I’m in charge of assigning work to my manager, but he won’t do it

A reader writes:

When I first started my job two years ago, I was on a design team with one other man, “Frank,” who had started a few months before me. For the first six months, both of us reported directly to the director of marketing, “Rebecca.” At six months, Frank pushed hard for a promotion to become creative services manager and was promoted by Rebecca.

I was frustrated when this promotion occurred because Frank, who is now my manager, is very much a people-pleaser — essentially anything people ask for, he does, without asking discerning questions to find out whether what they’re asking for is the appropriate solution. He does not ask for deadlines and will often just work on whatever is dropped in his lap, whether or not there is something more pressing.

I moved beyond the frustration and grew accustomed to the new role structure, but over the next year Rebecca increasingly expressed frustrations (in meetings with Frank that he would describe to me later) that deadlines were being missed and projects not being attended to the way she would like. A year after Frank’s promotion, Frank met with me to tell me that Rebecca would like me to be in charge of assigning projects to our department (we had recently taken on a third designer). I had a meeting with Rebecca to discuss what that might entail, and she was very clear that she wanted all project requests to go through me and for me to assign the work out to myself, Frank, and our third designer. Rebecca also said that Frank’s main focus would now be the website and photography, but would pitch in on design work “as needed.” Rebecca also requested that I track all work that comes in.

My current frustration is that despite multiple “gentle reminders,” Frank still does not direct people to me to discuss project requests. If people request anything of him, he takes infrequent notes and will often just start working on the project, despite that fact that he has other more pressing deadlines for the website, etc. He recently sent me an email to ask if he could work on a very large, multi-month print project because “it’s his favorite project.”

To me, this situation seems incredibly awkward and problematic. Why wouldn’t the manager be the person responsible for assigning work? When I floated this by HR, they did not seem to think it was an issue at all. Rebecca also brushed off my initial concerns, saying that it would be career development for me.

Am I crazy for thinking this is an unusual and inappropriate set-up?

You’re not crazy — Rebecca is asking you to be the stealth manager because she doesn’t want to deal with the fact that Frank isn’t doing his job.

Unfortunately for you, you don’t actually have the authority to manage Frank, who is in desperate need of management, and Rebecca apparently isn’t willing to do it even though it’s her job.

I would sit down with Rebecca and say this: “I want to talk about your request that I track work and ensure it’s being done. I would be glad to do this, but I’m hitting a wall with Frank, and I’ve tried everything I can with the amount of authority I have, but it’s not working. I’ve done X, Y, and Z to try to get Frank to redirect project requests to me, but he continues not to. He also is regularly ignoring deadlines and the way we’ve prioritized work. It’s at the point where to get him to comply, I’d need more authority than I have. But he’s my boss — if he chooses not to go along with what I’m doing and asking of him, I’m not able to insist.”

You could add, “I feel like I’m being asked to manage aspects of Frank’s work without the authority to do it.”

If she tells you that you just need to push harder with Frank, you can say, “I get that that’s what someone who was his manager would do. But in this case, I report to him, and I’m concerned about causing real issues with him as my boss if I do that.”

Frankly, if you’d be up for this, you could even say something like, “If you thought it made sense to give me authority over Frank’s work in this area (or move me to a different manager), that would equip me to address this, but otherwise I don’t think we have a workable system.”

From there, Rebecca will either act or she won’t. It’s possible — maybe even likely — that having this conversation and laying out the situation starkly will indeed push her to revisit how she’s managing Frank. But if she’s truly a wimp (and we already have evidence that she might be), this might not change anything. If that’s the case, all you can really do is let Rebecca know that you can’t manage Frank on this stuff when he refuses to go along with it, and then do what you can without worrying about the rest of it.

Eventually this will come to a head one way or another — Rebecca will get sick of dealing with him, or someone above her will notice that Frank is messing up workflow and deadlines, or this set-up will otherwise reach its natural destructive conclusion. All you can really do from your position is to be straightforward with Rebecca about the situation and let her decide if she’s going to step up and manage or not.

{ 83 comments… read them below }

    1. themmases

      Yeppp. The OP has not one but two bosses who are so bad at managing the OP has to be the pretend boss instead. Doing the work of managing without the title or pay but with guaranteed failure is not career development. Both managers would have to change to make this workable… I would be job searching.

      1. JessaB

        Heck not only no title nor pay but no authority. Rule one of management, never give someone a job like that without the authority to actually do it.

