Relational Savvy

Using Your Network to Rise to the Top 

Are you reaching your growth and development goals at work? Is your career advancing at the pace you would like it to? For many people, the answer to these questions is a resounding no. They are disappointed time and again as they are passed up for promotions in favor of external candidates who are assumed to be better equipped for the challenge. Fortunately, this does not have to be the case.

By building strong relationships with a variety of key individuals throughout an organization, internal candidates can greatly increase their chances of receiving a promotion. But while official coaching and mentoring programs are beneficial, they are rarely effective at building the expansive developmental networks upward mobility requires. Rather than relying on the organization to create these networks for us, why don’t we take matters into our own hands and develop the skills we need to get ahead?

If properly cultivated, your network could be your most valuable asset. Researchers Chandler, Hall, and Kram (2010) introduce a certain set of skills that can bolster your ability to grow a strong and healthy developmental network; this set of skills is known as relational savvy. Interviews with individuals identified by relational learning experts as “outstanding” at initiating and maintaining developmental relationships revealed that savvy socializers tended to have four common attributes: 

1. Developmental proactivity

2. Skillful management of interactions

3. Positive relational attitude

4. Excellent social skills

By developing these attributes, we too can build a supportive developmental network and increase our likelihood of promotion.

Developmental proactivity relates to identifying where the gaps in your network lie, strategizing about how to most effectively fill them, and, most importantly, acting on it. People with developmental proactivity intentionally reach out beyond their immediate environment to seek and foster beneficial developmental relationships. They also seize the moment when an opportunity for mentoring presents itself. To enhance developmental proactivity, begin by taking stock of your current network; what types of support are the members of your network providing you? What life domains are they from? In what ways could your development be better supported if your network were more diverse? Consider if there are key individuals whom you feel would be valuable to add to your network. Devise an action plan for how you might go about initiating and then maintaining those relationships. Finally, take action. Be proactive!

People with social savvy are skilled at managing their interactions in a way that strengthens bonds and builds mutual respect. Some of the ways to do this are:

  • Plan in advance for meetings and social interactions: Show people you value the relationship by taking the time to prepare. 
  • Keep in touch: Be intentional about staying in the front of people’s minds. Update people on your career development and be sure to express your gratitude for the role that they are playing, or have played, in your growth and advancement. 
  • Get comfortable with vulnerability: Strong relationships require opening up to people, which can be hard to do. Be willing to trust and to show you can be trusted. Keep in mind, however, that there is an appropriate level of vulnerability to maintain within each given relationship, and over-sharing is a distinct risk.
  • Establish mutual benefit: Figure out what you bring to the table, and be clear about how you can be of benefit to those in your network. Strong relationships require equality of investment and benefit; be sure to hold up your end of the bargain. 

By implementing these strategies, you will be well on your way to managing your interactions like a pro.

The third attribute of savvy socializers is a positive relational attitude. A positive relational attitude is characterized by a belief that people generally enjoy helping others, and that seeking counsel can actually be seen favorably. Try to internalize these beliefs and see how they transform the way you interact with your colleagues. The next time you need assistance and are hesitant to be an inconvenience or look bad, capture those thoughts and trade them in for this optimistic relational attitude. It won’t take long to see a positive impact on your relationships.

The last attribute of savvy socializers is social skills. These are things such as active listening, empathy, and being generally enjoyable to interact with. Showing genuine care and compassion for those with whom you interact will go a long way in ensuring that you are demonstrating good social skills. One note about social skills – these are crucial, but not sufficient, so if you are already a social skill rockstar – don’t rest on your laurels and believe that will be enough to develop the strongest network possible. Be sure that you are cultivating the other aspects of relational savvy as well!

Enhancing your developmental proactivity, effectively managing your interactions, cultivating a positive relational attitude, and focusing on your social skills will enable you to become a savvy socializer. Growing your relational savvy will equip you to build a strong developmental network which you can rely upon for coaching, mentoring and feedback as your work your way up in your career.


Chandler, D. E., Hall, D. T., & Kram, K. E. (2010). A developmental network & relational savvy approach to talent development: A low-cost alternative. Organizational Dynamics, 39(1), 48-56.