Understanding Your Boss

Your most important relationship at work...

Your relationship with your boss is probably the most critical relationship you will have at work and you are in the position to make the biggest contribution to your working relationship. You probably only have one direct boss, whereas your boss almost certainly has more than just you on his/her team.

What does your boss do?

  • Who does your boss answer to?
  • What are his/her deliverables?
  • What are his/her objectives?  How does your role help them fulfill their objectives?
  • What are their wider concerns beyond your work in your role?

What sort of boss do you have?

Is your boss bureaucratic, laid back, consultative, concerned with detail, focused on the big picture, creative, organized, proactive, or reactive? 

Make a 2 column list…in one column detail what impresses your boss, in the other write down what frustrates them.  Get clues from these lists about how you should act.  If your boss is impressed with you getting your timesheets in on time, they'll probably like you to do everything on time.

What are your boss’s strengths and weaknesses?

You have strengths and weaknesses and so does your boss. Considering these strengths and weaknesses, where does your boss need support and where will you need to make allowances. Ask yourself a few questions to help identify your boss’s strong and weak points.

  • How do you and your team mates feel about your boss?
  • Does your boss get the best from you?
  • How could they get more from you?
  • What part of their job would you say your boss was best at? Weakest at?

How does your boss communicate?

  • How readily does your boss pass on information to you and other members of your team?
  • What kind of information do they freely give?
  • What differentiates the information they withhold?

What pressure is your boss under?

  • Does your boss need to serve more customers with a budget that is constantly being cut?
  • What are their deliverables?

Impress your boss, by doing the following:

  • Be ‘popular’ - meaning be polite and courteous with your treatment of others, your boss, your colleagues, your customers.

  • Be willing to do a little extra - take advantage of opportunities to give a little more than what your job duties require.

  • Identify with your organization - be interested in its mission, invest in its success.

  • Take criticism well - meet constructive criticism professionally, admit mistakes, and be honest and accountable for your actions.

  • Write competently - a poor writing style will show up every time you write an e-mail, a memo, or report. Make an effort to proofread your writing and express yourself clearly.

  • Be flexible - change is constant in most successful companies. Be open-minded to change.

  • Accompany every problem with a solution - every time you bring a problem or complaint to your boss’ attention, couple it with a workable solution.

  • Be loyal - show loyalty to your boss, your team and to your organization.

  • Under-promise and over-deliver - promise less than you feel you should be able to manage. Build in extra time within deadlines you set, so that when you’re done early, you’re bound to impress.

Adapted from the book “How to Manage Your Boss-Developing the Perfect Working Relationship” by Ros Jay

Common Problems with Supervisors

Regardless of your supervisor's style or your situation, there are some common problems that occur in every work situation. Here are a few you may come across:

“Why do they keep interrupting me while I'm trying to work?”

A supervisor generally has many responsibilities that they may need to attend by themself and others that can be delegated to you. However, they are ultimately responsible for successful completion.  

If constant ‘check-ups’ are affecting your work, provide them with a daily or weekly project list which keeps them updated on your progress and lets them know what you are doing.

“He keeps changing the priorities of my work!”

Doing your job efficiently requires knowing and understanding your work priorities. Working with unclear or changing priorities makes it very difficult to take initiative yet, being able to take initiative is one skill that supervisors look for and reward.

If your supervisor doesn’t make priorities or keeps changing them, you will need to address the situation in a positive manner. If the priorities change, ask “How does this affect the completion of the project?” If there are no priorities, try setting them yourself and then share your list with your supervisor, asking for feedback. Be prepared to be flexible because you may not be fully aware of the bigger picture.

“Which supervisor am I supposed to follow?”

In the work environment, there may be no assigned supervisor or your job may overlap two different departments. This puts you in a situation where you report to two different supervisors.

Make sure you know the priorities and time frames for each project presented to you. Ensure that each supervisor knows of the projects you have with your other supervisor(s). Let the supervisors work it out between them, instead of you trying to be in the middle.

“She never gives me enough information to do my job”

Your supervisor cannot read your mind to know what else you need to know.

Communicate to your supervisor that you require more information. Be assertive, but diplomatic and don’t assume that she is purposefully withholding information.

“He is never around when I need him”

Be sure to schedule regular meetings with your supervisor in order to exchange information.

If you have an urgent matter to address, contact him outlining the possible solutions and ask for a response. If your supervisor is often away, find out who you can use a sounding board for decision making in his absence.