    2. Muriel Heslop

      Totally agree. I left my last job because I had someone for whose work I was responsible but over whom I had no authority. Absolute nightmare.

    3. Christopher Tracy

      I’m leaning towards the latter option myself. The dysfunction runs deep in this place.

    4. AnonEMoose

      I feel for you, OP. I’ve been put in the position of having responsibility, but no authority, and it stinks. I think Allison’s advice is good and absolutely worth trying. But if Rebecca refuses to step up, I would start looking for another job.

      1. catsAreCool

        If Rebecca doesn’t step up, I’d be worried that she might blame the LW when things finally hit the fan.

  1. Cambridge Comma

    I wonder if OP could propose that she suggests assignments, but forwards them to Rebecca to actually assign.
    Of course, it won’t help if Rebecca doesn’t want to manage Frank, but if that’s true, OP will probably have to accept that both her managers suck and aren’t going to change.

    1. Hermione

      One of the (several) problems that still remain in this scenario is the fact that Frank is the one saying yes to various projects (that then need assigning) without telling OP that he’s done so.

      I vote for finding a new job. You have two managers who won’t manage, and I don’t see that likely to change.

    2. Stranger than fiction

      Well I hope the Op is copying Rebecca on all her emails and reminders to frank.

  2. neverjaunty

    While this is fantastic advice, I worry that the “natural consequences” of this might be blame falling on the OP, since Rebecca is such a terrible manager.

    OP, I so feel you on the frustration people who jump on big, time-sucking “fun” projects rather than doing the damn work they’re assigned to to.

    1. sunny-dee

      Yeah, I’ve been in similar situations where I was responsible for defining projects and responsible for their success but had no managerial authority over the people carrying it out. If you have crappy people managers (and Rebecca sounds like one), they will blame the OP / project lead. They even blamed me for performance issues because asking people to hit an external deadline was too demoralizing, because setting a deadline implied I didn’t think they would deliver their work. So, when the two performance twins missed deadlines by MONTHS, it wasn’t their fault. Or their managers fault.

    2. Queen B

      100% this. I found myself in a very similar situation, and as the proverbial “stuff” is now hitting the fan, the blame is coming down on my shoulders. Perhaps worse, the situation caused undue anxiety for several months that affected my personal relationships. Sometimes the only thing you can do is reassure yourself that you tried to manage the situation to the best of your ability – and get out.

    3. Sketchee

      This does happen a lot. It’s helpful to know for myself what is my directly responsibility and what isn’t. Blame isn’t without consequences, and at the same time it doesn’t make it true. Knowing that makes the job application process easier. If you have to explain your situation, it’s easy enough to say “I was given management responsibilities without the authority to do so.” Echo Alison’s language and insist that you know what is reasonable. If they are in fact unreasonable, there’s not much that can be done about that.

    4. The Strand

      I had the same thought as you, neverjaunty. It really is time to look for another position. A person who is passive (e.g. Rebecca) can become passive-aggressive rapidly.

  3. Leatherwings

    Alison, your script here is amazing. This is applicable to a conversation I myself need to have.

    OP, I would also encourage you to stop using the phrase “gentle reminder” when talking to Frank, if you’re using it (as opposed to reminding him in a gentle way). Most people find the phrase irritating and it’s not getting Frank to do what he needs to anyways.

    1. MillersSpring

      Agree. I’m concerned that Frank will view the OP’s conversation with Rebecca as an end run around him, even though it was Rebecca who gave the responsibility to the OP. I think OP is due for a confrontation with Frank. (“Rebecca asked me to take on this responsibility, and I need for you to cooperate, too.”) I also think the OP should go to each person who currently is bringing projects to Frank and inform them about the process.

  4. LSP

    OP, I can, unfortunately, relate to this all too well. I have a team lead who doesn’t seem to be able to keep track of ANYTHING. He forgets requests he’s made and will ask why I sent him something. He will ignore emails for weeks at a time. He will insist that I “keep on top of him” to make sure something gets done, and proceeds to ignore all of my prodding. He ignores deadlines, regardless of if I set them, or the client, or even if they are deadlines he decides upon himself. He tells me to be more “assertive” with him, but gets nasty whenever I attempt to hold him to account (at his own request).

    People like this are nearly impossible to “manage up.” Rebecca needs to step in and step up. If she wants you to be the manager, then she should give you that title and pay. Asking you to be responsible for your own manager seems an ill-conceived plan that is doomed to fail.

