Whether You Are a Purchasing Agent or a Chief Business Official, You Can Be Successful at Office Politics
By Ted Witt, CalSave Administrator
Every office has politics, but the political rules are never written down. Politics is about relationships and how they are used to accomplish an agenda. The politics in your office are likely to fall in your favor if you heed these tips.
- Be ethical.
No matter what, heed the ethical voice you have inside. It’s paramount. Violate your ethical standards, and you will always lose in the political game — maybe not immediately, but eventually, you will lose. By maintaining your standards, you may make some colleagues temporarily uncomfortable, but violate your ethics, and you will make permanent enemies. Do your own job well. Respect ultimately earns you more points in the office’s political game.
- Be cooperative, both to the meek and to the mighty.
When asked for a favor, try to oblige, regardless of the status or title of the asking party. Speed things up. Break through the bureaucracy. If the answer has to be no, because of policy, ethics, or good business, then explore alternatives. Know the person’s goals. If necessary, help individuals find another, more reasonable route to their objectives. In the long run, you will earn more respect in your office by serving the clerk and your constituents as well as you do serving the superintendent or a board member.
- Practice empathy without gossip.
The most astute leaders know how to engage in conversation, listen to employees, and hear concerns without participating in gossip. They don’t reveal personal information, disclose embarrassing details, backbite, or dwell on negatives. Instead, successful leaders express an understanding of concerns, avoid emotional responses, and focus on solutions to challenging issues arising out of personality conflicts, relationships, and work habits.
- Be proactive with your boss.
Develop an open, honest relationship with your boss. Are you carrying old resentments? If you have had a problematic relationship, start anew today with a personal compliment. Find a way to praise your boss in front of others. Express concerns over policy and decisions alone with your boss — before they come up in public settings. Support your supervisor in meetings. Never personally criticize your boss to other employees; they will hear about it. Your responsibility is to bring a concern or criticism to your supervisor’s attention. You will build trust, and the political winds will blow in your favor.
- Be visible.
You may think the holiday luncheon is a waste of time. You’re mistaken. People matter. Be where people are. Attend board meetings, and make sure you also spend time in the lunchroom with your clerks, the supervisors, and the other professionals. You will learn as much there as in the board room or department meeting. Take the initiative to introduce yourself to people you do not know. Find a way to memorize their names. Remember them. Not only will they be impressed, but you will also find the information helpful to you in your future work. People have a hard time disliking a person who has taken the time to be genuinely friendly.
- Be careful with your power.
You have now taken five steps to improve your position in office politics. So now people are eager to please you and help you. You are in a pivotal role to use politics to influence a decision or make something happen. But . . . go back to Tip No. 1. Ensure that your decisions and initiatives are not self-serving. Instead, use your political power to sway opinions and decisions favoring students, employees, and stakeholders. It only takes one self-serving use of your powerful political juices to reverse course, souring your colleagues and jeopardizing your respected reputation.
Did you know? All board members governing the Association of Educational Purchasing Agencies (AEPA) are required to sign an annual conflict of interest statement and abide by a code of ethics. That’s a distinguishing feature of AEPA compared to other purchasing cooperatives. Being true to professional ethics boosts a skilled reputation and helps AEPA navigate through any politics from any source trying to bring unscrupulous influence upon a purchasing decision. Meet the AEPA leaders who make AEPA stand out.
Ted Witt is the CalSave cooperative purchasing program administrator in California, where contracts are locally awarded by the Monterey County Office of Education. He is also a board member with the Association of Educational Purchasing Agencies. He currently sits as oversight chair for contracts related to technology and also landscaping equipment and supplies.