You're the office fixer -- but you cannot seem to fix your pay
Reader: Because I possess the type of soft skills our leadership values, I am increasingly tapped for those skills. This includes being given work others were hired to do because I'm trusted to handle the work and the people diplomatically and efficiently. Last year, I accepted an "in title only" promotion because management wasn't in a position to offer additional compensation at that time and because the title would give me the authority to get things done. Since then, the answer on a raise has been a hard "no."
Although I'm interested in and challenged by the new work, I just don't have the bandwidth to take on much more in addition to my old responsibilities. I often tend to my old responsibilities from home, at night. When I made it clear to my division head that some of them were beginning to fall through the cracks, she suggested hiring an intern. It was a kind gesture, but my projects are too complex to involve an intern, and I don't have time to manage one. I've had to decline special requests to represent the division head on "high visibility" committees and projects, which has caused some tension. What else can I do to resolve this?
Karla: As I see it, you have two problems:
1. Management is actually undervaluing your "soft skills," and
2. You're letting them.
Don't blame yourself too much, though. "Soft skills" themselves have a branding problem. Diplomacy, intuition, emotional intelligence and communication skills are often taken for granted as inborn traits -- especially in women -- instead of as talents that can be cultivated.
Soft skills are also hard to quantify. It can be hard to draw a direct line from your invisible contributions to increased revenue and productivity. And yet, as with oxygen, when these invisible skills are missing, everyone suffers for it.
One solution is to start acknowledging "soft skills" with concrete labels: Fixer. Broker. Troubleshooter. Liaison. Handler. Influencer.
Now let's get back to what's keeping you from solidifying this "softer" role. You might be worried about making the shift from relying on your own achievements to hitching your reputation to your boss's wagon. You may feel responsible for seeing the old projects through -- even a bit insulted at the suggestion that they can be handed off to an intern. But as it stands, you're burning your ladder at both ends. You need to pick a direction.
If "up" is your choice, trust management's faith in your intangible talents. Use those talents to transition into a consulting role for your old projects, accepting that they may founder temporarily in someone else's hands; to draw boundaries between duties that are and are not a good use of your time; and to justify better compensation by quantifying your success in terms of crises averted and advantages secured. And if your employer still can't express in tangible rewards how it values your intangible skills, take those skills to an employer that will.
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Miller, of South Riding, Virginia, offers advice on surviving the ups and downs of the modern workplace.