    Best of luck!

    1. CR

      Feeling like you have to micromanage your crappy boss but not technically having the authority to do so is one of my least favourite things about working in an office.

  5. Spooky

    “I feel like I’m being asked to manage aspects of Frank’s work without the authority to do it.”…and without being paid to do it as well, from the sound of it.

    Sounds like it’s time to “push hard” for a promotion yourself, or leave for a better position elsewhere.

    1. Jerry Blank

      Exactly–especially when the manager said it was “career development.” In my experience, these types of career opportunities only lead to a bigger workload.

      1. Leatherwings

        Yep. It’s a way to sell it without having to do anything real like a title or salary bump.

        1. neverjaunty

          Exactly. It’s the pretense that they’re offering the OP some kind of perk when what they’re really doing is making her handle their management duties for free.

      2. FTW

        I would disagree. A key tool in development is delegation. I want to give my team key tasks that will help develop their careers.

        However, delegation always has to be set up correctly and supported by the manager, which it is not in this case.

        A way to do it better would be to have the manager clearly communicate to everyone the new system, have the OP draft project assignments and review with the manager, and then have the OP send out project assignments to the team. Any non-compliance from the other team members would be dealt with swiftly by the manager.

        1. Leatherwings

          But when the purpose of delegation is to get someone to take on an incompetent managers’ duties without actually changing up authority, it’s obviously not right.

          Sure, there are some situations where giving someone the authority to delegate even without is good for them, but it should be about developing skills to help them advance, not about duct-taping a broken system. And I think it’s often the case that people are asked to take on extra responsibility without proper backing, a bump in title, or an increase in salary and that’s not cool. That’s not a benefit to them, that’s a benefit for the employer at the expense of the employee.

          1. FTW

            100% agree that delegation should not be used to avoid managerial duties . In this case , we don’t know if the manager is doing this or actually looking to develop the employee and justify a new role. Any attempt to do so is pure speculation.

            It can be really hard to justify giving someone a pay raise or new title simply for giving them a small portion of a manager’s work. Showing that they’ve been executing that new work for a few months or a year is a great justification for a promotion or a raise.

        2. Stranger than fiction

          But that doesn’t include direct reports delegating to their own managers does it?

        3. JM in England

          I’ve always thought that delegation in the proper sense meant giving the recipient the authority to do whatever it takes to complete the task as well as the task itself. Otherwise, it’s just dumping!

          1. neverjaunty

            Exactly. “Do my job for me, without any of the tools you actually need to do it” is not delegation in any meaningful sense, much less a training opportunity.

    2. Aurion

      Amen. When people say they “manage up”, this was not what they are referring to.

      If your company gives you that well-deserved promotion, OP, I hope they give you back-pay (though I doubt they will).

    1. Dan

      Yeah. I see this all the time, and I always wonder why people think this is an effective way to manage. Sometimes it is — when everybody is on the same page.

      But when your boss responds to “this isn’t working” with “figure it out yourself” it’s time to GTFO.

    2. paul

      I cannot see this ending well for OP, regardless of their course of action. Any time you get responsibility without authority, it’s probably going to bite you in the butt at some point. Sorry, OP :(

  6. Technical Editor

    OP, this sucks! My concern is that when things go south, they’ll look to you because you’re the one assigning tasks and managing projects, even though Frank is really the manager. I’d be concerned that I’d be let go through no fault of my own, and be looking for a new job.

    As someone said above, you need to push for a promotion, or get out, and quickly.

    1. 2 Cents

      In an effort to head that eventuality off, I’d send a followup email after every meeting you have with Rebecca concerning this matter, like “Just to sum up our talk about workflow,” so it’s a clear picture of what you discussed and what the resolution is. She might get annoyed by it, but it’s CYA (covering your …)

  7. Dynamic Beige

    At $LastJob, the situation was kind of similar. If you were Jane’s favourite, she would bring all her projects to you directly. This resulted in some people being overburdened, while others had little to do. So they hired someone to schedule all the work, it was this person’s job to keep track of what projects had come in, when it was due, who was busy, who wasn’t and parcel out as needed. It was supposed to be more equitable, but the upper levels were not that happy that they couldn’t just go directly to their favourites. The new hire had to enforce that boundary more than once before the message sunk in.

