10/09/2012 06:04 pm ET Updated Dec 09, 2012

Don't Rely on Your Boss to Advance Your Career

In a perfect world, your boss would act as a your coach and help you grow your career to enable you to play to your strengths and honor your professional goals. It's time to wake up and check back into reality, since in most cases that scenario is just a dream.

While there are some great bosses out there, there are many who are lacking in superior leadership skills. No matter what end of the spectrum your boss falls on, your career advancement is your responsibility, not his. So many people go through life letting momentum carry them along a career path. It's time to give yourself permission to take control your career future.

Here are six action steps to get you started down the road to career advancement and empowerment:

Have a Plan - Even if you are happy in your current position, you need to be thinking about your future growth or exit strategy. Keep time on your side by developing a vision of where you want to be in the next one, three and five years. Consider your salary, rank and the tasks of your position and begin to design a scenario that you can grow into when you earn the opportunity to advance. By having a plan, you can contribute to the conversation during performance evaluation time (and in-between) so the powers that be know you are serious about professional growth.

Earn a Sponsor - A sponsor knows your accomplishments well and will sell you to others that do not know you in your organization and beyond. Your sponsor puts her reputation on the line for you and gives you a professional endorsement that gives you clout and credibility. Your sponsor is willing to put his name out there for you in order to help you advance but the relationship is earned and is an investment for you and for them.

It's important to keep your sponsor well-informed about your accomplishments so she can go to bat for you and recommend you for key projects that will help you distinguish yourself in your current organization or another career arena.

Manage Up - Don't wait for your annual performance review to share what you are doing well. Your boss is busy doing her job and may not even realize all the great things you are accomplishing because everything is going so well. Prepare a brief monthly report to share with your boss that outlines the goals you have met or surpassed, new initiatives you have implemented and any information that will showcase that you are working above and beyond your expected job description. These reports will help your boss know you are promotion worthy and define your performance in terms that you create.

Ask For It - It's time to be the CEO of your own career and ask for what you want professionally. Don't take a passive role in your career advancement and never assume that your superiors know about your professional aspirations. Ask your boss for a promotion and make a strong case for your request by backing it up with comparative salary data as well as results of your accomplishments during a given period. Be clear about what you are asking for but enter the discussion with a negotiating mindset, open for revision and up for the discussion.

Don't suffer from low expectations, set your sights high and be specific about what you want and why you deserve it. In this economy you can't wait for a raise to come to you no matter how stellar you are at work. You must make the powers that be aware of your value-add, ask for what you deserve, and come to the negotiation with facts and a strong ability to negotiate.

Asking for what you want doesn't always involve a raise. It may be that you want to work on a new project or add travel to your schedule. Think creatively about what meets your professional values and ask for it.

Know Your Value - As you navigate your career advancement journey you will be adding experiences and professional strengths to your accomplishments over time. It's important to know what you do well and what is desirable in the marketplace in your particular field so you can plan your strategy accordingly. Knowing your special sauce will give you a competitive advantage and enable you to set yourself apart from the competition. This is especially important when negotiating for a raise or a new opportunity.

It May Be Time to Move On - In some organizations, moving up in the ranks is just not possible no matter how stellar your performance is due to rigid job classification structures and stagnant HR policies. If you can't move up to achieve the opportunity you deserve, you should think seriously about moving out of your organization and into another where you can bloom. It's up to you to recognize when there is a sticky floor and a low ceiling preventing your professional growth.

Don't rely on your boss to grow your career. You alone have accountability for where you want to go. If your current boss is not star material, giving you opportunities to grow within an organization that you love, it may be time to look for one that is. After all, you are in control of your career destiny. You have the power to take charge of your career future. Game on!

Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book This Is Not the Career I Ordered and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name ( She is the Director of Career & Professional Development and Adjunct Faculty at Indiana University Maurer School of Law and hosts the national CBS Radio Show Career Coach Caroline on Tuesdays at 5pm ET. Caroline also contributes to AOL Jobs, CNN Money, and More Magazine online.