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Initiative is identifying what needs to be done and doing it before being asked to or required by the situation.
An employee demonstrating this competency:
  • Identifies what needs to be done and takes action before being asked or required to
  • Does more than what is normally required in a situation
  • Seeks out others involved in a situation to learn their perspectives
  • Takes independent action to change the direction of events
Importance of this Competency
In a wide variety of jobs, outstanding performers demonstrate initiative by seizing opportunities, assuming responsibility, and doing more than what is normally expected in the job. In recent years, job roles have become broader, more flexible, and less dependent on stable job descriptions. More initiative will also be required as more workers do their work at home and in the field away from offices where frequent supervision is possible. Thus Initiative promises to become even more important in the future.

Many other competencies, such as Diagnostic Information Gathering, Managing Change, Fostering Teamwork, Developing Others, Establishing Focus, and Attention to Communication involve special applications of Initiative.
General Considerations in Developing this Competency
As you map your development strategy for this competency, scan your environment and ask yourself: “What needs to be ‘fixed’? What needs to be done right away? What decisions/actions am I postponing? What responsibilities am I avoiding? What can I do now to provide great customer service?”

There are some readings and other study materials that can sharpen your vision of what initiative is all about. More than skill training, the acquisition of this competency may require an attitude change; a desire to do whatever you can to help the business be successful.
Practicing this Competency
  • Identify recurring problems for your unit or department and take it upon yourself to develop and implement solutions to these problems. Make a general practice of brainstorming with associates whenever you feel stuck or blocked in moving ahead with an idea or solving a problem. Take action to change something that is not in the best interests of the business. Don’t wait for deadlines to find out that someone was working on for you isn’t done. Touch base with the person periodically before the deadline to find out how he or she is doing. If the person is having trouble, help him or her figure out how to solve the problem and still meet the deadline. Join a team or task force where you will have to solve organizational problems with a short deadline.
Obtaining Feedback
Ask your manager, co-workers and team mates for feedback on your performance after you have completed a project in which you have taken leadership or played a major role. Ask for specific examples of what you did that moved the work along and find out ways in which you could have been more effective. Ask what you could be doing to take more initiative in the future.
Learning from Experts
Talk to someone who has demonstrated a high level of initiative. Ask this person to talk about several times when he/she demonstrated significant initiative. Find out what the person did and how. Ask what problems the person encountered and how he/she dealt with them.
Coaching Suggestions for Managers
If you are coaching someone who is trying to develop the compentency, you can:
  • Empower the individual by giving the person projects where he or she has the responsibility for working out the details after you have outlined the goals and requirements.
  • Expect the person to take ownership of his or her work and responsibility for the results. Acknowledge and praise the person for behavior which demonstrates initiative.
  • Clarify the areas where any initiative is welcome and the areas where it is important to get support for ideas before moving ahead.
Sample Development Goals
By January 18, I will develop a one-page summary sheet for sales reps, comparing Hart Company’s X65 valve with our YJ911.

On the next annual department report, due on February 6, I will provide a table of contents to make it easier for readers to locate the information they need.

I will volunteer for the Network Reengineering Team and serve on it from June through December.


1001 Ways to Take Initiative at Work, by Bob Nelson. New York, NY: Workman Publishing Company, Inc., 2000.

Affordable Portables: A Working Book of Initiative Activities & Problem Solving Elements, by Chris Cavert. Oklahoma City, OK: Wood 'N' Barnes Publishing and Distribution, Inc., 2000.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen. New York, NY: Penguin Group, Inc, 2003.

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, By Seth Godin. New York, NY: The Penguin Group, 2010.

Stop Procrastinating: Get to Work!, by James R. Sherman. Los Altos, CA: Crisp Publications, 2004.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Ltd., 2005.

Self Study Courses

Little BIG Things: You. DVD. Tom Peters. Tel. 800 423-6021.http://www.enterprisemedia.com/product/00643/big_things.html  



Assertiveness Training for Managers. Three days. American Management Association. Tel. 877 566-9441. www.amanet.org/seminars/seminar.cfm?basesemno=02527

Developing Leaders at All Levels: Fostering Initiative and Accountability. On-Site. American Management Association. Tel. 877 566-9441. http://www.amanet.org/training/seminars/onsite/Developing-Leaders-at-All-Levels-Fostering-Initiative-and-Accountability.aspx


See Appendix