There’s no denying that professional development plays a significant part in reaching your career goals and professional aspirations.

Historically, the onus has been on the employer to provide training for the employees, and many workplaces offer opportunities for professional development. They often provide these in the form of in-house training courses

As the corporate world has evolved, however, many employees have realised it’s not just up to their employer to promote the professional development of their employees. This realisation has prompted them to share some of the responsibility for their own career development. 

Setting goals and reaching milestones is one important aspect of this that many professionals fail to consider. Without professional development goals, even the best courses and programmes can fail. In this article, we’ll help you to strategise, set, and achieve fifteen of the most important goals to support your career progression.

What is professional development?

Professional development allows you to gain new skills and knowledge, which can be related to your current role or to the role to which you’re aspiring, and there are many ways to develop professionally.

There’s no set time or place that professional development ‘happens.’ It can take place anywhere — in the classroom, using virtual learning platforms, and during your-day-to-day activities on the job. Professional development takes years of constant improvement, learning, coaching, and refining your skills. Only when you have a clear understanding of your own personal strengths and allow yourself the opportunity to expand them, will you be in the best place to apply your knowledge to your role.

When you show commitment to learning these new skills, exploring your current strengths, and refining your application of these skills and strengths to your career, professional development is one of the most successful and practical ways to help you climb the career ladder.

Setting professional development goals

Setting goals is one of the most practical ways to hold yourself accountable for your professional development. Goals will differ from person to person and are rarely ever static. With changing demands in your role, you need to be agile and adapt your career development goals, aligning them with the requirements of your role.

It’s important to set realistic, attainable targets that will offer measurable results, truly lending themselves to your overall career strategy.  A good way to assess if a goal is ‘worthy’ of being placed on your list, is to consider whether they meet the following criteria:

  • Is the goal specific? Be clear on your intentions, and avoid setting broad goals.
  • Can you achieve the goal within a certain time frame? Consider your time commitments. Realistically, will you be able to achieve the goal while working full-time as well as fulfilling responsibilities at home?
  • Is the goal attainable? Are you being honest with yourself about how achievable this goal is?
  • Is it measurable? Will you be able to measure your progress in reaching your goals?
  • Is it relevant to your current or future role? Making sure your goal is relevant will enhance your career path, whereas an irrelevant goal may detract from your progress.

Below, we’ve highlighted fifteen of the most important goals to set throughout your career.

1. Set your bar for quality

If your name is going to be linked to a project, a task, or an outcome, make sure it’s something with which you’d be proud to be associated. 

Setting a realistic bar for the quality of your output will help you gain the recognition you need to progress in your career and stand out from the crowd.

Once you’ve set the bar, it will be easier for your team and peers to mirror your quality outputs. Holding your team to the same high standards means less of a need for you to review their work. This will free up valuable time which you could spend better elsewhere.

2. Pursue professional accreditation

One of the most practical, attainable ways to develop professionally is to seek training from qualified professionals. You might choose to complete an online course through virtual classroom training, or prefer in-person training

Intensive training courses provide you with the skills and confidence to implement best practices in your company. Courses for professional executives cover a wide range of topics, allowing you to build your expertise in various key areas. 

Whether you want to improve your leadership style, enhance your approach to coaching and mentoring, or refine your strategic planning skills, a professional development course will allow you to meet and exceed your professional development goals.

3. Move away from to-do lists and towards strategic thinking

It’s easy to fall into the trap of focussing on to-do lists, especially in performance-oriented roles.  

The easiest way to shift your mentality from ‘doing’ to ‘strategising’ is to consider the reason(s) for performing each task. 

Ask yourself ‘why’, ‘how’, and ‘what if?’

Why are you performing these tasks? Is there a better, more effective way to complete them? 

Are some tasks redundant? Is there a quicker way to achieve the same results without performing that task or certain elements of it? 

The better you understand the result(s), the easier you’ll find it to think strategically and tailor your input to achieve the outcome you want. There’s always room for improvement. That’s one thing on which all employers can agree.

4. Become deadline-oriented

Lead by example, and set yourself deadlines. Meeting deadlines consistently not only sets a solid example to the people around you but also helps you manage your time better.

If you’re missing deadlines constantly, you should be asking yourself why. The answer may surprise you, but it will also give you a better insight into how you can take control of your schedule and be more productive in the same amount of time.

5. Become a great leader, not just a great manager

Leadership and management are two different things. Managing people comes with its own unique set of advantages and disadvantages, but improving your leadership skills will enable you to motivate and inspire your team to do more for the organisation than just meet targets.

A motivated, well-led team will take on more responsibility and generate better results. Leadership courses teach you new skills and enhance your leadership style. Often, they’ll help you to identify weaknesses or gaps in your skillset and then set about addressing those weaknesses and turning them into strengths.

6. Develop your people skills

As you progress, you’ll engage with a wider range of people and will need to become more effective at doing this. 

