Picture this: You’ve just learned that you’re being hired for — or promoted into — a leadership job that’s at least a level higher than you’ve ever had before. You’re thrilled, and you start thinking about all the things you want to accomplish — for your people, your customers, and your organization and its mission. You’re energized by your sense of purpose and potential.

But then it turns out that no one is actually asking for your new ideas or enthusiasm. Your boss just wants to be sure the trains are running on time and the work is getting done. You start to feel a little deflated — and you wonder if maybe this new role isn’t the wonderful opportunity that you thought it was.

Go Forward as an Agent of Change

Take heart! You can still work on your dream plans, even if no one has yet asked to hear about them. Here are some suggestions for starting the process of making your mark.

  • While you’re still in the honeymoon period of the new job, identify the handful of proposals that you want to take on as “your” projects or initiatives. Consult with your team members, your boss, and your colleagues, but rather than waiting for someone else to tell you what’s important, assess the situation yourself and choose which initiatives to take up.
  • Always have in mind a wish list of the resources you need and the support you’d like to receive from your boss or other more senior leaders — you never know when you’ll have an opportunity to pitch a request! And make sure that your request specifies the benefits that will likely occur as a result of implementing your plans.
  • Stay focused on the big picture without getting too bogged down in technical assumptions. Don’t assume that your approach is the only way to capture what should be done in any particular project. Start by determining what could and should be done before getting caught up in how to do it.
  • As you discuss your projects with management, ask them for their guidance or guardrails for in-house initiatives, including recommendations about timing, budget, reporting requirements, etc. Your proposals and results are more likely to be accepted if they meet organizational norms.
  • Recognize that focusing on these projects will take you away from business as usual. It’s unlikely that you can complete all your initiatives simultaneously, so be savvy about sequencing. Plan your activities based on factors like which ones will show returns early, so you can demonstrate credibility and “earn” the right to continue with your other initiatives.
  • In the same vein, start with easier and more realistic projects or phases to ensure that you have successes to show. This way, you can build up your credibility while learning how important your various projects are to others. If you start with initiatives that are too hard or require significant amounts of outside participation, you might exhaust yourself and your political capital without accomplishing enough.
  • Designate a timeframe for completion of any stage of your proposed process, and then meet it. This will help ensure your credibility and show that you’re a real agent of change and not just a requester for change. Negotiate a reasonable set of intervals and issues for checking back in with your leadership and demonstrating that you’re on track.
  • As you continue implementation of your initiatives and delivering results, it’s useful to keep asking your leadership for their input and checking on whether they agree with your assumptions and plans.

Think Everything Through

All too often, new leaders and leaders who’ve just received larger portfolios can find themselves at a loss when someone asks what they’re working on. Other than ensuring that the standard activities associated with their jobs are appropriately underway, they’re hesitant to talk about all the other things they’d like to accomplish.

But if you’ve thought out your plans in some detail, you’re more likely to show that your approach is the most sensible next step — and you’ll develop both credibility and the experience of successfully shifting leadership attitudes about your work area and capabilities.