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Admin Skills: How To Manage Your Boss

The concept of managing your boss sounds a bit unrealistic and probably sounds a bit cliché to some. In the traditional sense, bosses manage their staff, not the other way around. Think of it from a different perspective. Management should be considered an upward and downward process because the employer and employee complement each other. There are many employer-employee relationships that are strained because either the boss or employee is not getting the management he or she needs in order for that relationship to thrive.

OfficePro Cover ImageEmployers and those wearing the “boss” hat expect their assistants to manage their time, workload, and projects, among other aspects of their professional lives. In return for the level of trust bestowed on you as the assistant, you have the responsibility of keeping the boss informed and overcoming any obstacles along the way. Whether or not it is spelled out in black in white, your management skills come into play for both you and your boss.

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word manage as “to handle with a skill” or “to carry on business affairs.” The concept of managing upward is a positive reflection of ensuring your boss has what he needs to keep the business affairs in order. The management you gain from your boss helps you in your occupation.  If your boss is not actively participating in keeping the office affairs in order, it might be time for you to take action.

Recognize the increasing stress levels. There is normal stress and there is the type of stress that can be crippling. If you’re used to being volunteered for assignments and left to figure out the instructions for that project on your own, you’re probably missing your manager’s support that should accompany those projects. Your boss may not be aware that key information about the project was omitted when he handed that project over to you.

Michael Simon, an engineer for a Houston-based firm, admits that his assistant would say he doesn’t share all the pertinent information with her that she needs to fully do her job.  For him, he works better alone but he gives her credit for being able to find out information without his help. Because she has successfully completed projects without his guidance in the past, he doesn’t want to start micromanaging his assistant by hovering over her shoulder. What Simon might not realize is that his assistant may have a harder time getting what she needs to complete her tasks if she cannot rely on her boss for assistance. His assistant experiences what many of you deal with on a daily basis. Rather than suffering in silence, speak up about your difficulties. If you don’t, your boss won’t realize there’s a problem and the problem will continue.

Voice your needs and concerns. Successful completion of any project requires resources. Don’t have all you need? Be vocal about what you’re lacking. Keeping the lines of communication open is a great way to begin and finish any project and guidance is sometime necessary for the success of that project. Your boss may think he’s provided you with everything you need to successfully perform your task. If you need additional resources or training, don’t be afraid to tell him so or ask him to support your efforts.

Ask your boss to keep you informed. Ask your boss to keep you informed of what he’s working, particularly items that may impact you. Lack of details and surprises can cause performance problems for you, especially if you’re the last to know about changes or new projects that have surfaced. Eliminate that possibility by knowing his whereabouts and what he’s working on. The more information you have in advance, the more you can anticipate his needs. Encourage him to give you regular updates so you can be prepared.

Keep your boss informed. Let him know what you’re working on and what you can handle at any given time. If you have a daily routine, make sure your boss is aware of it. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be flexible when asked to perform a duty outside of your routine tasks. But make sure he knows the times you are the busiest. Most assistants are not comfortable saying “no” to their bosses when assigned a new project.  The appropriate way to address a project that you’re not sure you can handle is to let him know how much time you have available to contribute to the new project. This at least puts your availability into perspective so he won’t continue to pile projects your way.

Meet regularly. Schedule regular meeting times with your boss to discuss ongoing projects.  Establish a time when the two of you can exchange updates on those projects and address items that require action. This works extremely well if you have access to your boss’ calendar because you can block a time that’s less intrusive to his busy schedule and yours. Whether it’s at the beginning of the day or at the end, your boss will grow accustomed to the routine meetings and the potential for overlooked information decreases.

Solicit and provide feedback. The American Management Association suggests adapting your work style to the style that works best for your boss. In addition, make sure your boss is cognizant of your work style. If your boss is comfortable with waiting until a deadline approaches and works best under pressure, let him know that taking this approach may not be the best work style for you, leaving you to produce what is not your best work. Find a way to compromise by offering to work ahead and ask him to give you the resources you need to do so. Be honest about your limitations, which could impact performance. Get him involved in guiding your tasks.

Get Personal. In addition to merging work styles, learning your boss’ personality is another component of maintaining that efficient working relationship. Cultural differences are often a factor in how your boss communicates with you as well as that person’s management style. When Nikita Booker relocated from Texas to Germany, her career transition was not an easy one. She went from an intimate office setting and close relationship with her boss to being one of 15 people who reported to her new employer. The closeness was gone and so was her ability to anticipate his needs. Not only was his work style different from that of her old boss, but she had to consider the cultural differences in her new environment.

“I had to learn to understand why he handled things the way he did and he had to learn my working style,” says Booker. As soon as she was able to grasp her boss’ personal styles, she could better guide him on how he could help her succeed.

No working relationship is perfect. Not every boss will adapt to your work preference. The sooner you understand how he works, the better you can get him to acknowledge your styles. Rather than accepting that stress is a normal bullet point on your job description, take charge of your office and get involved in managing your boss.