    So OP, while Rebecca has told you this is now your job, does everyone in the company know this? Because beyond Rebecca shoving some of her job to you and the problem that Frank is technically senior to you, there is also the problem that Frank is not saying “I’m sorry, but you need to give OP that request” when someone gives him work along with people not knowing (or it not being enforced) that they should be coming to you to have their project added to the schedule.

    1. Sketchee

      Great thoughts, DB. What the OP can do is to continue to have this conversation with Frank and/or Rebecca overtime it comes to my attention. This conversation can be had with Frank with that consideration that he’s the boss.

      “Frank, I’m concerned about our workflow. I’m just now finding about how you’re working on Project X. Rebecca asked me to track these projects. Will you help me to do that by alerting me as soon as projects come in? Or how should I handle that? Because it’s causing problems with Y and Z.”

      It’s a weird situation, but at least the OP’s confusion becomes everyone’s problem. Which it completely should be.

  8. the

    OP, by making you accountable for Frank’s work without giving you the authority to enforce deadlines or consequences, someone is setting you up to fail in a big way. This situation is untenable- you either need to have that authority bestowed upon you, or you need to find a new job.

    1. Christopher Tracy

      by making you accountable for Frank’s work without giving you the authority to enforce deadlines or consequences, someone is setting you up to fail in a big way.

      Pretty much. I would try Alison’s script while also dusting off my resume in the event this doesn’t end well.

    2. Stranger than fiction

      I would maybe even use “set up to fail” in the conversation with boss and/or HR because that’s a buzzword they don’t want to hear just like harassment and hostile are. Then again, this place doesn’t seem reasonable so maybe that wouldn’t even phase them. First though , I’d try to set up a meeting with frank and Rebecca to see what he has to say for himself when it’s not just Op in the room.

  9. animaniactoo

    OP, one thing that Rebecca could do is to give you the role and title of Traffic Coordinator. This is the person who is responsible for work flow, but is not necessarily the manager of the dept. This person brings issues to the manager when deadlines are probably going to be missed not matter what anyone does for prioritizing decisions, and does their best to manage workflow via work assignments so that deadlines are not going to be missed in the meantime. They followup on project status, they are responsible for reaching out for solutions when there’s an issue like “the vendor won’t have this back until a week after we need it” so that they can bring “I’ve found an alternate vendor, they can do this for us tomorrow, can we have approval to use them instead? I’ve checked their references, and they’ve got a solid reputation for good work”.

    And then she can send out an e-mail to all the departments that you guys interact with that makes it clear to them that you are the person they are supposed to bring projects to. If they continue to go to Frank, that gives her leverage to address Frank (Frank, why are you taking on the project rather than sending it to OP), and it gives her the ability to tell people who say they gave the project to Frank “well that’s why you’re missing your deadline, because it’s not on OP’s radar since you didn’t give it to her. Talk to OP and see what she might be able to make happen for you.”

    BUT. That only works if she’s going to be willing to back you up on your scheduling when people complain (you’re probably still going to have to explain your decisions sometimes), and if she’s willing to actively deal with Frank – backing you up on taking projects away out of his hands when you need him to meet other deadlines first, etc. In otherwords, creating another position that makes Frank’s title an empty one doesn’t work unless the only thing it’s doing is allowing him to save face. And Traffic Coordinator is an established project flow role that you just don’t happen to have, so creating one is also not like the Sr Sr VP title kind of thing.

    1. Hermione

      The problem is that it sounds like this is only needed because Frank needs managing – OP mentions no other workflow/deadline problems aside from the ones being created by Frank when he misses deadlines and picks up additional work from clients (or whomever) without considering whether it’s right for their team/project/workload/capabilities.

      This shouldn’t be necessary in this scenario (though I appreciate that there are places and times when this sort of traffic controller might be needed). Bottom line, Rebecca needs to start managing her employee, and OP needs to a) follow Alison’s advice to push Rebecca to do so, and b) get her resume ready and applications out there in case Rebecca doesn’t put on her manager’s hat and get it done.

    2. Katy

      Given that this role manages up, I would push for Project Manager or Production Manager. In the universe of design departments, those titles infer more responsibility than a Traffic Coordinator, responsibilities she definitely has. I’d also push for a PM tool like Asana (for example – there are very many such tools) so everyone on a project has a view into due dates and who is responsible for which tasks. In fact, I bet it might help the boss manage his own workload in this situation.

