How to raise your profile without raising a ruckus

The road to thought leadership is fraught with peril. Here are some things to consider before you get behind the lectern.

Rodney Masney took some heat from his company when his comments recently appeared in a national newspaper.

He was speaking on general trends to a reporter on behalf of the Americas' SAP Users' Group, but when his comments appeared in print, they seemed to stem more from his position as global director of IT infrastructure services at Owens-Illinois, a maker of packaging materials.

"The executive team saw that and wanted to know why I was speaking on behalf of the company," says Masney. "There wasn't a tremendous amount of damage, but I got called out."

Masney learned from the experience. "All you can say is, 'I'm sorry, and next time around, I'll be more careful to be clear about what organization I'm representing when speaking,'" he says -- noting that for this article, he's speaking from his own broad range of personal experiences.

That incident aside, Masney says his work in the spotlight has been positive, bringing him new challenges and skills.

Career counselors and IT leaders alike say that cultivating a reputation as an expert in your industry can be extremely beneficial, creating increased job security, valuable contacts and personal satisfaction.

"It sets you up for long-term career management. And there's a satisfaction that your hard work is paying off -- that you're getting recognition for all your expertise," says Pam Lassiter, principal of Lassiter Consulting in Boston.

But as Masney's experience shows, such activities carry risks that can trip up even experienced professionals.

You can manage those risks using old-fashioned business skills -- such as time management, career planning and relationship-building techniques -- as well as healthy doses of cultural awareness and common sense. And it's best to know how to use them before you get behind the lectern.

Bide your time

"You're talking about stepping into the spotlight, so it's very important to think about how you do this and where, to understand what your opportunities are today and what you want for the future," says Marian F. Cook, CEO of Ageos Enterprises, a management consulting firm.

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