If you are successful in your career, chances are you’re educated, active in professional associations and have used them to build a professional network and industry-wide reputation. You have mentors who offer career advice. Now get a sponsor.

What is a sponsor?

Sponsors are influential people who use their political capital to further your career. Sponsors toss your hat in the ring when a choice assignment or promotion comes up. A mentor can help you get ready to take on the assignment, but the sponsor puts you in the running. A sponsor connects you to senior leaders in your company, increases your visibility and opens career opportunities for you. Because of this, sponsors can often more directly impact your salary, ambition and long-term success.

“It is about developing trust and finding someone who will advocate for you.”

Why be a sponsor?

Don't worry, they benefit from acting on your behalf; it is a win-win. Sponsors know that backing stellar talent promotes their own legacy, covers their back and brings added perspectives and skills they can use to succeed.

Finding a sponsor

This is not about whom you like or who likes you—it is about developing trust and finding someone who will advocate for you. Seek a sponsor with clout, high-level contacts, access to stretch assignments and a broad perspective—someone who is not afraid to offer critical feedback.

Look beyond your immediate circle of mentors and managers. Take a look at people of influence who are two levels above you in rank. In a small company that may be a founder or president.

Then go ahead and ask your sponsor to put you forward for a highly visible assignment, connect you to high-ranking decision makers in your company or advocate on your behalf for a pay raise—and cash in on the opportunities you’ve earned.