How To Be Your Own Best Advocate at Work

Are you striving for something at work—a promotion, a leave of absence, a leadership opportunity—but aren't sure how to make it happen? You may need to head down the path of self-advocacy. Modern Mentor shares her tips for being your own best advocate at work.

Rachel Cooke
5-minute read
Episode #667
The Quick And Dirty

Being your own biggest advocate at work is as simple as taking these actions:

  1. Know your what and why
  2. Get your mindset ready
  3. Recruit your champions
  4. Build stamina before you hit go

A client of mine—Jessie—was recently promoted into a big job. “Ginormous,” as she herself describes it. She’s excited and committed and all the things…but she’s anxious that she doesn’t have all of the tools and resources she needs to be effective.

“Have you asked for what you need to be successful?” I asked her.

She LOL’d. Literally.

“That would sound like an admission that I’m not ready for or capable of nailing this job,” she said.

I told her, “It’s time to talk self-advocacy.”

So we did. We covered the what, why, and how of self-advocacy in a few simple steps that I’d like to share with you today. Because maybe there’s something you want—a promotion, a spot at a conference, a leave of absence, a speaking opportunity—whatever it is, let’s talk about how you can be your own best advocate.

What is self-advocacy?

For me, self-advocacy is the simple act of knowing what you want or need, why you want or need it, and taking proactive steps in service of making it happen.

Why is self-advocacy important?

In short, because the world can’t read your mind and it doesn’t share your interior knowledge, feelings, instincts, or experiences.

When a new client calls and asks if I can design a custom program and deliver it next week, that client isn’t thoughtless or inconsiderate—they just don’t know what it takes to design a custom program. And I need to educate them—articulate a need for more time—through self-advocacy.

How do you self-advocate?

1. Know your what and why

Jessie was horrified by the prospect of asking for resources because she thought it would make her seem unqualified for the job.

But really it’s a question of basic math.

In her new role, Jessie was tasked with meeting some big objectives. And she simply didn’t have enough people, tools, or access to deliver.

By being clear and specific—“I need a communications person, a partnerships leader, access to XYZ platform, and a dashboard with ABC metrics to track our progress”—she was able to seem in control and command.

Further, by being able to articulate a clear why“Without these resources, I won’t be able to produce the campaigns to achieve the 10% growth our leadership team is expecting”—she’s communicating that she’s not asking out of fear, but clarity on what’s required to get the job done.

So what’s something you’re hoping to make happen? Are you looking for an opportunity to lead a project?

Get really specific. What are the skills you want to build, the experience you want to deliver, and why should your company choose you? What’s the risk of them going with someone else?

Great self-advocacy begins with clear rationality—not emotion.

2. Get your mindset ready

Knowing your what and why will put you on the right path. Being ready to verbalize it with stakeholders, though, can be scary.

You’ve got to be in the right mindset for your advocacy to land.

Remember: you’ve got math and reason behind you. Think of your self-advocacy not as an ask on your behalf, but as an opportunity for your organization to make a great decision.

Jessie had to shift her mindset from “I’m asking the company to spend money on me” to “I understand what it will take to achieve success, and I’m giving the company the opportunity to make it happen.”

So what mindset shift do you need to make before you start heading down Advocacy Lane?

Do you want to be considered for a promotion? Don’t apologize. You’re not asking for a favor. You’re offering the company your expertise and your drive to succeed. They can say yes or they can say no. But make sure you ready yourself to make a case for why you’re just the asset they need.  

3. Recruit your champions

You’re ready. You’ve got this. But you don’t need to go it alone.

It takes a village, as they say. So, build yourself a village of mentors, sponsors, coaches, experts, and whomever else you need to support your cause.

Jessie’s village consisted of the following:

o   Experts: people in other companies in similar roles who were willing to share their own resourcing plans which matched Jessie’s ask.

o   Sponsors: business leaders who had previously worked with Jessie, who trusted her analysis, and who supported the decision to provide her the requested resources.

o   A mentor: someone who knew the organization and her stakeholders well and was willing to advise her on how to best connect with and persuade them.

You win points for making things happen. There are no extra points awarded for doing it alone.

So, who’s in a position to support your cause? Who will speak on your behalf when you’re ready to go for the promotion? Who can coach you through the interview process? Who will be willing to give you that stretch opportunity that will demonstrate your readiness for the challenge?

4. Build stamina before you hit go.

Self-advocacy is rarely a one-and-done act. Likely you’ll need to start the conversation and be patient and persistent over time.

When Jessie had her first resourcing conversation with her leader, the outcome was not “You got it Jessie—here’s a blank check!”

Would’ve been nice. But not so realistic.

Her first conversation opened a door. It got her leader thinking, and it motivated him to do some research of his own; research which has triggered additional questions he’s posed to her, leaving her to do some more research.

It’s a process. So be ready for a marathon and not a sprint.

Maybe you’ve decided you’re ready for that promotion. But it may take time to convince others of the same. So, pace yourself. Consider all of the key stakeholders and choose a starting place. All you need to do is open a door.

Any conversation that doesn’t end in a “NO” is a victory. So just get started. And have patience with the process.

Be your own best advocate

Now it’s your turn. What’s the thing you’re determined to make happen in the coming months? Start with your what and why and see where these steps take you.

About the Author

Rachel Cooke

Rachel Cooke is a leadership and workplace expert who holds her M.A. in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. Founder of Lead Above Noise, she has been named a top 100 Leadership Speaker by Inc. Magazine and has been featured in Fast Company, The Huffington Post, and many more.