Don’t let a bad boss slow your career. Here’s how to manage up if your boss isn’t managing down.
“Ugh,” you grumble to yourself. “How did this guy get where he is today? He’s all over the place. He has no people skills, no strategy, no plan.”
But, he’s your boss.
Line managers are the main reason people leave their jobs. HR professionals talk about how to engage people all the time: how to attract better people, how to retain people, how to make them more productive and so on. But they tend to skirt the issue of line managers who do all they can to keep their jobs. This usually involves pleasing their superiors and putting off decisions forever, and it doesn’t involve much actual management.
So how do you cope with a poor manager? Here are six tips on “managing up”—the act of dealing with your manager and ensuring that you and your team thrive:
1. Swallow your pride
A common trait of bad managers is that they take credit for your work. There’s nothing worse than putting in a shift to get something done and finding yourself copied on an email the next day from your boss to his boss saying, “Look at what I’ve done.”
Don’t rise to it. It won’t help your professional advancement to start demanding attention or credit. If your manager wants to take credit for work that someone else has done, tell yourself he’s being petty and he’ll get found out in the end.
2. Become the go-to person on your team
Bad managers are often hard to find around the office. If you’re looking for a good leader, you’re more likely to find them with their sleeves rolled up, leading their team. A bad leader will be holed away and hard to get in touch with.
Be the opposite. Become the go-to person in the absence of your boss. When other departments call, be on hand to help. Get to know people around the business. You’ll notice two things: people’s perception of you will strengthen, and you’ll become the go-to person for your boss, who will start to rely on you. Perfect!
3. Work with different departments
In larger businesses, there are often inter-departmental projects going on, and it’s highly unlikely your boss is involved. Offer yourself as a department champion. The advantages here are multiple. You get to learn about new initiatives first and can report back on them. You network more and become more visible.
The point here is to go beyond your job description—don’t retreat into your shell because your boss isn’t good enough. Get out there.
4. Chase regularly, and keep on top of them
You might find it exhausting to keep on top of an absent or incompetent boss. However, consider it part of your own career progression. Try to pin them down for weekly catch-up meetings if you can, and ensure that monthly one-on-ones aren’t forgotten.
One key reason why businesses lose employees is that there isn’t enough interaction with line managers. Don’t let communication slip—take responsibility and be a pest.
5. Be super-organized and ready to answer any question
There are hundreds of productivity tools around at the moment. Select a couple, and use them independently to keep yourself super-organized. Wunderlist, for example, is a brilliant little to-do list app that syncs across desktop and mobile devices.
Your job is to keep on top of everything. Keep your boss informed at all times so that your boss is better placed to make the right decisions at the right time. You’re effectively supporting the weak link in the chain, and you’ll eventually be rewarded for your hard work—and you’ll make everyone’s lives easier.
6. Remember everyone’s under pressure
If you have to manage up, it might not be because of incompetence. Maybe it’s because of undue pressure from your boss’s boss, or maybe your boss has problems at home. Everyone’s under pressure from someone; everyone has a boss!
Be supportive, offer solutions (not questions) and be proactive instead of reactive. If you’ve networked across the business, are super-organized and are on top of everything in your department, then you’ll find that working with a poor manager is easy.
Gareth Cartman is a digital marketer based in the UK. He spent several years working for one of the largest global HR outsourcers and previously worked in publishing.