How to 'weaponise your competence' to get recognition at work

You may have heard of weaponised incompetence: when someone does a task badly in order to avoid being asked to do it again.

It tends to be the preserve of teenagers intent on shirking laundry duty or partners who aren’t pulling their weight around the home.

Sometimes, however, weaponised incompetence rears its head in the workplace, like when your manager apparently has no idea how to open a Powerpoint or the company CEO suddenly ‘forgets’ usual procedure, leaving you to pick up the pieces.

When it comes from above, weaponised incompetence tends to be ignored or even reinforced. After all, nobody wants to lose their job by questioning their superiors – even if it is for the greater good.

That’s why the only way to fight back against this phenomenon is by flipping the switch; weaponising your competence to be rewarded for your skills.

Since you can’t level the playing field by calling out your manager, you need to approach the situation in a more positive way that highlights the ways you’re going above and beyond to fill in their gaps. And the first step is taking careful note.

According to Karen Lough, head of learning and development at Ciphr, this may include tasks like ‘producing reports, training new staff, delegating performance reviews or standing in for them at meetings.’

Then, Ed Johnson, CEO of PushFar, tells ‘Keep your receipts.

‘When it comes to monthly, quarterly or annual appraisals and reviews, there is often the opportunity for employees to put forward what they have done, but so often employees forget to shout about their accomplishments.’

He recommends taking a look at your job description and the typical expectationsin your day-to-day role, as this way you can compare the extra things you do and (hopefully) negotiate extra remuneration.

It’s not a case of manipulation or dishonesty. The simple fact is that overloading you with ‘menial’ tasks you aren’t recognised for is bad for managers as well as the wider business too – something you should call attention to when the time comes.

‘When employees feel underappreciated, they can become demotivated and disengaged from their work and this can lead to a decline in productivity and overall performance, not to mention having a negative impact on morale,’ Daniela Korn, co-owner and head of employment at Tan Ward tells

‘Often resentment builds up too and this can ultimately be the trigger for employees resigning. Since this tends to happen with company’s top performers it is a significant loss to an employer.’

Your boss may not even realise they’re doing it either, so communication that shares your frustrations without blame (statements like ‘you always’ or ‘you never’ are best avoided) is key.

Karen says it may be a case of a boss trying to delegate in an effort to help their staff ‘stretch and grow’ but getting the balance wrong, which is why it’s vital to speak ‘objectively and focus on fact, not feelings.’

It’s tricky to objectively know whether you’re right in your assessment that your work is exceeding expectations, especially given PushFar research found that 57% of Brits have experienced imposter syndrome in the workplace. It may help to have a trusted colleague or someone in your industry look over your justifications to give you an extra layer of much-needed objectivity.

‘Engage in self-promotion strategically,’ adds Daniela.

‘Avoid coming across as arrogant or self-centred. Instead, share your accomplishments in a humble and self-assured manner, highlighting the value it adds to the organisation.

‘Successfully weaponising competence involves a careful balance of showcasing your skills, proving your value, and building positive relationships within the workplace. It’s important to stay authentic and genuine throughout the process.’

Appraisals and scheduled performance reviews are ideal for arguing your case, but if you don’t have regular evaluations and feel like you need to broach issues, steer clear of doing so when you’re upset or angry about what’s going on; put some distance between instances of weaponised incompetence and schedule a formal chat.

Ideally this will result in a salary increase, equity share or promotion. Perhaps you constantly being shouldered with trainees will lead to an exciting new role in staff development, or you’ll wangle a pay bump and the chance to earn an official qualification for taking the lead while your supervisor is elsewhere.

Unfortunately, though, that doesn’t always happen, and on these occasions you’ll need to keep on (gently) pushing.

‘Speak again to your manager and express your frustrations that the issues are continuing,’ advises Karen. ‘And if this again fails, speak to your HR/People team for advice.’

If you’re still getting nowhere after repeated efforts, it may be time to move on to a workplace that suits your needs better.

Ed comments: ‘Look at your organisation’s environment and the opportunities available to “climb”. If it’s a smaller organisation with minimal roles, it may simply be that the lack of progression is due to promotions being unavailable – don’t assume that if you aren’t promoted that you aren’t being valued.

‘Figure out what is most important to you. It could be that it’s neither salary nor job title, but in being appreciated. It could be being granted more benefits such as a four-day week, increased holidays or even the opportunity for more developmental training opportunities to further grow in your career.’

Whatever the outcome, you’ll know you did your best, knew your worth and put your foot down against being taken for granted.

Better still, you may never have to convert a PDF for a senior executive making 10 times your salary ever again.

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