My first manager gave me some excellent career advice that I never forgot. He told me that, to get noticed and promoted, you need to look around, find problems, pick them up, and solve them. Don’t look to your job description to define the boundaries for which problems are, and which problems are not, your responsibility to solve. Don’t worry about whether you know how to solve the problem. You can and should recruit other people from other functional areas to help you, but you must take ownership for solving the problem rather than ignoring it, saying "It's not my job."
Later, when I interviewed CEOs for Keys to the Boardroom, this CEO offered similar advice and described how taking the initiative advanced his career….
I think what I learned very early in my career was you want to work hard and you want to develop a reputation for being a hard worker, willing to take on the assignments as they come at you, to reach out and volunteer for assignments. And being somebody that people can count on. The other thing is the willingness to take a risk, even if it means sometimes taking jobs that aren’t all that well defined, but jobs where, if you do it well, you can get good recognition. My managers knew that I was always willing to do the next thing, that I was willing to step up.
What happens is that...it’s the same thing that I do...You’ve got people who will reach out and take on a lot of responsibility, who will get the job done, who will do whatever it takes to get the job done. You can always count on them. And they’re not rigid in their thinking, they read a lot. They’re looking for ideas. And as a boss, you recognize that in good people and they’re not necessarily very status conscious. It’s more of a question of are they working in an environment where they have a chance to express themselves. So, as a boss, you recognize that in your people. You’re not thinking about hours, you’re thinking about getting things done.
I worked in an organization where we knew we wanted to establish a beachhead in Europe. We didn’t have any exposure there. I was not an international banker. They felt I had a lot of imagination and that I was a survivor, and they asked me to go over to Europe to set up a business. They were comfortable that I would figure out how to do it. There was no book that had been written on the subject and that’s what I did. And then when it was time to come home four years later, they gave me a similar assignment to set up a whole series of businesses in some format, and it was a question of putting together a plan, putting the people together, seeing how other people had attacked the problem or the challenge, and structuring something that made sense to the organization I was working for. And we built that up into being very profitable series of businesses.
CEO of a Fortune 500 Bank