      1. Stranger than fiction

        Yes and if that same tool can post all the projects and where they’re at on a company intranet for all of leadership to see, all the better.

        1. animaniactoo

          Ehhhh. Not necessarily. We’re using PM software now and we are very cagy about access. But that is because we have some rogue sales people who are not being shut down and dealt with appropriately. They’ll find a printout of a design that’s still in concept phase on the copier/printer and before you turn around, they’ve sold it to somebody with delivery due in 60 days. And then the company is stuck either looking bad to the customer (hurts company’s rep) or rushing our assess off to finish the design phase and gear up production within a week.

          They’ve even been known to take the US catalog and take some of our licensed items to sell in other territories. Where we haven’t gotten approval for that item yet. In fact, it may not even be in our contract for that territory! There’s a reason we produce different catalogs for different territories…

          Anyways. Company-wide access, no. Sufficient within dept to highlight the problem child, yes.

    1. Pwyll

      or managerial authority, for that matter.

      You get all of the frustrations and none of the perks! Join today!

    2. KR

      Yes… Personal anecdote: one of my first jobs in an extremely popular New England coffee and donuts fast food chain, I worked second shift. We were supposed to have a shift supervisor on all the time, especially since no one but shift supervisors could do no-sales or refunds. Of course, they didn’t have a shift supervisor on most nights which was a huge problem since the more experienced people could lean on less experienced people to do the work they needed to do, but they had no authority whatsoever over their coworkers and if someone needed a refund we had to ask them to come back in the morning. Me and my friend became “acting” supervisors where other employees came to regard us as in charge and respect our opinion, but it was still very dysfunctional because we had no real authority.

  10. Christine

    OP’s manager is passing the buck. Can the OP refuse to manage Frank since she’s not his manager? Is this one of those things where you are free to say it’s not part of my job description. Unless you make me his manager with the raise associated with it, I’m not doing it. I would follow Alison’s advise, but I would flat out refuse to do it. But I’m with the State and I have a bit of freedom regarding “not part of my job description,” etc. Not something I would normally pull, but I am when asked to do things that are the responsibility of facilities management, etc.

    I also wonder if the manager’s supervisor realizes that the responsibility is being passed along, that the manager is not doing their job. It could also be bought to HR. Some employers have strict guidelines about management roles and responsibilities. The OP has the freedom to ask for a pay increase if she’s taking on supervisory responsibilities.

    1. Leatherwings

      Yeah, it would be really tempting, but ultimately it seems like Rebecca has made this part of her job description. That defense usually doesn’t work because managers will just say “it is now.”
      If OP just refuses to do it, that seems pretty reasonable in theory but she has to be aware that the consequences for doing that might be severe. She should have something else lined up in that case.

      1. Stranger than fiction

        It also could be Rebecca is trying to save face for her poor promotion decision and those above her aren’t really aware what’s going on.

  11. Mental Health Day

    Yeah, OP, the only people benefitting from this arrangement are Rebecca and Frank.
    Taking on managerial duties with no authority and no additional compensation is not “professional development”. If they want to train you to be a manager with no authority and no additional compensation, OK fine. That is professional development. Otherwise, they either trust you to manage effectively or they don’t. If they do, they need to give you the authority to do the job and the compensation to match. Don’t get sucked in to their BS.
    You have two choices, I think. 1) Push hard (like Frank did) for the authority and compensation you need to do the job. 2) Start looking elsewhere. This isn’t going to end well for you when this little scheme finally blows up in their faces.
    Very best of luck to you.

    1. Pwyll

      Sounds more like the opposite: she doesn’t want the hassle of giving negative feedback/firing and is taking the path of least resistance by removing things Frank is “bad at” from his job responsibilities and shifting them to his subordinates without actually giving them the authority to hold anyone accountable.

  12. Jadelyn

    Can we define giving someone responsibility for something, without giving them the concomitant authority to do anything about the thing, as officially cruel and unusual punishment (cruel and unusual management?) – or is it too common to be considered unusual?

  13. Mae

    “Rebecca” is setting you up to fail, whether she’s aware or not. To me, this sounds like a disorganized startup or an environment in which accountability and hierarchy are overlooked. And I wouldn’t trust this “people-pleasing” side of “Frank” for a minute- it seems like a front he puts on to save face. I would watch your back, cover your bases, and go into every conversation with “Rebecca” armed with documentation and concrete examples. Otherwise, this will all fall on you. If after one or two conversations, she’s still beating around the bush, I would actively search for other jobs.

