Critical GIS Skill # 5: Broaden Your Circle of Influence

Aug. 9, 2016

A GIS degree is technical and often attracts like-minded people. Schools do a great job of teaching those aspects of GIS including giving practical experience in GIS software applications like ESRI’s ArcGIS. However there are a lot of skills critical to a successful career in GIS that are not taught during the degree program, and that is what this blog series is designed to address.

Critical GIS Skill #5: Broaden your circle of influence

Have you ever noticed that most people at work associate with those in their own profession or at least those they work with on a regular basis? In other words, they surround themselves with like-minded people. Those who think like them, talk like them, and know roughly the same information about their agency or organization. GIS professionals have lunch and associate with other GIS professionals. It’s natural since they have roughly the same interests and backgrounds, but this will not help your career.


Circle of Influence: For the purpose of this article, we will use the following definition. “Your circle of influence are those people at work and in your industry who know you and/or your work.” It’s the people you have a relationship with or influence with. A critical skill you need to advance your GIS career is to broaden your circle of influence.

Broaden Your Circle of Influence: Broadening your circle does not have to be hard or awkward. It can be fun and entertaining. Here are some steps you can take to grow your influence and grow your GIS career.

Be more interested in others: GIS professionals as a whole have a tendency to be more introverted than extraverted. This can make the task of meeting others seem more daunting. But growing your circle of influence can be as simple as changing your mindset, in other words, become more interested in others than the awkwardness of meeting new people. By becoming more interested in others, you take the focus away from yourself.

Ask interesting questions: Avoid the more generic questions like: where did you grow up? How long have you been with the agency? Where did you go to school? etc. and ask more interesting questions. It will make your conversations more memorable. Questions like:

  • What was your most interesting vacation and why?
  • If you could go on an all-expenses paid vacation anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
  • If you had to live in a foreign country, where would you choose and why?
  • What is the best job or worst job you ever had?
  • When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
  • What is one goal you want to accomplish in your lifetime?
  • If you were stranded on a desert island, what 3 items would you like to have with you?
  • What book or movie have you seen or read recently that you would recommend and why?
  • What three words would you use to describe yourself? Etc. Make the questions fun!

People in other departments: Make it a point to get to know at least one person from another department each week or at least each month. Take them to lunch and ask interesting questions. Get to know them on more than a superficial level. The higher up you go, the more interaction you will have with people in other departments. Why not start now.

Make time for others: As a GIS professional, you are often embedded deeply in projects, making it difficult to make time for others. However, if you’re not careful, months can often go by with little progress. It’s important to put a priority on broadening your influence by making time for others. Set aside time on your calendar to make time for others.

Set realistic goals: Set realistic goals for how many new people you get to know on a monthly basis, then follow through. Take opportunities like lunch and company get-togethers to reach out to others. If you have a choice of sitting with the same people or someone new, choose sitting with someone new. Learn to enjoy the process.

Having a strong circle of influence in your agency and in the GIS community can go a long way in advancing your GIS career. Get away from being around the same people all the time. Come up with a list of interesting icebreaker questions to ask new people that helps you see a different side of them. Begin applying these steps and watch your career accelerate. Stay tuned for more critical skills your GIS degree didn’t teach you. Add your thoughts and ideas below for the critical skills you believe your degree didn’t teach you.

Here are links to articles of other critical GIS skills from this series.

Critical GIS skill #1

Critical GIS skill #2

Critical GIS skill #3

Critical GIS Skill #4

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