Don’t Over-Specialize In Your Role! Here’s How to Fix It If You Did

SHANGHAI, CHINA - NOVEMBER 28: A team of of gymnasts from the wo

You don’t ever want to be the only person who can do something unique or particularly complicated on your team for a sustained period of time. For example, the specialist supporting a particular system/application or database (think performance management, learning management or applicant tracking). You might think this would make you important, and your skills particularly valuable when you are the “go to person.”

Unfortunately this approach backfires every time. Here’s why:

When you are the only person with those skills, no one else can help the team when you are unavailable. You might think that’s a good thing, but the reality is that there WILL be times you are not available.

  • You will get sick.
  • You will (SHOULD!) go on vacation.
  • You will be in training or at a conference.
  • Eventually, you will and should want to move into a new/different role. A different role could be a lateral move or it could be vertical (a promotion). But when you are too highly specialized, your manager cannot afford to lose you from your current position. Then it is impossible for you to be promoted and you have limited your career options unless you leave the company altogether. Then your manager is REALLY in trouble.

Perhaps without realizing it, you have limited your career trajectory by specializing your skills in such a narrow way.

What can you do when you find yourself in such a situation? Cross training is the answer! You should always have at least one person who is your back up (short-term) and your bench (long-term). It is not only in your personal best interest, but also in the best interest of your manager to mitigate risk for your department and ensure business success.

Start small and have the person backing you up take on small tasks when you are unavailable for short amounts of time, e.g. a couple of hours at a time, then a half day. Then have the person(s) work up to a day or two at a time, and eventually a longer stretch when you are out on vacation.

Build it into your development plan and theirs to ensure your knowledge is shared effectively and their new knowledge is applied on the job. It will take time – at least weeks if not several months depending upon the complexity of your responsibility. But it will be well worth it.

You will learn and grow as you move into additional, different areas of responsibility. The individuals learning under you will grow and develop along the way too. Everyone wins as the risks are mitigated for your team.

Have you done this before? Have you ensured others on your team have done this before? I would love to hear your stories in the comments below.

Betsy Winkler is a Partner at PeopleResults. She can be reached on Twitter @BetsyWinkler1 or on email at Sign up to receive her and her colleagues’ blog at Current.