How to be indispensable at work

A look at who does the most valuable work in any organization will show that some people really are indispensable. Not only do they know their stuff, they're good situation handlers, people handlers, fixers, and seem to pull skills out of thin air. They smooth over rough patches, and take loads and stress off others. They're the ones who turn out to be experts on diverse ranges of subjects. Their value is that they can deal with things in-house. That alone represents a major cost benefit.

Knowledge is power, when it's useful. The indispensable person is one who is in a situation where their knowledge is functionally effective. The classic case is the office clerk who can handle incoming, conflicting, priorities with deft efficiency. The new job or situation is done and on its way out before it clutters up the office. That capacity is recognized, and it's often rewarded. The effect is to remove problems up the line, and that's appreciated.

To be indispensable means to have real skills which are known and seen for their true worth. To become indispensable requires recognition. Cvtips has a page related to promotion, which is also a guide some fundamental social interactions at work which help gain recognition.

Promotion Central

Those social interactions do matter. How many people have you heard say they don't get recognition for what they do, or that others get the credit for their work? Probably a lot, it's quite common. The problem is that many people just don't know how to get it.

Some people seem to get promoted for just breathing, and although their skills are average. The fact is that some are that much better than others at getting recognition. Sometimes office politics play a part, but that's a treacherous, extremely untrustworthy situation. You'll probably have seen what happens to those on the losing side of office politics. Neutrals are a lot safer.

Even though reward and recognition are now a part of management science, and good managers always make a point of acknowledging good work and effort, the natural processes of the workplace don't exactly guarantee that. More work is more likely than more praise.

Getting recognition

The only certain way of achieving appreciation is to go looking for it. In a career context, it defines the career, in many ways. Regrettably, some people have incredible skills, but no talent for self promotion. They can be so self effacing that hardly anyone knows they exist. Lack of recognition is almost certain, unless they accidentally attract attention.

Volunteering for new work, new projects, demonstrating competence, and even enthusiasm, isn't a crime. 'Self promotion' isn't a crime. If you think of a career as like car racing, you're not going to win if you're stuck in 'park'. Do nothing, and nothing will happen.

Study and experience, qualifications, and extra work, all play a role. The unavoidable point is that your credentials are better. That matters across your whole working life. Your first job won't be your last, and credentials accumulate, if you get it right.

In practical terms, indispensability requires a level of participation beyond average. The acknowledged indispensable people learn their skills well, and above all apply them properly. They are seen to be achieving things, and getting useful results. You'll notice that professionals can make anything look easy, and the reason for that is real skill, real ability, and they're in a position to prove their worth. The irreplaceable skill level is their great strength.

Professional managers at all levels recognize those skills, and that's where your indispensability will be decided, one way or another. Recommendations for promotion and higher salary are made by people who will be held responsible for recommending whoever is chosen. Your indispensability is very much decided by who's prepared to risk picking you. That's a real character reference.

That should be seen in its proper context. You may be good, but someone is liable for appointing you. The irreplaceable skills have created a level of trust. Nobody else is considered able to fill the shoes of the indispensable person.

Think of it like this:

  • Who do you know in the workplace you would consider indispensable?
  • Why?
  • What are their characteristics?
  • Do they deliver better standards, better work practices, or are they so fully in control that everything seems to always run reliably?
  • Do they work both up and down the management chain with ease, trusted by management and staff alike?

As you can see, there's a few reasons why people are considered indispensable, and that's exactly what management will always be looking for. If you can see yourself in that role, you're on your way.