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How to write powerful professional development goals: 4 Steps

Ready to supercharge your career? Discover how to write professional development goals that drive success. We'll guide you through the process, share inspiring examples, and reveal strategies to achieve your ambitions. Your journey to career excellence starts here.

What are professional development goals?

Professional development goals are specific objectives that help you grow and thrive in your chosen career. Think of them as a roadmap to success, guiding you towards new skills, knowledge, and experiences that'll take your professional growth to the next level.

Whether pursuing an MBA, seeking a promotion, becoming a better communicator or improving time management skills, professional development goals empower you to achieve your career aspirations.With a brief definition out of the way, it's time to set your professional development into motion with the power of writing!

How to write effective professional development goals

There are a few things to remember when writing effective professional development goals.

1. When we say write them down, we mean it

Research has consistently shown that writing your goals down drastically increases your chances of achieving them.1Tech Journalist Dean Woods has hands on experience of the power of writing  goals down daily.2

“Despite all the ‘hype’ about the value of writing down your goals, it has still exceeded my expectations. Roughly 12 of the 30 total goals had a natural expiration date that has come to pass. I’ve written down slightly more than 30 goals since beginning this journey. Of those 12 goals, I’ve hit every single one.”

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2. Use the SMART goals framework

At Marlee, we're big fans of SMART goals. They're a practical system with an inbuilt methodology for achieving personal goals. They're also a flexible framework for setting both short-term goals and long-term goals.For example, writing your professional development goals using the SMART framework would look like this:

  1. Specific: Write down a clear and relevant goal that outlines what you want to achieve in your career.
  2. Measurable: Set measurable goals that include criteria that allow you to track your progress and determine when the goal has been achieved.
  3. Achievable: Ensure your set achievable goals that realistic and attainable within your current abilities, resources, and timeframe.
  4. Relevant: Describe in detail why this goal is important and how it aligns with your career aspirations and development. If you have a journaling habit (which we highly recommend you do, so here's our guide on how to start a journal), check your previous entries about whether or not this new goal is consistent with your broader goals and values.
  5. Time-bound: Write down a timeframe or deadline by which you aim to achieve the goal, providing a sense of urgency and focus.

🎯 Unlock the power of SMART goals: Discover what they are and how to create them effectively.

Example 1: Develop my emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is recognizing and appropriately managing emotions in yourself and others. It's a must-have skill for any person, especially those in a leadership role.

Here's how you might write your goal

  • Specific: "I aim to enhance my emotional intelligence by improving my ability to manage stress and remain calm in challenging situations."
  • Measurable: "I will track my progress by practicing mindfulness for 15 minutes daily and keeping a journal to reflect on my emotional responses and coping strategies."
  • Achievable: "I will attend a stress management workshop, seek guidance from a mentor experienced in emotional intelligence, and practice relaxation techniques to build resilience."
  • Relevant: "Developing emotional intelligence is crucial for my role as a team leader, as it will improve my communication skills, conflict resolution abilities, and overall effectiveness in managing team dynamics."
  • Time-bound: "I plan to achieve a noticeable improvement in managing stress and maintaining emotional composure within the next three months, with ongoing efforts to refine these skills over the next year."

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Example 2: Improve my creative thinking skills

A 2023 Future of Jobs Report from the World Economic Forum states creative thinking is the number one on-the-rise skill.

At Marlee, we call this trait Difference or the motivation to start new things rapidly and disrupt the status quo.

  • Specific: "I aim to enhance my creative thinking skills by exploring new ideation techniques and generating innovative solutions for project challenges."
  • Measurable: "I will track my progress by regularly brainstorming ideas, experimenting with different creative thinking exercises, and measuring the number of unique ideas generated weekly."
  • Achievable: "I will enroll in a creativity workshop, read books on creative thinking and problem-solving, and collaborate with colleagues to gain diverse perspectives and insights."
  • Relevant: "Developing creative thinking skills is essential for my role as a product designer, as it will enable me to develop novel concepts, improve product functionality, and enhance user experience."
  • Time-bound: "I plan to see significant improvement in my creative thinking abilities within the next six months, with ongoing practice and refinement of techniques throughout the year to generate innovative solutions consistently."

