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How to Take Initiative at Work and Make a Great Impression

Elevate your professional impact as you learn how to take initiative and drive success in any workplace environment.

By Max Freedman  •   February 15, 2024  •   7 min read

If you’re jittering with excitement about a team-wide problem you see a way to solve, you don’t always have to wait for permission. Instead, you can take initiative, put a plan into place, and get to work. 

Showing this motivation and excitement as a manager does wonders for how your team and leadership see you, and it can improve everyone’s work. You should involve other people, but still, it’s better to act than to sit around waiting. Here’s a guide on how to take initiative at work the right way.

What is taking initiative at work?

Taking initiative at work is the decision to complete tasks not required of you or find innovative ways to overcome obstacles. Initiative at work applies whether a project requires this fast thinking or because you simply feel compelled to solve a problem. 

A great example is offering to take on an assignment currently delegated to a busy team member. Another example is volunteering to write a standard operating procedure for a process your team has been struggling to explain to newcomers. If something you do improves work performance and you’re largely doing it because you’re a self-starter, it’s an example of taking initiative at work.

Take initiative at work to make
every meeting productive

Fellow’s collaborative agendas ensure everyone has the context and information to show up ready to contribute and take initiative at work.

Why taking initiative is important 

Showing initiative is great for you and your team. Here’s why you should do it.

1It helps with career growth

When you show the drive to step up to the plate in times of need, you put yourself on your leadership team’s radar. That’s especially true when you couple your ambition with successfully making a huge and important difference. It will be clear that you’re a highly motivated team member with a sharp mind—and this often leads to your happiness and growth being prioritized.  

2It builds your skills

The more you take initiative and try your hand at something, the better you’ll get at it. For example, let’s say you’ve started preparing meeting agendas before weekly team updates to give them structure. You’re learning to run productive meetings, which is a major manager improvement area. On top of that, your team lead will likely notice and be grateful.

3It teaches you how to problem-solve

Taking the initiative at work often happens when a problem arises, and a solution isn’t clear, but you don’t have time to wait around. You then come up with the solution yourself—so as you keep taking initiative, you’ll learn how to leap over just about any hurdle.

4It prepares you for leadership roles

Having both the motivation and skills to come up with solutions out of thin air is the essence of taking initiative. This is also a key leadership trait, so when you commit to building your initiative skills, you do the same for your leadership skills. It’s not just that leaders notice when you take initiative—you also put yourself in line to become part of the leadership team yourself.

5It gives you confidence

As you keep identifying and successfully solving problems all by yourself, you’ll become much more confident in your work. This makes for better results every time and has the nice bonus of keeping your employee engagement sky-high. Sure, you’re probably not measuring this for yourself—that’s for your manager to do—but when you’re more engaged, you’re happier, and that’s the ultimate goal.

When is the right time to take initiative at work? 

Taking initiative at work has a catch: You won’t always solve the problem at hand. You’re more likely to strike gold if you check these four boxes before thinking (and acting) outside the box. 

1You’re familiar with your job and subject matter

For your initiative to translate to useful actions and outcomes, you need to know your job and subject matter like the back of your hand. You wouldn’t try to entirely debug your organization’s mobile app on your first day, right? Spend plenty of time getting to know your role, team, and organization before offering solutions—and get your already-assigned tasks done first.

2You know your limits 

Maybe you have the urge to create more efficient workflows in your task management software but don’t actually know how to do so. Bring your idea to someone who does, and ask them if they’d be willing to solve the problem you found. If so—or if you collaborate on the solution—you’ll probably overcome the challenge you’ve identified.

3You have decision-making power (or know who does)

You might think solving problems alone is a clear marker of employee performance improvement. In reality, though, you can set yourself back if you’re calling the shots without proper permission. 

If you don’t have decision-making power, bring your idea to someone who does instead of carrying it out yourself. With decision-making power, though, you’re free to do basically whatever you see fit, so taking initiative is fully within reach.

4You see a clear problem

Assuming you check the three boxes above, taking initiative is appropriate whenever you spot a problem worth fixing. For example, maybe your supervisor is taking too long to approve other team members’ deliverables, so you offer to become the approving party. If your supervisor accepts your offer, you’ve successfully solved the problem. If you’re struggling to come up with a solution, try using a problem-solving meeting template to think it through step-by-step.

How to take initiative at work 

Here are some ways to start playing a more active role at your job through initiative.

1Find a problem

You can’t jump forward with an innovative approach without something to improve first—and there’s always something to improve, even if things are going great. Maybe you could do a better job explaining to potential customers why your service is the best of its kind; maybe this is also the kind of problem you’re ready to tackle. If so, it’s your time to shine.

2Come up with a solution

The thing about taking initiative is that it often comes before getting the sign-off to do so. It’s kind of the workplace version of “ask forgiveness, not permission.” So, if you see that customers need to better understand your service’s benefits, write out some ways you could explain this more clearly. You don’t have to wait for anyone’s approval to get started unless you’d be going against a chain of command.

3Run it by other team members

Once you’ve created that list of talking points, share it with a few team members who work on the same level as you. If they like what you’ve presented, you’re ready to take it to the next level. If they add their own ideas, you’re in an even better position.

With Fellow’s collaborative meeting agenda feature, you can prepare a clear meeting agenda that outlines your proposal and enables your team members to contribute directly with their own ideas as well.

4Get your manager’s buy-in

If you have other team members’ approval or input, you’ve now positioned yourself well to bring your ideas to your manager. Explain the problem you’ve noticed and why you’ve come up with a solution, and then share the solution itself. If you’ve done great work without stepping out of line, chances are your manager will support your idea—and be proud of you, too!

According to operational change expert Susan Odle, “When you’re trying to get buy-in at whatever level or stage of change, you should be coming to the table with evidence that you’ve thought through it, that these are the ideas that you have, and these are the results that you think you can get from it.” Make sure to come prepared with data or evidence that supports your proposed solution, so you can remove barriers to buy-in for leadership. Check out more of her insights on her episode of the Supermanagers podcast below.

5Try it out and take ownership

Now that you have your manager’s support, you can put the wheels in motion. Try out your solution, see what happens, and take ownership along the way. This means you hold yourself as accountable for your solution’s results as everyone else you involve. You’ll also acknowledge how your solution has affected everyone—hopefully positively!—and whether it’s truly helping everyone do better work.

6Get feedback

You might think you can clearly see how your solution is shaping your team’s tasks, but what you really need is everyone’s direct input. Ask everyone to share feedback on what you’ve come up with, and make the smartest changes they suggest sooner than later. Bring feedback you’re not as convinced about to your manager and the people who have suggested it, and see what you can agree on instead.

7Do it again

Taking initiative at work isn’t a one-and-done affair—it’s an ongoing path toward success. Take initiative any time you see a problem pop up or when you see new opportunities to improve in areas where you’ve already gotten better. Follow all the above steps each time, and you’ll transform your self-starter personality into great outcomes for your whole team.

How Fellow helps you take initiative 

When you take initiative, you can showcase your talents as you build them, and soon enough, you’ll become a shining star within your organization. You also don’t have to take action all by yourself—with Fellow’s tools for planning, running, and following up on meetings, the whole team gets involved.

With Fellow, you can also set, track and work objectives and key results (OKRs) into your meetings to keep your initiatives on track. Plus, Fellow allows you to easily give and get feedback on initiatives or meetings so you can continuously improve. Use Fellow to find your way forward amid any challenge!

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