Learning how to lead a conversation, how to handle conflict in the workplace, and even how to enhance your emotional intelligence will undoubtedly improve your people skills. 

Not only this, however, but it will also enable you to lead your teams better. Developing good people skills will produce effective long-term results and immediate-term ones.

7. Learn to say ‘No’

Setting boundaries at any stage of your career is a challenge, not least of all when you’re aiming for a senior role. However, learning to say ‘No’ is something all successful professionals have done. 

This ability correlates with developing your people skills. Finding a way to decline an idea or suggestion requires emotional intelligence and the ability to ‘read the room.’ It will take time to learn to say ‘No’ and to challenge an idea presented to you by a senior stakeholder. Note that you must respond diplomatically. 

Although this goal doesn’t fit the criteria of being measurable or attainable within a specific time frame, it does fit the criteria of being relevant and attainable. You won’t necessarily build this skill in a day, but you’ll hone it over time. Being able to say ‘No’ to others will serve you well in any organisation.

8. Learn to respond instead of reacting

Emotional intelligence teaches us that, in a work situation, we must learn to respond instead of reacting. Learning to not take things personally is a skill with which many of us could use a little help. 

During your career, you’ll encounter tough situations that require you to take control and, ultimately, lead to their resolution. Developing your ‘EQ’ (similar to IQ, but relating to emotions) is a long-term goal and is excellent both for your personal and professional development.

9. Become the go-to authority in your niche

This comes naturally with on-the-job experience and should be a clear, continuous goal for anyone who is building their career. Becoming an authority in your field, department, or niche is a positive consequence of actively deciding to learn each day and doing your job to the best of your ability. As new challenges present themselves, take the time to understand the cause of the problem, how to solve it — and take note of the path you took to reach that solution.

10. Be agile and receptive to change

Change is constant, so being stagnant in your ways of thinking could be disastrous.

Demonstrating your willingness and ability to adapt to change will set you apart from other applicants when you apply for that promotion. Businesses need leaders who are comfortable with thinking differently and working differently.

As business objectives change, you’ll need to change, too. Make this a high-priority, long-term professional development goal.

11. Ask questions

Some leaders may feel they’re the ones responsible for providing the answers and tend to shy away from asking questions.

The only way we grow is through learning, and what better way to learn than to ask questions?

This ties in with leading by example. If your direct-reports see you’re not afraid to ask questions — whether to understand a situation or problem better or perhaps to find a better way of doing things — they’ll replicate that same curiosity in their work.

12. Ask for feedback; foster communication

Leaders can often become trapped in the cycle of only providing feedback, not asking for it. Approaching your team, or those in senior roles, and requesting their feedback opens the door to honest communication. 

Perhaps your team has a better way of doing things — which, ultimately, would help you to meet targets and accomplish goals. How will you ever know, though, if you never ask them? Opening this conversation promotes honesty, which is crucial for successful leadership.

Prioritise making feedback sessions a regular event.

13. Put yourself ‘out there’, and apply for that promotion

It’s great to have goals to work toward, but are you taking active steps to advance your career? You should showcase the skills and expertise you’ve built and put your name forward when a new role arises.

Employees are rarely promoted without expressing their interest. Build your case by providing examples of where you’ve excelled in your current role. Share your strategic vision for the role.

Securing a promotion will make you accountable for your own professional development and provide you with a new set of challenges that will enhance your skills.

14. Refine your teamwork skills

Teamwork is immensely important in senior roles. As you move further up the career ladder, you’ll need to engage effectively with senior stakeholders. You’ll need to prove you can work with similar and dissimilar people, and collaborate with them successfully for the benefit of the business.

Learning how to work within a team is a great short-term and long-term career goal. It’s also one that becomes increasingly important over time.

15. Learn how to receive constructive criticism

This is a longer-term career goal. You’ll encounter criticism throughout your career. Learning how to take on board that negatively perceived feedback constructively will take time.

Look for the reasoning behind the criticism. Use it to your advantage. Viewpoints differ from person to person, and there is rarely ever a single, straightforward answer. 

Don’t let the criticism frustrate you or demotivate you. Instead, use it to open your perspective to new viewpoints.

Climb the career ladder successfully with INPD

Professional development goals are the most practical way to ensure you’re taking active steps towards furthering your career. There are no specific rules for how you go about accomplishing your aims, but it’s important to define those goals early on in your strategy.

Set achievable targets. Find (new) ways to challenge yourself. Look for different ways to improve your current skillset and build your experience. Most importantly, commit to making it to those milestones.

We’re here to support you on your career path, regardless of the route you’ve taken to reach your current position. Whether you’re looking for an online course that you can complete from the comfort of your own home, or you prefer in-person professional development programmes, we have the tools and experience to help you unlock your potential and climb the career ladder successfully. You can reach us by filling in this form — we look forward to working with you.

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