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How to Manage Multiple Managers

I do a lot of work with Administrative Professionals. In fact, the admin audience holds a very near and dear place in my heart—that’s why I created the ELEVATE Admins program. I know from experience (both as an Executive Assistant and as an admin coach, trainer, and mentor) that there are a variety of common challenges facing Administrative Professionals each and every day. One that comes up frequently has to do with managing multiple executives or managers.

These days, many admins find themselves supporting more than one person. Even those not in the administrative field can relate to the challenge of having multiple people “over” them. When you’re trying to meet the demands of more than one individual, it can be difficult to keep everything straight. Whose requests have priority? What do you do when you’re given conflicting information or instruction? How do you make sure everyone stays happy when you are but ONE person?

It’s a challenge to be sure, but a manageable one. Here are a few tips to help make managing multiple managers easier.

Understand Personality Differences

Chances are pretty good that the people you work for will all have different personalities, preferences and work styles. You’ll need to adapt your strategy for each individual. Make sure you recognize the differences and take note of how each person likes things done.

For example, I supported several individuals as an Executive Assistant. One was much more hand-on; he liked to have constant communication and wanted to know all details. Another was completely hands-off; he would much rather see me take initiative, work independently and give him the bottom line. It was important for me to manage them differently. I had to remember for whom I was working and make decisions based on their preferences.

Know Your Priorities

It’s critical that you have very clear communication regarding how tasks get prioritized. Is there a specific type of task that takes priority? Or does one person’s work take precedence? Or is it a “first come, first served” environment? Openly discuss the prioritization method you’re using with all of your managers and make sure you have agreement across the board. This won’t prevent every conflict; but it will give you an established way of doing things. Think of it as a jumping off point rather than a hard and fast rule. Everyone has to stay flexible.

Keep Things Separate

As much as possible, keep your work for each person physically separate. The more you intermingle, the more confusing things become. Keep separate project files (paper and electronic), separate drawers, separate in and out boxes, separate notebooks, etc. for each person or team.

I also recommend creating individual to-do lists for each person’s requests. Of course, you still need to manage them all cohesively; you only have one bucket of time with which you are working. But creating some form of separation can help you stay mentally organized.

If you choose to blend the tasks together into one list, be sure to note the name of the requester. If using an electronic task list, you can color code or create an additional column for this information.

Without including requester identification on your list(s), it’s easy to mix things up and forget whom a specific task belongs to. And, as discussed above, this information may very well dictate how you approach and prioritize the work.

Proactively Manage the Workload

If you do your job really well, the people you work for will feel your attentiveness. As a result, they may forget that you also support or work for other people. You might want each person to feel like they’re your one and only priority, but that’s simply not the case. You’ll need to remind them from time to time that you’re balancing the priorities of others as well. That means you’ll need to set limits, renegotiate deadlines and, at times, push back on requests. You are responsible for establishing appropriate expectations. With multiple managers, the workload can easily bury you. Don’t be afraid to take control. And be proactive about it; don’t wait until you’re overwhelmed.

Keep It Visible

Transparency is the name of the game here. Keep everyone informed of your workload and priorities. No one should feel “in the dark” with regards to how your time is being used. This will help everyone accept the limitations you set, as they’ll be able to see that you’re not just goofing off; you’re managing a heavy workload. When people feel like there’s something being hidden, they begin to worry that they aren’t being treated fairly or as well as their counterparts. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t keep work confidential when needed. We’re mainly talking about being transparent with your use of time, not the actual work you’re doing.

Let Them Hash It Out

If you’re being given conflicting information or instruction, don’t get in the middle. Let the managers sort it out themselves. You don’t need to play mediator. Define the problem and hand it over to them. Their job is to align around a decision and communicate it to you.

Be cautious about “choosing sides” when there’s a dispute. Unless you have specific instruction that one person always has the final word, you could be putting yourself in a dangerous spot. Your job gets much harder when there are perceived “favorites”. Yes, you are more than welcome to voice your opinion…cautiously. Play the role of diplomat. Try to see all sides and create solutions that make everyone happy (as best you can!).

Photo Credit: bark (Flickr)

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2 Responses to “How to Manage Multiple Managers”

  1. Karl Staib says:

    Prioritizing projects is one of my greatest weaknesses. I get caught up in one project and don’t want to let it go or I procrastinate and put off the projects that I know I should be working on.

    I’m working on this. I’ve been keeping a Post-it note with my 3 most important tasks. After I’m done these tasks I get to do a more fun task then, if I still have time, I fill up a Post-it note with 3 more tasks, which usually gets me through the end of the day.

    It’s all about focus. When I stay focused I feel much happier because I finished my most important work first. It’s constantly reminding myself of this feeling that helps me get back on task when I’m not staying on task.

  2. Ellen Weissman says:

    Chrissy – thanks – as usual, you’ve taken the big, shaggy, overwhelming problem and turned it around into something I can manage with a deep breath, better judgement, real focus and a list.
    Plus, I felt some fear when reading your coaching advice, so I KNOW it’s right!
    Ellen

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