    1. Muriel Heslop

      And Frank doesn’t seem like a “people-pleaser; he seems like a “Frank-pleaser.” He is doing what he wants to do, when he wants to do it.

  14. Christine

    Lazy manager that is conflict avoidant = disaster. I would have that talk and start job searching. They should demote Frank & promote the OP into his place.

  15. Carissa

    Rebecca needs to make it clear to everyone that they should send requests to OP and not Frank. Frank is bad at his job and needs to be demoted or put on a PIP. Rebecca needs to manage her people.

  16. hbc

    If I’m brutally honest with myself, I can see myself pulling something like Rebecca here. “This is just divvying up the team responsibilities a little differently. Assessing priorities isn’t inherently a managerial task, and since Frank both doesn’t want to do it and isn’t good at it, this is a win for everyone. OP develops some skills that will give a leg up, Frank can focus on what he does best, the department runs better, and maybe this is enough to fix the mistake I made promoting Frank.” It would be about 60% optimism that the only problem can be compartmentalized, 30% hoping I get out of a difficult HR situation, and 10% mistakenly taking Frank at his word that he won’t meddle in the process.

    OP, only you know Rebecca, but if she’s like me, a clear reporting of how this isn’t working out will change things. Now that she tried the cowardly half-measure and failed, she’s down to the more realistic but less palatable options like demoting Frank, justifying a convoluted new reporting structure in her team of 3, or assessing the projects herself when she’s already overloaded.

    Just to be clear, I still think it was a bone-headed move. It just could be anywhere on the scale from “I’m totally throwing you under the bus” to “I shouldn’t have tried it (even if it could work in theory) and will adjust accordingly.”

    1. FTW

      This is a great perspective. I think it is very possible that the manager has recognized the OP is a strong performer and wants to find a path to giving them a new role.

    2. hbc

      I meant to add that, in my scenario, I/Rebecca would be beyond pissed at Frank. I concocted this awkward structure to get around the fact that he can’t handle all of his job description, and he’s mucking it up by leaning on his direct report to let him work on his pet project? My demotion conversation just got a hell of a lot easier.

    3. neverjaunty

      Except, how quickly would you let go of that rationalization if confronted? We already know that the OP approached Rebecca once and was brushed off. What are the odds that, having talked yourself into such a mess, you’d slap your forehead and say “darn it, OP, you are right! I will load that HR issue right back into my plate, particularly as I have made the situation worse!”

      I mean, sure, OP should talk to her boss, but she shouldn’t expect much.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Actually, having seen exactly this play out multiple times, the odds are reasonably high. Not for the forehead-slap but for more of a “ugh, crap, okay, I need to figure out a different way to handle this.”

  17. Michele

    I hope that you are able to deny Frank’s request to work on this special project, in a detailed email CCing Rebecca that describes impact of other related if not more important deadlines and how they’re impacted.

  18. Camellia

    The OP’s letter says that Rebecca met with Frank and then Rebecca met with the OP. Maybe a good step to try would be to have all three meet. Then Frank will see directly what Rebecca is saying to the OP, the OP can ask the appropriate questions like ‘what do we do in such-and-such situation’, and maybe this will get everyone on the same page.

    Then the ideal next step would be an email from Rebecca to everyone who brings work to tell them to bring it to the OP. If Rebecca won’t do this, then the OP could send the email, making sure to cc Rebecca and Frank on it.

    If this fails, then yes, you should start job-hunting.

  19. OP

    OP here! Alison, thank you so much for answering my question and huge thanks to everyone who’s commented as well! It’s incredibly validating to hear that other people think this is offbase as well.

    To address a few things people have brought up in the comments:

    – After meeting with Rebecca, I sent out an email to myself, Rebecca and Frank with notes on what Rebecca and I had discussed. I also gave Rebecca and Frank access to a spreadsheet where I track what’s been requested, who it’s been assigned to, and the project status. Monthly, I email Rebecca with a list of the number of projects that have been requested by department.

    – After the meeting, I did send out an office wide email with notes on the new process and that all requests should be directed to me – I think the issue is that a) people are in the habit of asking Frank, b) Frank doesn’t require them to think through everything (due dates, budget, etc.) so it feels ‘easier’ and c) Frank definitely does not reinforce the message that requests should come through me. We actually sit right next to each other, so I guess I could try to pipe in but it’s another of those scenarios that feels somewhat rude/stepping on my manager’s toes.

