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5 Leadership Secrets New BAs Need to Know

By Laura Brandenburg, CBAP, Host of Bridging the Gap
imageIf you are just getting started in a new business analyst position, you might think that anything constituting leadership is a far way off in your career. The reality however, is quite different. The BA profession and the typical responsibilities of anyone filling a business analyst role demands that we not only be strong analyzers and communicators but also leaders.

So what does that look like?
Let’s look at 5 leadership secrets you’ll want to understand as a new business analyst.
#1 – Working Independently
Business analysts are generally expected to manage their own work. You won’t have someone looking over your shoulder to ensure you are getting every detail right and you often won’t be checking in on someone daily to get assignments.
You’ll be expected to plan out your days, weeks, and projects as well as work ahead to meet future deliverable dates. You’ll be expected to balance a variety of different commitments effectively. You’ll be expected to understand the business analysis process and guide your projects to successful outcomes.
Be prepared with effective planning skills, time management skills, and being able to proactively set appropriate expectations. And because there won’t necessarily be someone checking in on your work regularly, it’s important that if you get stuck, you seek out help. Let’s talk about that leadership secret next.
#2 - Asking for Help
Many new business analysts confuse the independence that comes with the role as the expectation that they must always have the answers. Strong leaders know their strengths and their weaknesses. Strong leaders seek to augment their knowledge by filling in gaps. Strong leaders are confident enough to ask questions.
Asking for help demonstrates leadership because it shows you know what you don’t know and you aren’t willing to fly blind and unnecessarily make a big mistake. 
The secret to asking for help is in doing it in the right way. Use these tips to ask for help as a leader would do. 
  • Avoid any sort of whining or complaining and instead objectively describe the issue at hand.
  • Share what you’ve done to research the problem (and be sure to actually research the problem before asking for help).
  • When possible, provide a possible solution that you are considering and ask for feedback on your idea.
  • Be specific about the help you need to move forward.
All of these activities demonstrate that you are proactive and willing to work independently, but also aware of your own limitations. A thoughtful and insightful fellow BA or BA manager is going to be more than willing to talk you through the issue and make sure you have what you need to be successful.
#3 – Embrace Feedback and Input
BAs receive a barrage of feedback—on their documentation and proposed solutions. To succeed as a business analyst you need to be able to separate feedback on your documents and ideas from feedback on you personally.
The secret is that good BAs have a thick skin. This takes leadership. Good BAs don’t take feedback so personally that it shuts them down and makes them feel incompetent but they also don’t ignore it. Leadership is about being open to feedback, evaluating it objectively to determine what feedback should be incorporated, and making appropriate changes to your work style, documentation, or go-forward plans.
#4 – Confidence in a Breadth of BA Skills
When you are starting out as a new business analyst it often feels as if everyone knows more than you. The path to success seems to be intertwined with becoming an expert. The secret is that true leadership in business analysis comes not from specialization—whether that be in an industry domain or a specific area of business analysis—but from learning to use a wide variety of business analysis techniques well and leverage them as necessary to help your organization. 
Leaders never stop learning. They never stop diversifying their experience. And they never stop expanding the value they provide to their organization.
Confidence in your BA skills starts internally with how you do your work, it expands to the direct impact you are able to have on others through your high quality work, and, as you are able to share what you know to help others, it exponentially impacts your organization and community.
#5 – Influencing Situations and Escalating When Necessary
While BAs are not the owners of the project and do not drive the business goals, they are in a keen position to influence high-level stakeholders, project outcomes, and decisions. 
  • Sometimes getting the right two people to talk to each other about the right topic can lead to a watershed of change.
  • Sometimes sharing information that’s unknown to others can shift perspectives.
  • Sometimes providing an objective view in an emotionally-intense situation can help everyone realize a new path needs to be taken.
When I was a new business analyst, I missed many opportunities to positively influence the outcome of my projects. I often saw the issue, but I had no idea how to handle it. Ideally, you are in a situation where you can bring these insights to your direct manager and talk through them in confidence. Outside of this sort of environment, seeking out a trusted mentor with whom you can talk through such insights can be an important step to growing in this area as a new business analyst. The secret is that by investing in your ability to influence situations and people you can positively impact the fulfillment you find in your role and create future opportunities for you to move into more senior leadership positions.
Realize Your Leadership Potential
The real secret here is that leaders are not born, they are made. Leaders become leaders by doing the things that leaders do. That means you can do this too…if you are willing to make the necessary changes.
Pick one secret (or any other area of leadership you want to work on) and write it down. Keep it with you for a week or a month. Brainstorm regularly about how you could practice that leadership quality in your work. When you are ready, select another leadership aspect and repeat the exercise.
About the Author: Laura Brandenburg, CBAP, is the author of How to Start a Business Analyst Career, the host of Bridging the Gap, and offers a BA career planning course (it’s free) to help you start your business analyst career.