How To Get Promoted—7 Traits To Get Noticed

As you navigate through this article, you’ll uncover the essential traits that can significantly enhance your chances of getting promoted at work. Beyond just being a hard worker, you’ll learn the importance of adaptability, self-motivation, leadership, and the desire for continuous learning. Discover the holistic approach to standing out and moving up in your professional journey.

Key takeaways:

  • Promotion isn’t just about hard work; it requires a combination of work ethic, leadership qualities, and a genuine desire to learn and grow.
  • Being adaptable to change and understanding job expectations are crucial traits for those aiming for a promotion.
  • Effective communication, especially the ability to listen first and then respond, is a vital trait for leadership roles.
  • Building genuine relationships and being truly engaged in your work can set you apart from others.
  • Taking on additional responsibilities can showcase your proactive approach and readiness for promotion.

Do you wonder how to get promoted? Are there uncomfortable struggles between employees who think promotion is based on nepotism, longevity, hard work, favoritism, or various other standards? Does the whole thing make your head spin when you think about getting promoted from within?

Maybe your manager  thinks promotion is just a job title, or that an employee will “grow into” the promotion. Promoting employees isn’t easy. Leaders can look for seemingly good indicators and then still get it wrong.

Keep the Peter Principle in mind

If someone gets promoted based on simply being a good worker, they’re going to crash headlong into the Peter Principle.

The Peter Principle is when someone is continually promoted until they hit the limits of their incompetence. At that point, they are no longer promoted and forever sit in a position they don’t do well at.

Basically, someone who is doing a great job in their current position might seem like a shoo-in for a promotion, but without core traits that are needed in higher-promoted positions, they may have simply been removed from a job they excelled at and put in one they are completely unqualified for. The best cashier might make a terrible shift manager. The short-order cook, who seems to handle incredible stress and fast-paced work, might fail miserably as a lead chef.

Not every good work skill transfers well into a promotion. And a lot of employers forget to train their employees to become good managers.

This is completely unfortunate for the person being promoted and those stuck beneath them in their final position. No one wins, everyone feels frustrated by the incompetence, and true skills are being wasted where they don’t fit.

How to get promoted with solid foundational traits

Solid foundational traits are qualities that indicate suitability for a variety of jobs and, ultimately, a position of leadership. These traits push back against the Peter Principle.

As an employer or manager, you must be able to look beyond “she’s a good worker” and see the traits that will transition well into the promoted position.

As an employee, displaying these traits clearly to your managers are how to get promoted.

Trait #1: Understands the job definition, but stays flexible

Understanding what is expected, but also being adaptable to change is a core strength of someone who is ready for promotion.

A good employee understands their job description and does it, but an employee who is ready for promotion is able to understand and adapt to situations that go beyond those boundaries.

The workplace changes. Operational goals shift. Employees come and go. Customer demand waxes and wanes. A rigid definition isn’t always feasible, and flexibility is vital.

Employees should be able to:

  • adapt in their work without holding a grudge or complaining
  • figure out a new system for getting the job done based on new expectations
  • learn and grow from mistakes

Trait #2: Sees what needs to be done

Self-motivation is made up of two parts. The first is being able to see what needs to be done.

It sounds obvious, but not everyone has the ability to do that. Some people need a list of tasks.

There are two problems with that, the first being that employees that rely on being told what to do are unable to identify things to do on their own. That might work for a while, but for such people, once the list is complete, their job is done. Their work is always the minimum required, even if they work hard and do a great job with their assigned tasks.

It’s tiring to have employees that need someone to tell them every single thing that needs to be done. There will always be gaps. An employee who can see what needs to be done is able to spot problem areas in customer service or experience. It means they have a big-picture view that extends past job requirement expectations.

The second problem in this situation is that employees who rely on being told what to do often don’t take responsibility for the outcome of their work. If something goes poorly, they can simply say that they were only doing what they were told. They have no ownership in what they do and how they do it.

