What are you exceptionally good at? What do you love doing so much that you lose track of time when doing it?

Chances are, your answers to these questions reveal what psychologists call your “signature strengths.” Learning how to use your signature strengths at work can mean the difference between success and failure—between flourishing and burnout.

Put your strengths to work

Psychologists have identified 24 character strengths that are valued by cultures around the world (Haidt, 2006).

All of us possess these strengths in varying degrees. However, a few strengths stand head and shoulders above the rest. These are our “signature” strengths.

Signature strengths feel authentic. When using our signature strengths we are in a state of flow—we lose track of time and tune out all other distractions (Seligman, 2002).

The result is that we feel energized and invigorated.

Many of us spend a lot of time and energy thinking about our weaknesses. A new project leader may wish she were more courageous: “I should learn to say no to people who keep trying to change the project scope.”

Research shows, however, that developing our strengths is a better route to success. Our particular combination of strengths and experiences is partly what makes us unique (and uniquely valuable at work).

Our project leader could focus instead on her strengths in fairness and judgment. She might say: “I am a good listener with a reputation for making unbiased decisions.”

With such a positive mindset, the project manager is more likely to find opportunities to use her strengths at work, for example, by negotiating changes with the customer or mediating conflicts in the team.

Find your signature strengths

Determine your signature strengths using the Values in Action VIA Survey developed by the late Chris Peterson at the University of Michigan and Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania.

The VIA Survey is available at: http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu. Once you’ve registered, look for “Brief Strengths Test” under “Questionnaires.”

The survey is also available in German at the University of Zurich, Switzerland: http://www.charakterstaerken.org/. Once you’ve registered, look for “Values in Action-Fragebogen.

Reflect on your strengths

Identifying your signature strengths and finding opportunities to use them will increase your happiness and well-being over the long term (Seligman, 2002).

Once you have finished the signature strengths survey, answer the following questions:

  • What are my top five strengths?
  • What strengths have I developed in my current role at work?
  • How do my strengths help me succeed?
  • What negative consequences result from my strengths?

Several prominent researchers discuss how they use their own signatures strengths at work:

For privacy reasons YouTube needs your permission to be loaded.
I Accept


Haidt, Jonathan. (2006). The Happiness Hypothesis. London: Arrow Books.

Seligman, M. E. (2002). Authentic Happiness. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Image courtesy of Chris Brown / CC BY-SA 2.0