Sandisiwe Mbhele
Lifestyle Journalist
5 minute read
7 Oct 2020
2:32 pm

How I got ahead at work, while my boss was on holiday – Teboho Mofokeng

Sandisiwe Mbhele

Engineer and now author Teboho Mofokeng's new book titled 'Finding your seat at the table' helps employees realise their true potential in redirecting those who face job loss or figuring out their next career move. In this book extract, she talks about finding opportunities.

Engineer and author Teboho Mofokeng. Photo: Supplied

Opportunities are all around us. They only become visible when you choose a career path. Otherwise, they remain hidden in plain sight. The opportunity I got to showcase my technical and client management skills was when my boss went on a holiday overseas and had limited access to emails. The timing of his long-planned holiday came at a critical time during the procurement stage of constructing a mega wastewater treatment works. The total value of the infrastructure was estimated at $55 million, and once complete it would unlock housing projects that would benefit over one million people.

The complex project was to be constructed in multiple phases. At the time that my boss would be on holiday, we were expected to assist the client in evaluating financial proposals for the construction of the first phase of the project. This is a complex and detailed process and requires extensive knowledge of the project in addition to an understanding of the financial and legal risks and obligation.

I had about two years of work experience at the time; obviously, there were still a lot of things that I needed to learn. Nonetheless, I decided that I was going to take the opportunity to lead the process and was determined to execute it without disturbing my boss on his holiday. In preparation, I consulted widely with other experts within the company who had experience in evaluating financial proposals of such mega projects.

In addition, I also spoke to the legal department to explore some of the legal qualifications made in the submitted proposals and find options on how best to mitigate our client’s exposure to risk. As a result, I was able to advise our client successfully on the evaluation of the financial proposals. When my boss returned from the holiday, he was immensely impressed with what I had achieved.

Taking advantage of this opportunity, I made him see that I can get things done in a responsible manner that protects the company’s interest and maintains the promise we make to our clients when it comes to delivery. When he retired two years later, he advocated that I should be the one to take over his role. Undoubtedly, he is the reason I became part of the management team at a young age. At any point and time, I was at least 10 years younger than most of the members of our department’s management team.

You do not have to wait to have it all figured out before you jump at an opportunity. If you wait to have all the foolproof safety measures in place, you will miss the moment. I learned a lot by taking the opportunity. First, in consulting with many senior experts in the company, I increased and strengthened my networks in the company, and I got to know people whom I would have otherwise been too shy to approach.

Second, I accepted that I did not know everything and instead leaned on experts with more experience. By doing this, I was able to increase my knowledge in a short space of time. Last, this single act on the project imposed a steep learning curve. Because of this, I probably cut off two to three years of mediocre experience that was meant to teach me how to be able to perform at a senior level.

This made me realise that opportunities are growth moments that are wrapped in hard work with the promise of success once you are done unwrapping. Therefore, don’t wait for the stars to be aligned, take the leap of faith today.

About the book and author:

The author wasn’t going to wait for her career to catch up with the market she decided to evolve and start training others who wanted to figure out their careers for the future as she recognised during her career that a degree can easily become redundant.

She says the book will give readers a wide perspective on finding their purpose, passion and systemically create a game plan to get you to your move to the next level. Teboho informs readers that they need to be very aware of what is happening in the industry they are working in so they know their next move.

“How much things have changed locally and globally perspective how this has been impacted by technology particularly, gender exclusion, skills and demands that also effect third world countries like South Africa. Have the mistakes and setback but move differently and the game plan takes out the fear that will help with the roadblocks when they came.”


Teboho Mofokeng started her engineering career at a time when the profession was male-dominated with limited diversity in leadership and management. Within four years of her working career, she was married, raising two children, and had attained her professional license to operate as a registered engineer.

At the same time, she was promoted to an Associate Director. Surprisingly, it only took another twelve months before she was promoted to Technical Director role. At that time she was the only female and person of colour at a leading engineering firm whose headquarters were based in Australia.

In this role she was responsible for executing multi-million-rand water projects, leading, and managing teams and collaborating across multiple geographies. Over the years she held various leadership roles in the engineering sector. In addition, she has been invited to leading universities in Africa such as the University of Cape Town and the University of Stellenbosch to share her unique experience of building her career in the engineering field.

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