1. Be a really good middle leader
This might sound obvious, but it is really important to become really good in your role as a middle leader. The middle tier is the engine room of any college or provider, and proving operational effectiveness and competence will give you a fantastic grounding for what may follow in the future.
2. Step forward and show ambition
Sometimes people in organisations are hesitant about being openly ambitious. We are meant to be really ambitious for our students, but we tend to be less ambitious for ourselves as leaders. So step forward and tell your line manager or someone else in the organisation about your future career wishes.
3. Prepare for the next step
Senior leadership really is a different world. It is more future-focused. It involves a lot more intellectual rigour and application, and working with people, particularly external stakeholders, in a very different way. It is time to begin to acquire these skills. Volunteer to be involved in new initiatives, read around key policy developments and let your senior leaders know that you want exposure to more strategic issues.
4. Push for development
It is really important that, as a middle leader, you ask your organisation to invest in your development. With the recent development of the new Education and Training Foundation-commissioned Leading from the Middle programme, we now have a new national development opportunity tailored to the specific needs of sector middle managers. Ask your line manager to put you forward for this.
5. Reflect carefully and learn regularly
Now is the time for an honest conversation with yourself. Yes, you want to progress your career but be clear about whether you: have mastered your current role and delivered success and improvement; have the ability, capacity and capability to succeed in a senior leadership role; and have a clear understanding and plan for what you need to do to move up.
Matt Atkinson is managing director of FE Associates, and former CEO of Bath College