An employee who has to have someone over them telling them what to do, no matter how great a worker they are, is not ready for promotion. Employees who can spot work that should be done, could be done, or areas where improvement is within their reach—noticing those areas and doing something about them, that’s how to get promoted. When someone solves a problem no one asked  them to, employers pay attention.

Trait #3: Does what needs to be done, and then some

The second part of self-motivation is doing what needs to be done. Someone who sees what needs to be done but doesn’t do it is either purposefully lazy or prone to ordering people around.

In other words, identifying areas of improvement isn’t enough. An attitude of being willing to do the work is necessary to get promoted.

Why do some employees not do work they know should be done?

Maybe they think it is beneath them, or it is someone else’s job.

While there is validity in not doing other people’s work and meddling in everyone’s affairs, there are times when things need to be done for the sake of the customer experience or the bottom line.

This is directly tied into a work ethic that looks at work in a positive way instead of a means to an end. That is, an employee with this trait sees that work has its own benefit, and has an attitude that the goal is a successfully operating business or customer experience, whoever ends up making it happen. The flip side is someone who looks to do the minimum work possible to achieve the minimum results that would still be considered a completed job.

An employee who works to fill out the hours and get a paycheck is not promotion material. If you’re wondering how to get promoted, one simple way to start is to be an employee who exceeds work expectations for the big picture, whether the paycheck reflects it or not.

Trait #4: Open to receiving direction and training

There’s a fine line between being self-motivated and being unwilling to take direction from a boss.

Consider that 58% of managers say they never received any training on how to be a manager. That’s pretty scary. Here’s the question for you: if you are willing to offer training and direction, is the person willing to receive it?

Being open to receiving direction and training is about having the right attitude.

It’s an employee who is always wanting to learn, instead of an attitude of knowing everything. They ask for input not because they’re afraid to work on their own, but because they value suggestions and are open to improvement.

A self-motivated person who isn’t open to training or suggestions is spurred on by thinking they know everything—acting like a know-it-all isn’t how to get promoted. Be someone who genuinely believes you have something to learn and can be redirected if you get off track.

Why is this a good trait for someone about to be promoted?

It’s because they never think they’ve arrived and sit back and stop growing. Instead, they are always looking to improve themselves, their work, and the same for those they will manage.

Trait #5: Listens first, talks later

Who doesn’t like someone who thinks on their feet?

Yet we often mistake a fast talker or quick responder to someone who thinks quickly on their feet when this is not always the case.

A fast talker, or someone who responds immediately to every question, does not necessarily indicate a fast thinker. It might simply be a case of someone who speaks before thinking things through. With that in mind, someone who doesn’t answer a question quickly doesn’t mean they are a slow thinker.

Managers and leaders are especially in need of great listening skills, for two reasons.

The first has to do with building a team where everyone feels necessary. Whether or not a manager is learning from the person talking to them isn’t the point. Part of listening to people is to give them a chance to be heard and feel that they are a part of a team. Being a good listener adds value to a person’s self-identity.

The second reason good listening is a required trait is the most obvious: that’s how you learn. Listening isn’t just hearing. It’s hearing, considering, thinking, and then responding or taking action.

Fast talking and thinking can be great, but cutting off fellow employees mid-sentence or blurting out the answers before anyone else, that’s a sign the employee is not ready for a promotion. They haven’t learned to lead others; they’ve only learned to put themselves out front.

Trait #6: Plays well with others

Listening well segues into the ever-necessary need to be able to work with and lead a group of people.

You have to play well with others if a promotion is going to work out. Playing well with others involves:

  • Good communication skills. Know when to talk. Know when to listen.
  • Patience and tolerance of a variety of personalities. Empathy and understanding go a long way.
  • Ability to lead unique individuals in a common direction. Being able to build a cohesive group out of individuals bouncing about like atoms is tough; it involves everything from compromise, cajoling, empowering, encouraging, and the tactful art of saying “no” without making it personal.
  • Not looking out for Number One. While self-promotion and personal branding are lauded in this day and age, extreme levels of individualism don’t bode well in promotions that involve leading or managing teams.