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Example 3: Brush up on effective communication

Don't mistake speaking or writing a lot for effective communication. In reality, good communication skills require active listening, identifying facial expressions, picking up on body language, learning the nuances of tone of voice, and adjusting to each person's preferred communication style.

  • Specific: "I aim to improve my communication skills by enhancing clarity, active listening, and persuasive communication techniques."
  • Measurable: "I will track my progress by actively participating in communication workshops, practicing communication exercises daily, and soliciting feedback from colleagues or mentors on my communication style."
  • Achievable: "I will enhance my interpersonal skills by reading books on effective communication, watching online tutorials, and regularly practicing speaking and writing exercises to refine my abilities."
  • Relevant: "Brushing up on my communication skills is essential for my role as a project manager, as it will enhance my ability to convey ideas clearly, resolve conflicts, and influence stakeholders to support project objectives."
  • Time-bound: "I plan to see a noticeable improvement in my communication skills within the next three months, with ongoing practice and feedback sessions to continuously enhance my effectiveness in communicating with others."

💬 Bridge the communication gap in your workplace by answering questions on what motivates you to gain insights into you and your teammate's preferred communication styles.

Example 4: Put my leadership skills into practice

To become a more effective leader, you must first learn critical leadership skills and then practice them to hone them.

  • Specific: "I aim to secure a leadership position within my organization by developing the skills and qualities of a successful leader."
  • Measurable: "I will track my progress by completing a recognized leadership training program, receiving positive feedback from supervisors and peers, and taking on additional responsibilities demonstrating my leadership capabilities."
  • Achievable: "I will enhance my leadership development by attending relevant workshops and conferences, seeking mentorship from experienced leaders, and actively applying the skills and knowledge gained from the leadership training program."
  • Relevant: "Becoming a successful leader is crucial for my long-term career growth and opportunities, as it will enable me to make a greater impact on the organization and contribute to its overall success."
  • Time-bound: "I plan to complete the leadership training program and secure a leadership position within the next 12-18 months, with ongoing self-reflection and continuous learning to ensure my leadership development remains on track."

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3. Write your goals down on something special

If I have a career or professional goal I’m set on achieving, I buy myself a nice bottle of wine, write my goal down on a Post-it note, and stick it to the bottle.

When I reach the goal, I open the bottle. I have a row of these bottles in my living room that remind me of what I want to get done which helps me stay focused, and when I finally get to crack one open, it tastes even better.

More than just an excuse to drink fancy wine, this technique is also based on solid research into the psychology of goal setting. Research has shown that goals tied to explicit rewards predict greater adherence than goals with no clear reward.4

So, next time you have a goal in mind, feel free to pick a guilty pleasure and attach it to that goal; science approves!

How to create a professional development action plan

Now that your goals are enshrined on paper, you need to create a plan to get there. To achieve this you must:

1. Write a specific goal statement

What are you trying to do? Consolidate everything you've written in the previous step into one sentence. An example of a goal statement is, "Within 12 months, I will find a mentor who has experience working at an ad agency as a Creative Director." This should be at the head of your paper in bold print.

2. Take stock of your current skill set

These could be your:

  • Soft skills - presentation skills, public speaking skills, networking skills, problem-solving skills or conflict resolution skills.
  • Hard skills - technical skills, data analysis skills, financial management skills, project management skills or digital marketing skills.

Any essential skills you've attained through your workplace or formal education.

3. Figure out the workplace skills you'll need to acquire

Looking back to your specific goal, there are undoubtedly relevant skills you need to acquire to get there. Find out what these are and write them down.

A great way to do this is by using Marlee's benchmarking feature. You can benchmark yourself against top performers.

