The Importance of Being Proactive (Plus Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

September 27, 2021

Proactive people are often the ones who take initiative. Others may look to proactive individuals as leaders, as they're capable of facilitating success. In the workplace, it's important to take on a proactive attitude since it can improve your levels of satisfaction, competency and chances of professional advancement. In this article, we define what it means to be proactive, examine the characteristics of proactive people, discuss the importance of proactivity and provide tips to help you be a more proactive member of your workplace.

Related: How To Be a Proactive Worker in 6 Steps

What does it mean to be proactive?

To be proactive means to willingly initiate behavior or produce circumstances that address issues before they arise. The opposite of being proactive is to be reactive, in which you respond to events after they occur. Proactive individuals tend to anticipate the needs, developments or potential consequences associated with circumstances and events. As a result, they're often prepared for challenges or have positioned themselves for improved chances of success.

For example, a person who's proactive about their health is likely to eat well, exercise, take preventive measures and go for regular checkups without having a poor diagnosis of their health. In contrast, a reactive person might take up similar behavior only after being instructed by a doctor. The proactive person works toward a goal that inherently avoids unwanted circumstances, whereas the reactive person first encounters an unwanted circumstance before devising a corrective goal.

Characteristics of proactive people

Individual proactive people typically have unique qualities, distinguishing them from others of their type, but there are some common characteristics among them. These include:

  • Initiative: Initiative is the ability or tendency to assess a situation and take independent action on it. Proactive people show initiative by seeking opportunities rather than waiting for them to arise.

  • Long-term perspective: This characteristic refers to the ability to look forward while addressing a present task or issue. Proactive people often try to foresee future challenges or consider how present actions can affect the future of their team or organization.

  • Resilience: A resilient person is unlikely to give up when facing difficulty. They often encounter challenges when entering new situations, but they persist and try to overcome them.

  • Goal orientation: Goal orientation is the quality of striving toward specific achievements. Proactive individuals tend to know what they wish to achieve and work hard to realize their goals.

  • Growth mindset: A growth mindset is a philosophy of continuous improvement. Proactive people often perceive challenges and setbacks as opportunities and competencies as malleable.

Why is being proactive important?

The importance of proactivity lies in the advantages it provides to you in both your professional and your personal life. These include:

Empowerment

Empowerment is the condition of having greater control over your circumstances and improved self-confidence in your ability to direct your life. Proactivity fosters empowerment by emphasizing the advantage of creating your own situations in which you can succeed. As a result, proactive individuals are often less likely to be complacent, as their continual growth mindset helps drives them toward achievement.

For example, a young aspiring computer programmer might try to learn the terminology and concepts of the profession and become proficient in various programming languages before seeking a degree in the field. Once they enter college, they already have a great deal of knowledge and skill that they obtained through their own efforts, creating a more comfortable and favorable situation for themselves.

Read more: How To Empower Yourself and Others

Self-improvement

The growth mindset associated with empowerment can also lead to self-improvement. An essential tenet of a growth mindset is that your qualities aren't fixed components. Rather, with focused effort, you can improve your attributes and skills. Along with a tendency to take initiative, this attitude may help proactive people grow regularly in their professional and personal lives.

For example, an employee might realize their presentation skills may be lacking. Instead of avoiding tasks that require public speaking, they might self-initiate measures to become more comfortable presenting, such as learning advanced techniques in presentation software, practicing speaking in private or even engaging in more conversations with groups of colleagues. By recognizing a gap in their skill set and proactively working to fill it, the employee is better able to serve a function that they previously couldn't.

Related: Using a Growth Mindset To Develop Your Skills

Prevention and solutions

An important aspect of proactivity is considering the potential obstacles you might face in a given circumstance. With the obstacles in mind, a proactive person takes measures that either prevent the obstacle from arising or lessen its severity, such as putting in more work than is necessary for the moment. For example, a student writing a research paper might try to ensure they have photocopies or printouts of all their resources, with the citation written on each. This ensures they have access to their research even when someone else has checked out their resources or the internet goes down.

Leadership

Proactivity often lends itself to leadership qualities. For example, a proactive employee often anticipates the needs of their team before others do, and they work toward meeting those needs. Rather than wait for instructions from their supervisor, the employee may take the first step to discuss matters with them. In this way, proactivity can lead to progress for the organization. Thus, even if a proactive employee doesn't have an official position of leadership, their colleagues may regard them as informal leaders—individuals whom others look to for help, guidance and advocacy.

Related: Formal vs. Informal Leadership: Definitions and Differences

Less stress

The steps that proactive people take to prevent problems or create favorable circumstances can result in reduced feelings of urgency and stress. Putting in additional effort often means getting ahead on your work, allowing you to meet deadlines more easily. Foreseeing obstacles means you're better prepared to face them, leading to more easily devised solutions. In both scenarios, you're somehow ahead of a factor that can induce stress.

Related: How To Deal With Stress at Work (And How To Discuss in an Interview)

Advancement

Being a proactive person can improve your chances of professional advancement because of the above qualities. Many employers appreciate self-motivated employees who continually seek to do better, solve or preempt problems, are productive and can create situations that are favorable to productivity. Such employees often take on more consequential assignments, advance to managerial and supervisory positions and enjoy higher salaries and prestige.

Related: 11 Ways To Achieve Career Advancement

Tips for being proactive

Consider these tips for being a more proactive person:

Develop SMART goals

As a proactive person, try to develop SMART goals. SMART is an acronym that stands for:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Attainable

  • Relevant

  • Time-based

Such goals give you well-defined aims, timeframes and benchmarks for success, which are important for directing yourself in the opportunities you seek. They can also help you think more long term and visualize the challenges and implications associated with your goals.

Identify your strengths and weaknesses

As a growth mindset is a common characteristic of proactive people, it's important that you assess your abilities to understand how you can improve them. Begin by asking yourself what tasks you enjoy and are capable of doing well, and determine whether there's any room for improvement among your strengths. Also, consider what skills or qualities you may be lacking. To achieve an honest assessment, solicit feedback from your colleagues, managers or supervisors. They may have input on matters you haven't considered. They may also be able to offer you advice to help you improve.

Develop your organizational skills

Organizational skills refer to competencies that allow you to arrange and use your time and resources effectively, such as time management and task prioritization. Being proactive often means taking on a larger load of work, so organization is essential for completing all your tasks and staying ahead. To develop these skills, consider simple measures such as writing and adhering to a daily to-do list, in which you analyze, prioritize and schedule each task. You might also consider rearranging your physical and digital workspace so items are easy to locate.

Analyze needs

With your strengths and weaknesses in mind, analyze what your team or organization needs and how you can leverage your position or abilities to help meet them. For example, an employee whose job involves writing and reading reports might notice inconsistencies in style and mechanics in the work of colleagues. A proactive solution here might be to study the reports for frequent problems and create an easy-to-navigate style guide to help everyone produce accurate and consistent writing.

Know your limits

While developing your proactivity, be careful not to take on more responsibility than is healthy or possible. One of the aims of being a proactive person is to improve the overarching work situation for yourself and others. If you try to do too much, you'd be achieving the opposite effect.

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