea” can prompt defensiveness that shuts down productive dialogue, but the phrase “that’s an important idea, but it might not advance our goals in the way intended” conveys a sense of value and sets up a platform for examining the strengths and potential weaknesses of the idea.

Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. I received this piece of advice early in my career. I was quite young when I became an administrator, and I soon discovered that no one took me seriously unless I dressed the part and wore a suit. Over time, it became my work attire of choice. I am always prepared to meet VIPs at a moment’s notice, and the people I meet assume I mean business. Also, I have taken to regularly wearing my institution’s lapel pin (you can usually get one of these in the bookstore). Not only is it an expression of commitment to the institution, it reminds me who I’m working for.

Stay well-informed. When I started in higher education, I purchased a subscription to the Chronicle of Higher Education and read the news every morning. I still do. (The free, online Inside Higher Ed also provides strong coverage of higher education issues.) When we are able to connect issues confronting our institutions to a larger context, we create value for our institutions and demonstrate that we are “plugged in” to broader conversations and the “big picture.”

Spread credit around. Successful professionals work in teams and acknowledge the contributions of others. I am quick to highlight what my staff or partners have done to move an initiative forward, and conversely, I often downplay my own contributions. This strategy has become increasingly important as I have taken on more and more responsibility. The guiding principles here are that other people are generally better ambassadors of our contributions than we can be ourselves, and that our own success depends upon the success of those around us.

Value quality. As a professional, I place value on quality work product, quality relationships, and quality organizations. By internalizing this value and asking, “How can this situation, meeting, project, or relationship be made better?” it is easier to identify a course of action that accomplishes this goal.

View Comments (PDF)