🌟 Illuminate your strengths and identify skill gaps by answering our research-backed questions to determine what motivates you

4. List skill-based career advancement opportunities

Now that you've identified a list of soft and technical skills you're missing, it's time to find opportunities for career growth. These could be online courses, industry events, or networking events at professional associations that will help you get ahead in your current role and support your career advancement goals.

You may not have the specifics yet, but that's OK. Brush up your networking skills, write down the kinds of events or courses you need to attend, and keep an eye on events popping up in the future.

Feeling unmotivated?

Find out how to unlock your motivation.

How to achieve your professional development plan and career goals

So, you've set your goals and written a foolproof plan to achieve them. All that's left to do is pull up a chair, pour yourself a drink, and watch the success roll in—not quite.

The third, final, and arguably most important step is to follow through.

Here's how:

1. Regularly review and assess your progress

Schedule regular check-ins with yourself to assess your progress, identify areas that need improvement, and adjust your plan accordingly.

For instance, if you aim to learn a new programming language, you might set aside time each week to practice coding and review your progress during your annual review. This will help you stay on track and make adjustments as needed.

2. Create a support network

Surround yourself with people who understand and support your goals. A network of like-minded individuals can provide motivation, guidance, and encouragement when faced with challenges. Attend industry events, join online forums, or participate in professional relationships to find these people.Your people.Ever heard of the idea that you're the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with? This concept suggests that the people you surround yourself with can influence your thoughts, behavior, and success. With this in mind, it pays to be mindful of the company you keep.

By intentionally building a network of positive, supportive, and ambitious individuals, preferably those with their own personal development plan, you can leverage their collective knowledge, skills, and motivation to drive your personal growth goals and increase your chances of success.

3. Embrace a growth mindset

Be open to learning and embrace challenging projects as opportunities for growth. A growth mindset will help you stay motivated and focused, even in the face of obstacles. It's about establishing a daily routine of lifelong learning and consistent progress in line with your career development plan.

If you receive constructive feedback during a performance review or from a colleague, use it as an opportunity to learn and grow. A growth mindset is about taking obstacles and turning them into lessons to reach your goals. Knowing you're always upskilling and improving personally and professionally will make your more goals achievable.

4. Focus on systems

Another important tool is to focus on systems to achieve your career goals once you've set them.

Take Tim Denning.5 Tim is one of the world's most popular and successful bloggers and has been for almost 10 years. He credits his career success to the systems he built for improving his writing skills.

“It happened by accident. I worked a 9–5 job and had little free time. So, my only choice was to design a lean system after hours. Over the years, I made the system more efficient out of survival, not intelligence. If the system failed then I couldn’t write in my spare time. Simple. As the system began to produce more results, I went from 5 days to 4 days a week at my job. I quit my job a year ago thanks to this writing system. I don’t say that to brag. I tell you because systems work."

In summary, achieving your professional development plan and career goals requires more than just setting them. To succeed, regularly review and assess your progress, making adjustments as needed.

Surround yourself with a supportive network of colleagues, mentors, and friends who can offer guidance and encouragement. Embrace a growth mindset and view challenges as professional development opportunities.

Finally, focus on creating systems and habits that consistently move you toward your goals. With dedication and perseverance, you'll be well on your way to professional success and greater job satisfaction.


  1. Murphy M, 2018, Neuroscience explains why you need to write your goals down if you actually want to achieve them, Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/markmurphy/2018/04/15/neuroscience-explains-why-you-need-to-write-down-your-goals-if-you-actually-want-to-achieve-them/?sh=5d37f9997905
  2. Woods D, no date, What I learned writing goals for 1,000 days, Medium, https://medium.com/@DeanWoodsstoriees
  3. World Economic Forum, 2023, The Future of Jobs Report 2023, World Economic Forum, https://www.weforum.org/publications/the-future-of-jobs-report-2023/
  4. Woolley K and Fishbach A, 2017, 'Immediate Rewards Predict Adherence to Long-Term Goals', Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27899467/
  5. Denning T, 2019, Goals Without Systems = Useless, TimDenning.com, https://timdenning.com/goals-without-systems/

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