How to get your company to pay for professional development, including the WIL Empowered program

The traditional approach to professional development is company driven. This is where—if you’re lucky—your boss sits down with you and asks what you’d like to develop further. However, to gain the skills you need to accomplish your career goals, I recommend avoiding the traditional approach and taking the lead yourself.

Today, I want to talk to you about how to get your company to pay for your professional development, including my 12-month Women in Leadership Empowered program.

Who’s responsible for professional development?

Many companies provide professional development opportunities for staff at all levels. With the traditional approach of waiting for your boss to come to you, your boss gathers input from the team and passes the input about the kind of training needed to human resources. While this sounds like a good approach, it limits the options and increases the chance of getting generic team training instead of professional development tailored to you and your career path at your company.

I encourage you to think of professional development as a personal responsibility. With this mindset, you’ll take a proactive approach to skill building based on your needs and the needs of the company.

You’re driving this train, not anyone else. It’s up to you to develop self-awareness about the skills you need, and you can do this by gathering feedback from your boss and peers. Simply ask, “What are the skills I need to learn or develop to enable me to continue to grow in my role as a leader?”

You can also increase your self-awareness about where you need to grow by putting yourself in situations where you’re surrounded by other smart people. Taking a proactive approach demonstrates your leadership because an essential leadership skill is talking about and preparing for succession planning and team development, including your own.

How professional development works for people on the leadership track

Sometimes we look at training through a negative lens like there’s something wrong with us that needs to be fixed. But that’s not what professional development is all about. It’s more useful to look at professional development through the lens of the future.

Professional development is about asking these questions:

  • Where do I want to go with my career?
  • What do I want to do?
  • What support, training and skill development do I need to help me?

In most large companies, there’s always a budget for training, especially for people on the leadership track. There’s typically a library of internal training resources for junior or front-line staff. Once people reach a certain level of leadership, opportunities for external training dollars become available—even if nobody tells you about it. For example, if you’re on a partnership track, your company may offer resources for a coach or an MBA program, etc.

But when times are tough, training is one of the first budget lines to get cut. It’s essential to talk about your professional development so that your boss and company see it as adding value instead of draining an already-stretched budget.

And, if you’ve heard “No” before, don’t assume your company doesn’t support external professional development. Instead, take the approach in this article to ensure your request for professional development is well-researched and meets the needs of the company.

Step 1: Have a conversation with your boss

The first step to obtaining funded or partially funded professional development is talking to your direct supervisor.

To prepare for the meeting:

  • Create three options for professional development opportunities and include how you believe you could best benefit from each opportunity.
  • Demonstrate the return on investment for your employer with each option. This could be projects you’d bring your new skills to or people you’d mentor, etc.

During the meeting, ask your boss:

  • What do you see as my opportunities?
  • Will you sponsor me in a program to help me gain those skills?

After you get feedback, tell your boss what you want to spend time learning in your role.

When you approach the conversation like this, it makes it a lot harder to say no to your professional development request.

Step 2: Have a conversation with your human resources team

The next phase of this process is talking to your human resources team to get their input on what professional development is valuable to the company and aligns to the needs of the company.

During the meeting, ask your HR representative:

  • What’s available for employees with respect to furthering their education or developing skills?
  • What are the steps for going to the next level?
  • When you’re looking at an individual to move to the next level, what are the specific skills you’re looking for?
  • How are you evaluating those skills?
  • Would you help me understand what my growth progression can be at this company?
  • What education/training dollars are available for employees at my level?
  • What’s required to be eligible for those training dollars?

Doing this gives you a clear picture of their parameters. Once you know this, you can choose a professional development opportunity that aligns with the business goals and helps you excel in the eyes of your employer and yourself. All this investigation helps you strongly position yourself for professional development supported by your workplace.

Step 3 (optional): Talk to the head of the company

If you know me, you know I don’t shy away from much, so this third step doesn’t faze me. However, I know it’s not for everyone! If you’re feeling bold, talk to the president or CEO of your company too.

Interview that person to get to know what the company is looking for in future leaders.

Ask the CEO or president:

  • What does the future look like for our company?
  • What do you see as our future needs?

Being curious helps you understand how you become part of the solution, part of the future and how you can help drive the change required to meet those future goals.

The importance of being visibly invested at work

The point of these conversations is to understand what your company is willing and able to provide and how they measure that. For a company to invest in you, they want to know that you’re committed and invested with them. Taking the initiative to learn what skills you need to develop and then developing them is important to a company because it shows you’re invested at work. This increases your chances of getting your employer to pay for your preferred professional development opportunity—or at least to partially fund it.

Sometimes employers will share the cost of professional development with you, instead of funding it completely. Again, this is about investment. If you’re willing to take on some of the cost of your own professional development, it shows that you’re invested in yourself and the company too. It also shows you’re committed to learning and that you take it seriously.

Remember, your company wants to be sure you’re committed to your growth. It’s up to you to show them!

The professional development return on investment for your company

Companies with strong leadership prepare for the future by identifying talent and helping these employees become effective leaders. Even when the training budget is tight, strong companies find ways to keep their people motivated, learning and stretching their skill set.

For example, when I was the president of the Bombay Furniture Company, we invested in the talent pipeline by having a train-the-trainer program. We focused our training dollars on training established managers who then trained new managers who joined the team. With this program, each manager became a specialist based on their strengths. For example, new managers learned the discipline of visual merchandising from our expert visual merchandising trainer, operational excellence from our operations specialist etc. Our team was great, and we took this professional development approach because we knew how important it is to stretch them and keep them motivated. It accomplished both things.

When your company invests in your professional development, they must get a return on their investment. They won’t be looking for you to crunch the numbers. Instead, how will your professional development help you create more future leaders? Improve employee engagement and morale? Contribute to a vibrant company culture? Avoid the cost of hiring from the outside by grooming future talent? That last one is a big deal as it typically takes external hires six months to acclimate to a new corporate environment.

The return on investment is a positive ripple effect. And it’s up to you to show your company how you’ll use your professional development to make that happen!

Is the WIL Empowered program the right professional development program for you?

I’d love for you to use the tips in this article to get your company to sponsor you for our year-long professional development program called Women in Leadership Empowered.

After you talk to your boss, human resources and maybe even the CEO, look at their feedback and see how it lines up to what we do at WIL Empowered.

Do you need to :

  • Develop leadership skills in 12 months instead of years?
  • Become a more effective communicator professionally and personally?
  • Tap into your full potential and recharge your confidence?
  • Be a more intentional leader?
  • Build a powerful network of professionals for future hiring, job opportunities and mentorship?

If yes, it’s time to ask your company to sponsor you for my one-year WIL Empowered program. You’re driving your career train, so steer it in the right direction and become a member today!


Hi, I’m Vicki Bradley, an executive coach in Toronto and the Founder and CEO of Women in Leadership Empowered.

I work with women pursuing success in executive leadership roles and the presidents and CEOs who understand that strong businesses are built with strong, diverse leadership.

WIL Empowered is a year-long program where we use all four aspects of leadership development: coaching, networking, peer to peer mentorship and skills development. Our mission is to help women develop the skills, motivation and accountability required to succeed in their business and personal lives.

Take our five-minute leadership quiz to discover where your leadership skills are now and where you’d like them to be this time next year.

Are you curious about joining the Women in Leadership Empowered program? Would you like to get an idea of how our program works? We’ve put together a mini course to get you started on your roadmap to career success.

To discover more about the WIL Empowered program, visit the website.


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