Too Many Bosses

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about uncertainty about who is her first line manager:

I work in a new firm at a brand new position, but the trick is that I feel very confused as to who really my boss is. The offer letter says it is the Finance Director who works from office in Chicago and the Lead Project Manager who works in the same office at New York, but is constantly away from the office. I am experiencing lots of issue with accounting software etc, because I need to connect through the server that is located in Chicago. I notified my both bosses about this problem, but they both seem to switch the responsibility on each other, and nothing is changing.Also, along the way of employment it turned out that I have a few “sub-bosses” like the senior Accountant who is in Chicago and reports directly to the Director of Finance and the Lead’s Project Manager girlfriend. In reality she is not my boss, but she helps him run all the projects and sort to speak becomes my boss as she is his “right hand”. As a result she sometimes has lots of requests from me and I know that all of them come directly from the Lead Project Manager. Regardless of this he always backs up her requests.

This way I ended up having four bosses and feel frustrated because I am running in different directions and they all think that their task is the most important. To make it worse we are in different locations and communication is more complicated.

What I could do to make it easier and clearer for myself? I’d like to speak to all of them and get a clearer picture as to who is my first line manager, but it seems to me that they might take it as “unwillingness” to be a team player and someone who is not flexible and looking for simply ways. How this can be handled so it is solved, and I don’t look defensive?

Signed Many Bosses

Congratulations! You must have been doing something good to be hired for a brand new position. This is an opportunity to shape a job description that only a few have. More than that you are fortunate to have several bosses who will become aware of what you do. Visibility matters.

Yet your discomfort is understandable–being expected to meet the needs and assignments of two plus two bosses. In summary as I read the account of your situation, I can’t determine who authored your job-offer letter, but it stated your boss is the Finance Director who is based in Chicago and the Lead Project Manager who works in same office in New York. These two are both your boss. In addition, you suggest two more bosses, a Senior Accountant in Chicago who you also refer to as a Lead Project Manager and his girlfriend who acts like a boss making requests for your service. You would like to speak to all of them to get a clear picture as to who is your first line manager.

That might be possible by scheduling a meeting about this should all agree via a conference call. But before you request that, you might be wise to take time to learn what your bosses’ requests for your services inform how this new position should be described. You already have some idea of how you would describe it, so that is a beginning. Now add to that what the assignments that have been made tell you and how they have been made–as orders or requests and by whom. Here are some factors you might consider:

  1. New jobs come with a high degree of uncertainty, especially one that is brand new. You don’t say how long you have been in this new job, but learning what is expected and how to cope with what you can reasonably do will take more that a few weeks.
  2. Uncertainty reduction is an ongoing interactive process. Process awareness entails attention to each stakeholder. Who, what, where, when and why question are gradually answered in the course of interaction across the first weeks, months and years of a new job.
  3. How would being clear who is your first line manager improve your work-life? Would that eliminate your being asked/ordered assignments by the others you say are bosses, each who thinks her/his is most important? Would it simplify one boss shifting responsibility to the others who you name as bosses now?
  4. Almost no job is a solo matter. Jobs expand because organizations entail coordination among many parties within and outside their boundaries. You will find that to address assignments of your four bosses will rarely leave you with time to spare.

With these factors considered, what are your options for managing your workday? You might write up the kind of job description that you think would most suit those who need your services–one you think is most efficient and effective and that respects your know-how and energy. This might begin with end results–products you are expected to deliver and proposed paths to their accomplishment.

Next see yourself as a agency that accepts orders/assignments from those you currently see as bosses. How do you want them submitted–written, oral, email, phone, face-to-face consultation, by conversation with project teams? And how you don’t want them.

Preparing such a job description begins alone, but buy-in is best when those who are your internal customers are involved in spelling out tasks and process. You attempted to resolve “lots of issues with accounting software.”  Although that didn’t prove successful you can only resolve such matters by one-on-one interaction, and they should serve as a model for developing an effective job description.

This brings me to what you probably understand I am suggesting–that you decide at least for the near future to give up the notion that you need to know who is your first line manager. Rather see yourself as your first line manager. Don’t dodge the overload that comes from those who think their project and task is most important; instead map out with them what you will try to do by when or can’t do.

If any of these thoughts make sense, talk them over with one of the bosses you find is approachable. Let them simmer. Ask that person about who else you should approach. Once you have enough such conversation, you will be better able to simplify and print out a job description and work with it for a trial period.

On the other hand, if these thoughts add to your frustration about who’s in charge, choose an appropriate time to meet with one of four bosses and get an early evaluation of how well that person thinks things are going. Learn what is and isn’t working for her/him and others. When would such a session be appropriate? When you sense there is trouble or when you feel relaxed enough to take time out with that someone. If you approach this matter indirectly–as an evaluation it should not be taken as “unwillingness” to be a team player and someone who is not flexible and looking for simply ways.

I’m copying these remarks to my associate workplace doctor, Tina Lewis Rowe, the most savvy woman I know. She may add or subtract from them and share her insights in light of what you have submitted. Please know that we understand you will know best how to answer your question and evaluate what we suggest because you are in  day-to-day contact with your colleagues. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. –William Gorden