While you want internal leaders to be strong individuals as far as creativity and related qualities, there is little chance that someone who is extremely individualistic in personality and contribution will succeed in a promotion. If narcissism and self-promotion are a characteristic of an employee, they aren’t ready for promotion, especially if the promotion involves leading a team.

Related read: The 12-Step Process For Improving Your People Management Skills

Trait #7: Engages with their work and team

An engaged employee forms solid and genuine relationships with those they work with. They take and receive advice. They participate in all things surrounding their job and place of employment. They offer input when asked.

In other words, being an engaged employee who actually cares is how to get promoted.

In the opening paragraph, there was the suggestion that sometimes employers are careless with who they promote because they see it simply as a new job title with a few new responsibilities. The employee version of that mistake is seeing a promotion as more money and little more.

True engagement is about an employee’s motivation. Is it to make money or is it to be part of something that succeeds? Is it to have power and prestige or to lead others to success? Learn to spot a truly engaged employee instead of one who is simply actively looking for promotion and playing the right notes to get it.


When considering how to get promoted, be sure to exhibit traits that are universal. It’s not enough to just be an employee who is a “hard worker.” You must be a combination of great work ethic, self-motivation, leadership, a desire to keep learning, and humility. 

Want a way to show your employers that you’re ready to be promoted? Take on the task of employee scheduling. Suggest a way to keep employees engaged and accountable for their shifts with scheduling software like When I Work. You’ll be going above and beyond by bringing a 14-day FREE trial so your managers can save time and money when building the work schedule. Sign up for your free trial today!

How to get promoted at work FAQs

What are the foundational traits that can help me get promoted at work?

Solid foundational traits include understanding your job definition while being flexible, self-motivation, leadership qualities, a desire for continuous learning, and humility.

How does understanding my job definition contribute to getting promoted?

Understanding your job description and being adaptable to changes beyond those boundaries show readiness for promotion. It demonstrates that you can adapt to shifting operational goals and evolving workplace dynamics.

Why is self-motivation important for promotion?

Self-motivated employees can identify tasks that need to be done without always being told. They often go beyond their assigned tasks, contributing more to the company and showcasing their potential for higher roles.

How can I showcase my readiness for promotion?

Display traits that are universal for leadership roles, such as a strong work ethic, the ability to lead and motivate a team, and a genuine desire to learn and grow. Taking on additional responsibilities, like suggesting improvements or tools, can also highlight your proactive approach.

What is the Peter Principle, and how does it relate to promotions?

The Peter Principle is when someone is continually promoted until they reach a position they’re not competent in. To avoid this, it’s essential to have core traits suitable for higher roles, rather than just being good at your current position.

Why is being open to receiving direction and training crucial for getting promoted?

Being open to training and direction shows a willingness to learn and adapt. It indicates that you believe there’s always room for improvement and that you’re open to feedback, which is vital for leadership roles.

How do listening skills play a role in promotions?

Good listening skills are essential for managers and leaders to build a cohesive team where everyone feels valued. It’s about hearing, considering, thinking, and then responding or taking action, ensuring effective communication and decision-making.

Why is it important to work well with others when aiming for a promotion?

Collaborative skills are crucial for leadership roles. Being able to communicate effectively, show patience and tolerance, and lead diverse individuals towards a common goal is essential for managing teams and ensuring a harmonious work environment.

How can I demonstrate engagement with my work and team?

An engaged employee builds genuine relationships, offers valuable input, and actively participates in all aspects of their job. Showing genuine care and motivation for the success of the business and its people can set you apart.

Are there tools or suggestions I can introduce to my workplace to show my proactive approach?

Yes, suggesting tools like When I Work for employee scheduling and team communication shows a desire to improve operational efficiency, which can indicate readiness for promotion.

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