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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

What To Do When Someone Takes Credit for Your Work


Managers love to extol the virtues of a team mentality. I can’t count how many schlocky motivational posters I’ve seen emblazoned on middle management walls (or fabric-covered cubicle dividers, as the case may be) over the years, all claiming that teamwork is pretty much the solution to everything.

And sure, I’m all about striving for the greater good of the group—but at the end of the day, team performance is rarely a factor during those year-end reviews with your boss. Which is exactly why we all work so hard to distinguish ourselves from the rest of the pack. Let’s be honest—it’s those special projects, great presentations, well-written articles, and everything in between that make us valuable members of the team (not to mention help us get to the next level).

Of course, this assumes you’re actually getting the credit for your efforts—which, sadly, you can never assume. Whether intentional or an honest mistake, colleagues and bosses routinely take credit where it is most certainly not due, and your contributions can go unnoticed by those who matter.

To really succeed at the office, you not only need to do the work, you need to make sure your name is included in the credits. Here’s how.

Go Public

In my first role as a manager, I was cautious about sharing my ideas with the group—not because I didn’t have them, but because I wanted to make sure they were “good” before speaking up. So, naturally, I turned to more senior members of my team or my boss and bounced ideas off of them, first.

Soon after, these same mentors and bosses shared these ideas in team meetings. Initially, I was thrilled—my ideas must be solid! But that elation lasted for only a few moments before I quickly realized that my proposal wasn’t being shared—it was being hijacked. What’s more, even if I had spoken up, no one would ever believe the idea was mine after a more senior member of the team had mentioned it first.

Instead of being overcome with disappointment and frustration (although trust me, I was filled with both), I turned the experience into a hard-learned lesson. The next time I had a great idea brewing, I thought through it, planned it out as if I already had buy-in from the group, and piped up to present it at the next team meeting.

Since I first shared it in a public forum, everyone was aware that the idea was mine. And, because I had put extra effort into plotting out how to implement it, my boss and colleagues were more than happy to give me credit when we eventually presented it to a larger group.

Though it might be intimidating, announcing your plans to a wider audience naturally helps prevent others from being tempted to “borrow” or “be inspired by” your ideas.

Keep a Few Tricks Up Your Sleeve

Sometimes, sharing your genius plans in a public forum isn’t always possible, so you’ll have to find other ways to brand your ideas as your own.

For example, when I was working on a very small team that rarely had meetings, it was nearly impossible for me to get my ideas in front of decision-makers until well after I had worked through them with my boss. On more than a few occasions, after spending weeks managing a project myself and crafting a winning presentation, I was rewarded with the opportunity to watch my boss lead the meeting where it was presented, never once mentioning who had done all the work.

Finally, I decided to change my game. For every project going forward, I proceeded just as I had before, but I also did a bit of extra research. When the presentation rolled around, I had anecdotes and additional data that wasn’t included in my boss’ speech—and I offered them up during the meeting. By being over-prepared and anticipating additional questions, I came across as an expert on the topic, without making my boss look bad.

What’s more—after I started doing this, we ended up presenting more as a team. Although it was never explicitly noted that I was behind the ideas, more and more credit began to shared equally between us.

Know When to Let it Go

While there are certainly times when I felt justified in speaking up for myself, perhaps the hardest lesson I had to learn was knowing when to just let it go. Here’s the thing about getting credit: You’re not going to get it for everything you do. That’s just part of the job, and it’s part of being on a team.

I was reminded of this when I became a manager, and I had a few staff members who expected to be given credit for every positive outcome even remotely related to work they had done. I tried my best to recognize my team whenever warranted, but I found these continual “reminders” frustrating, almost always taking the shine off any positive feedback I had for them already.

While there are ways you can position yourself to help assure you’ll earn that recognition from others, if you expect credit for everything you do, you’ll no doubt find yourself disappointed. Save your credit-earning strength for important projects and you’ll help establish yourself as not only an outstanding individual contributor, but a strong team player as well.