You’re pretty successful at your job. You’re able to produce good work and get along well with colleagues. You’re pretty happy and make decent pay. This is about the time you’re tapped for a promotion. Enticing…but are you ready to lead?

Dr. Laurence J. Peter (1910-1990) a Canadian education scholar and researcher, studied workplace productivity and eventually wrote, The Peter Principle, in 1969. The principle essentially says that, “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.”

This theory is particularly applicable to companies/agencies with lots of room for upward mobility. If you believe the Peter Principle, it suggests that just because you’re great at your current job, doesn’t mean you’ll excel the next level up.

Generally, work wants to reward people who do a good job with pay raises and promotions. An amazing top engineer’s next leap may be managing a group of engineers. Now, the engineer is no longer doing engineering. He/she is dealing with employee issues, assigning work and customer service. No more technical work!

An administrative assistant produces high quality work. The boss leaves and the administrator is tapped for the job. Suddenly, there’s budgeting, supervision and a sales team to manage. Yikes, the admin is NOT ready for all that. Why would we do that to someone?

Peter suggests that once you get rewarded with a promotion into something that you’re terrible at, it’s unlikely you’ll be fired, at least not right away. This is probably because you’ve been entrenched in the business, have relationships and your peers are also victims of the Principle. You’re struggling-barely getting by. You have reached what Peter calls, the “Final Placement.”

So how can you keep that from happening to you or your organization?

Know thy organization:  Learn the organizational structure of your company. Regardless of your current job, see what a natural career path looks like. There is usually a deliniation between line work and lead work.

Know thyself:  If you are thriving in your job, at some point you will be tapped for promotion. To avoid hitting your “Final Placement,” start developing leadership skills early in your career. If managing others isn’t your thing, seek ways to diversify your skills so you can move laterally or to a similar job in a company with more pay and benefits.

Just say no. It’s always flattering to be considered for a promotion. To accept a position for which you aren’t ready, however, is a quick way to stress and unhappiness and may even cut your career shorter than you’d like.

Organizations be mindful: Company leadership should always be surveying its people; evaluating their capabilities to advance. Interestingly, it might be those who do not excel at production, yet may have the gift to lead. Continuing education and leadership opportunities are essential to tease out an employee’s greatest opportunity.

Is the outlook all bad? Peter himself notes that those who have risen to their level of incompetence are unlikely to create havoc; most likely limit productivity and promise for the company. Let’s just try not to be one of those.

Mary Louise VanNatta, APR, CAE is CEO of VanNatta Public Relations.,