There are many advantages to working for a smaller company. From close-knit teams to the opportunity to make projects your own, working for a small company can provide plenty of benefits in terms of job satisfaction and skill-building. 

However, one of the downsides of being part of a small organization is that the opportunities to move up the office hierarchy are more limited. Unlike large companies, which usually have structured career paths for their employees to follow as they develop their skills, small teams have an equally small number of managers. 

This means you can quickly find yourself in a position where there’s no obvious path upward. You might have mastered your current role and be ready to take on new challenges, but with no room above you in the hierarchy, there’s no easy way to grow.

Although this situation most often occurs in small companies, it can also appear in organizations where the length of service is the main determinant of promotion. In these cases, you’ll need to put in the time commitment before you can progress.

Of course, if you find yourself in one of these scenarios, one solution is to move to a new company. But that’s not always the answer we’re looking for. If you are happy where you are – enjoy the culture, find value in your work, have a good life-work balance, and like your colleagues – then moving might not be the best option.

Staying still doesn’t have to mean being stagnant, however. It takes a little more imagination than climbing a structured career ladder at a larger company, but there are still opportunities to continue to grow your skills, expertise, and knowledge, even if there’s no room in the business’s hierarchy to seek promotion right now.

Here are our tips for how to continue your professional development even when promotion isn’t an option.

1. Be Proactive

The first and most important tip we can give you is to be proactive about seeking opportunities for professional growth. Without a defined career ladder to climb, you’ll need to take the initiative to create space for your own learning and development.

This is a skill in its own right and often one that is particularly valued in smaller companies, where people regularly find their responsibilities morphing far beyond their original job descriptions. Come in with a can-do attitude and a willingness to embrace new skills, and you’ll soon impress management. 

2. Take on New Responsibilities

You might not be able to move up the hierarchy right now, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t grow the role you are already in by taking on new responsibilities. As well as keeping your job feeling fresh and interesting, taking on new tasks gives you an opportunity to grow your skills and experience. 

Speak to your line manager to express an interest in growing your role – you’ll likely find they have some responsibilities that they could hand over to you, freeing up some of their time and giving you room to develop.

Come to the conversation with some suggestions already in hand – perhaps things you find particularly interesting, fit well within your role, or that no one else has time to concentrate on. If you take a look around your company, you’ll quickly start to spot opportunities for you to make a difference. 

3. Move Laterally

Another option to consider when you can’t move up the hierarchy is to move laterally instead. More opportunities open up at the lower levels in a company than in management, so you may be able to make a sideways move into a new position much earlier than you could expect to seek promotion.

Again, this is a great way to stop yourself from stagnating and to keep growing your skills. Learning a new area of the company’s work also means you’ll have a helpful understanding of how the various parts fit together, making you even more valuable as an employee. 

There’s nothing wrong with staying in the same role if you keep things interesting and can find opportunities for development. But if you can’t and a role comes up that would give you a new challenge, moving sideways might be the answer. 

4. Grow Your Skills

Whether you stay in the same role or seek to move laterally into a new one, take every opportunity you can to grow your skills. 

Think about which areas of your job you find particularly interesting and concentrate on deepening your knowledge and understanding of those areas. Seek training opportunities whenever you can, and make sure your line manager knows you are keen to learn more. 

Small companies often lack key skills in-house, because they don’t have the space or budget to hire for specialist roles. This means there’s a great opportunity for you to fill those gaps. Perhaps you’re a member of a marketing team who decides to learn video editing, or a sales rep who becomes an advanced user of the CRM database. 

Whatever your role, taking a proactive approach to learning new skills will help you continue your professional development, bring value to your team, and demonstrate to management that you are dedicated to career growth. 

5. Become a Mentor

Line management skills are tricky to learn if you don’t have anyone beneath you. However, you can still gain experience in supporting other staff members without being promoted into a management role. 

One of the best ways to do this is to become a mentor to your peers. If there’s an area of work you are particularly knowledgeable or skilled in, offer to help other people develop their skills by running training sessions or being the go-to person for questions about that area. 

If new employees are starting at the company, offer to be their peer mentor. Although you’re at the same level in the hierarchy, your knowledge of the organization’s structures and processes could be invaluable in helping new starters find their feet. 

As well as being a rewarding thing to do, mentoring your peers helps you to develop some of the soft skills that are so essential to being a good manager. This way, when an opportunity does finally present itself, you’ll be comfortable stepping into a leadership role. 

6. Create Your Own Opportunities

If you have your heart set on promotion but don’t want to leave your current company, the other option is to contribute to growing the business. If the company expands enough, you can bring in new people into roles that come beneath yours or create new levels in the office hierarchy. 

This is a long-term approach but provides plenty of opportunities for you to showcase your ingenuity and creativity. One of the benefits of working for a smaller company is that you can often claim ownership of new projects and initiatives, even if you aren’t in a senior role. 

Approach your leader with new ideas and suggestions for ways the company can increase its growth. When you come up with something they like, ask if you can be the one to take it forward. 

As well as (hopefully) helping the business grow, working on new projects will help you stay engaged with your work. And it provides plenty of opportunities for you to learn new skills and gain a wide range of experience. 

Working for a small company can be both rewarding and challenging. While you will have a more direct impact on company success, your room to “move up” may be limited. But that doesn’t mean you’re limited in your potential development or contribution. If you love the organization you work for, and don’t want to go anywhere else, the tips in this article should help you continue to grow both professionally and personally.