    – I haven’t been using the phrase ‘gentle reminder’ with Frank, I just wasn’t sure how else to phrase my biweekly email of “Hey, could you please try to remember to”. But agreed, I would be irritated if someone was actually telling me “Just a gentle reminder!”

    – In between writing Alison and this being published, I had a more direct conversation with Frank. I had sent an email to Frank and the 3rd member of our team (who does a wonderful job of gathering info and notifying me of new project requests) to remind them that project requests should be coming to me to streamline the process. Frank then asked to meet with me and said that he could tell that I had been upset with him and that he knows that I want people to know that assigning projects is MY role but as part of good customer service, he wanted us all to be taking project requests. I tried to clarify but it felt to me like what Frank thought I was concerned about was not getting credit for my position – which, to be honest, is not a role I feel particularly proud of. I did my best to explain that I was not concerned about my perceived role in the company beyond that it meant people were going through one channel so that I have the information I need to assign the work out.

    – Alison wrote a fantastic script for what to say to Rebecca but I definitely have concerns about what the fallout for that might be. I have heard multiple stories from other members of her team of saying one thing to one party, and then another thing entirely to another person. I am a little concerned that Rebecca would use my concerns as ammunition in a meeting with Frank without actually addressing the issues at stake. HBC, I thought you had a great very insightful comment about how it might be you in this situation, and it’s possible that I should give Rebecca a little more benefit of the doubt – I’m guess I’m just nervous about the idea of what feels like tattling on my direct manager to someone above who has already demonstrated poor management skills. So – definitely worth a think.

    – Mostly I just want to say thank you so much to everyone! I did start job hunting a month ago but haven’t found anything yet. But when you feel like something is off but everyone around you seems to think it’s completely normal, it starts to make you feel a little crazy, and wonder if you just have unreasonable expectations for the work force. I am so, so happy to hear that this is not a normal situation and it reads off to you guys as well. Thank you for the advice (especially Alison!) and feel free to ask me any other questions and I will keep you all updated!

    1. Jessica (tc)

      Hi, OP! Thanks for the quick update.

      Someone else mentioned above possibly meeting with both Rebecca and Frank to have all three of you go over the process, etc. I wonder if that’s possible to hopefully eliminate Rebecca’s habit of saying one thing to one person and another thing to appease another person. If it’s possible, this is an option to think about as well.

      Good luck on your job search!

    2. hbc

      Hi, OP! Hope I’m not too late for you to see this.

      That conversation with Frank…does not sound promising. He’s thinking that you’re power tripping after he was the one who tried to twist your arm to work on his favorite project? Nice. I mean, I suppose you could all take project requests as long as you’re all gathering the info, but I’m feeling like he would chafe against that too. “Why can’t you just assign this vague project without knowing the priority? Oh, by the way, I told them we could turn it around in a week already.”

      I think you have to talk to Rebecca, and keep your job search going. I wouldn’t be very worried for a couple of reasons: 1) If any of the Bad Rebecca stories come from Frank, take them with a shaker of salt, and 2) The spinelessness that’s inspiring her “solution” will also protect your job as long as you’re prepared to back off after the conversation. As much as I can see signs of my weaknesses in Rebecca, I’d be job hunting too.

  20. Alice

    I once had to effectively manage my manager and it was impossible. He kept insisting he could do projects himself, putting them off until the last minute and then saying he couldn’t do them. If I spoke with him about timelines and suggested assigning the work to someone else, he would insist he could do it. I was responsible for workflows and deadlines but he was my manager so I couldn’t just go against what he said. It was a nightmare.

    First off, I think you have to stop taking responsibility for everything. If he doesn’t direct project requests to you and then it goes wrong, or he doesn’t meet deadlines, he will have to fall on his face and be responsible for that (I don’t like leaving people to fail but it may be the only way).

    Secondly, maybe you need to review and change your processes a bit. Instigate a formal process for starting and logging a project if you don’t already have one.

    As to Rebecca, hmm. It’s not crazy for someone who’s not a manager to assign and schedule work. I’ve done this as an assistant at a newspaper (I was one of the most junior people there) and another example would be a studio manager at a creative agency. But there’s a difference between dealing with workflows in terms of time and scheduling and being expected to manage people who are supposed to manage you.

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