Surviving multiple managers

Reporting to more than one person can push even the most committed team players to the brink. Adopt these survival tips if you have to answer to more than one boss.
Written by David Handlos, Contributor
These days, it’s rare to have a job with just one boss. Two, three, or even four supervisors could be above you. For those of us who work on multiple projects, the number can jump even higher. With so many people supervising you, getting “multimanaged” at work can be difficult. But it doesn't always have to be.

Although I had worked under several people before, until last year I had never had so many supervisors that it threatened to disrupt my work. Currently, I work as a Webmaster for three sites, and I have my own set of bosses for each of them. At last count, I can have 12 people above me on a given day.

After I started working on projects for each site, I quickly saw that I had to find a way to keep things running smoothly with a dozen people occasionally checking up on my work. After the first few weeks, I found that three steps helped a great deal in keeping things simpler when I moved from project to project. Granted, every workplace is different and every staff is different. But using one of these steps, or a combination of them, can help alleviate some of the pressure that comes with having multiple managers.

Prioritize and organize
One of the first things you realize in your job is that you can’t do everything at once. You’re always welcome to try, but the odds are definitely stacked against you. Staying organized will help you keep up with the work and the requests from your supervisors. For people who work on multiple projects, this is doubly important. The best strategy is usually to take on one project at a time, based on its deadlines and order of importance to the company.

Meet with managers individually
Unfortunately, being organized at work only goes so far. Your supervisors' demands for a project may be too much, or you may just have questions on how to approach it. If possible, meet with management face-to-face instead of through e-mail or teleconferencing. Often your concerns can be conveyed better by discussing them in person.

Meet with managers as a group
If working together with each of your supervisors isn’t enough, you may have to get them to work with each other to get the job done. Sometimes they may have conflicting requests for a project. With all of them in the meeting, they can discuss their opinions and work out their ideas without your having to be involved as the middleman.

Choosing a strategy
The steps you need to take will depend on your workplace and on the project itself. Early last fall, for example, I was working on a major upgrade to one of the existing Web sites, and I had to skip to step three. With a new look to the site coming up, all the department heads and specialists had some input on what should and shouldn’t be included in the new pages. The dozen or so people I was used to working under had now more than doubled. Everyone involved had different input on the content and layout of the site. Their ideas on what the site should be varied so widely that there was no way all of them would work.

Before I could finish the site redesign, we had to call a meeting of all the supervisors and department heads. Everyone shared ideas for the site, and we found that some opinions conflicted with others. Throughout the meeting, they discussed what they could collectively agree on for the site. At the end of the meeting, we all had a clearer picture of the functions that the new site was to carry out. One morning meeting had saved me several days of phone calls and e-mail confirmations from everyone involved.

Obviously, in any workplace, organizing and prioritizing your work helps quite a bit. However, if you can get your bosses to work with you, things will go more smoothly. Better yet, if you can get all of them to meet and work with each other on your projects, dealing with multiple managers will be much simpler.

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