Being trusted and trustworthy on your team is absolutely critical to your work, both in what kind of assignments you get and whether they actually get done and done well.

A key piece of that is making sure your colleagues feel that you’re reliable. There aren’t that many reliable people out there these days, which is part of why people usually reach out at the 11th hour to say “Hi, you said you were going to have this to me but I haven’t seen it yet – just following up!”

Every single one of those dreaded follow-up emails chips away at the sense that you’re a dependable, reliable colleague. So protecting and actually investing in people’s sense of your reliability is one of the most important things you can do to be seen as a trustworthy colleague. So how do you do that?

Align Your Expectations

The biggest mistake here is that we don’t invest the time to get aligned on expectations up front. We’re in a rush, doing it by email, and we leave things unclear. So you go off and do what you thought was your responsibility, but the other person was expecting something different.

This can lead to a sense like “Ugh, I knew I couldn’t count on you,” when that isn’t the case at all. It’s actually that they were counting on you for something different than what you thought. So spend some time together to be clear on what you’re doing, when you’re doing it, and what its quality should be.

Clarify When to Check In

Another piece of being reliable is to ask the question, “When do you want me to escalate things to you? What situations should I bring things to you, versus handling it on my own?” This is another aspect of their knowing that they can rely on you, without having to worry that you might overstep boundaries when it comes to crucial decisions. This is a really good question to ask up front.

Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute

Don’t wait until the Friday deadline to give them the sense that you’re on it and don’t need help. Instead, send them a note on Monday, “hey, just wanted to let you know that everything is on track for Friday.” Or, “I did this piece of the puzzle, do you want to peek at it to make sure we’re still on track for Friday?” They may say no and that they’re too busy to double check you, but just offering gives you a lot of brownie points on the reliability factor.

Call In Reinforcements

This one’s counterintuitive. If on Wednesday, or better yet Monday, you realize that you’re not on the glide path for delivering on Friday, we often assume that the reliable, trustworthy, dependable colleague just does whatever they can and tries to get the Hail Mary midnight on Friday.

In reality, you’re going to be perceived as more reliable if you instead let them know early in the week that you’re not on pace and need some help. Ask “Can we have a quick huddle? Do we have alternatives? Can we get some more resources? Can I do this piece instead? Is there anyone else who could take this other part?”

I know it seems like that will make you less dependable, but it actually says that they don’t have to worry because you’ll give them a heads up. That means they’re always going to have options about how to get the Friday outcome, even when things don’t start out on the right path.

So the reliable, dependable, trustworthy colleague calls in early if there’s some reason why they’re not going to deliver.

Competence Comes First

But there’s something even more important than being dependable and reliable. You need to worry about whether your colleagues think you’re competent. Are they willing to trust that you’re capable of what they need you to do? I’ve got some tips and tricks for how to be perceived as more capable here.

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