5 Simple Steps to Becoming a Principal or Partner in Your Firm

5 Simple Steps to Becoming a Principal or Partner in Your Firm

If you’re looking to make principal or partner in your firm, there are a few things you need to know…


First of all, you don’t even have to *absolutely* know that you want to be a principal to get started on the steps that I’m going to share. They are the best path to becoming an owner in your firm—but at the very least, they will absolutely make you more valued in your company and your career.


I know a woman who wasn’t certain she wanted to be a principal. For some women, there’s a lot of fear underneath.


Can I really do this?

Am I really ready?

Will I be chosen? 


You worry about that *one thing* that makes you different (that makes you feel like you’re not enough.) You worry if you are chosen, you’re going to fail and disappoint everyone.


But she decided to at least consider a principal as a real option and investigate it fully.


She started conversations with her leadership. She came up with preliminary ideas about what she could add to the leadership team and the way she’d add to the business success of the firm. Her leadership was receptive. They bounced off of her ideas and iterated on them together.


In just a few short months, together, they had hashed out a plan for her path to a principal role in the firm. And not just any principal role—a role that specifically drew on her strengths and interests and one that would increase the firm’s profitability.


You don’t have to wait to be picked. You can take matters into your own hands and explore—and even achieve being promoted to principal or partner in your firm. And you can do it—without feeling boxed in or like you’re hurtling down a roller coaster to a destination you’re not entirely sure about.

Here are 5 simple steps to becoming principal or partner in your firm.

1. Get clear on the skills and strengths you have—and where they are needed at the leadership level.

Get clear on what you love to do, what you’re better at than lots of others, and where those skills and interests could add value at the leadership level. What are the gaps at the leadership level that you could fill?

2. Schedule conversations with the principals and partners in your firm.

Express your interest in becoming a principal or partner. You want to walk out of these conversations with an understanding of what the step-by-step process is for you to become part of the ownership team. 


What do you need to do in order to get there? Are there any gaps that need to be filled in your skills and achievements? How are principals chosen, and what would you need to do to get yourself chosen?

3. Based on those conversations, make a step-by-step plan of how you will get to principal or partner.

Based on your conversations, and the specific role or contribution you want to play in the leadership, make a plan of how you will close any skills gaps, rack up any achievements, and make the case for your promotion based on the unique processes of your company.

4. Schedule follow-up meetings with the principals and partners you spoke with to get feedback on your plan.

These conversations allow you to get critical feedback on your strategy and build buy-in into your plan. The fact that you created a plan also demonstrates the seriousness of your intent and shows that you can think independently—which is required for leadership.

5. Make progress and follow up, follow up!

Start working on your plan, and schedule regular progress and brainstorm follow-ups with your leadership. Ask for the opportunities that will allow you to build the skills or demonstrate your abilities, such as taking over a big initiative or having you shadow them in a thorny negotiation.


I’ve guided women to get their leaders to nominate them for principal. I’ve helped women move from passed over and pigeonholed project managers into their own leadership roles—even roles that were crafted specifically for them.


Before I founded Build Yourself, I studied business models of design. I researched emerging models of architecture practice as a research fellow at Northeastern University and was a Harvard Innovation Lab resident. I’ve guided countless women to navigate their path through their firm in a business-savvy and personal-growth-driven way.


And the results? They get their leaders to nominate them for promotions and for principal. They transition from passed over and pigeonholed project managers into their own leadership roles. They land leadership roles that were crafted specifically for them. 


This step-by-step process will help you feel more confident in *your* own pathway and your ability to figure it out. You’ll transform the feeling of being passed over into one of being recognized and valued. And into being an owner and leader in your field.

Stop waiting to be chosen and start making the case for the promotion you want. Download my free Promotion Request Tool & Tracker to get started.

Hi I'm Maya

Mia Scharphie , career coach, headshot

I’m a career coach and strategist with a secret power (I mean, past career) as a designer. I love road trips, graphic novels and helping people like you design the career you love on your own terms.