what do you do when your coworkers are afraid to address a problem as a group?

A reader writes:

To sum up, in brief: What do you do when your coworkers are too afraid to address an issue as a group since one experienced retaliation?

I have a project manager who should not be a project manager. He is a very nice person who cares about everyone he encounters. What he is NOT is a good manager, and he should not be even remotely connected to anything that involves managing people.

The PM is a work hoarder, an information hoarder, does not train anyone, is extremely poor at communicating, takes everything personally, and regularly throws each member of the team under the bus as scapegoats to Head Boss for not completing work that the PM did not even tell us about.

An example of a common interaction with a group member:

PM: “Why haven’t the sketches been completed yet?”

Coworker: “I don’t know how to submit the final draft. You said you’d show me three months ago.”

PM: “Oh. Well, you should have done it. You should have reminded me.”

Coworker: “I did remind you, several times actually?”

PM: “Then you should have put something on my calendar.”

Coworker: “I did, but you didn’t show up.”

PM: “Oh. Well, just get it done.”

Coworker: “Do you have time to train me? Or send the link to the submission site?”

PM: “I have a meeting so I can’t show you now.”

A few months ago, he took a vacation and that week team efficiency went up 100% because with him out of the office, there were no information bottlenecks, things got finished on time, etc. When he got back, it was like someone threw a wet blanket over the entire group: morale visibly plummeted and inefficiency promptly returned. It was sad because he was obviously happy to be back – but it was so obvious that no one was happy to see him return from vacation.

All of the group has spoken to him at varying times about these problems, but it appears to have done absolutely nothing and had no impact. He has apparently been telling other teams that our group is problematic and not helping him or performing. But the real problem is him – the group can’t perform or help when he is hoarding work/information, is terrible at communicating, and they are constantly being undermined.

I have suggested to the other group members that we approach Head Boss as a group with our issues as you have recommended in the past, but they are afraid to do so. The touchy point is that Head Boss and PM have been friends for over a decade, so bringing it up to Head Boss that there is an issue is a very difficult and potentially sticky situation. Last year one of the group members tried to address the situation with Head Boss and had the entire situation turned around on them, with PM made to look like a saint and a victim. This group member is still feeling professional repercussions from it.

We are all stuck where we are, as the company is small and we are in an area where it is difficult to find other jobs, so leaving or moving elsewhere is out of the question. We all like the work and like the PM as a person. It’s as a manager that these problems are beginning to burgeon out of control and things continue to worsen.

What could I do to convince the group that it NEEDS to be addressed, as it’s impacting our careers (which I’ve told them)? And/or what should we do as a group to address this problem? And what dialogue should we use?

Well, you may not be able to. You can try, but if they’re not willing to do it, you may have to accept that.

And I can understand their reluctance, given that Head Boss is good friends with the project manager. That will pretty much always have a silencing effect on people who otherwise might raise concerns — because they understandably worry that their concerns won’t be handled fairly and impartially, and that it may even come back to bite them. And in fact, it sounds like that’s exactly what happened with your coworker last year. So people’s hesitation makes a lot of sense.

This, of course, is one reason (of many) why it’s so important for managers not to have close friendships with people they manage. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop some of them.

In any case … You can try arguing to your coworkers that the whole point of raising something as a group is that there’s safety in numbers — that it’s much harder to retaliate against an entire group of people, and that the message will be harder for Head Boss to ignore when it’s coming from all of you. And you can suggest that the group frame it not as “we’re complaining about your friend,” but rather as “we have concerns that we want your advice on handling” … which can cut down on any blow-back.

But ultimately, your coworkers might be making rational decisions in choosing not to wade into this, given the dynamics you’ve described. If they care more about preserving a reasonably harmonious status quo than about solving the problem with the project manager … well, you and I might disagree with them, but it’s a call they’re entitled to make.

It’s certainly worth giving it a final shot — outlining exactly how you think the approach to Head Boss would work, why you don’t think it’ll go over as poorly as your coworker’s attempt last year, etc. — but in the end it’s their call.

There’s also some danger in pushing people too hard when they’re not ready to do something like this … because that’s when you end up in a situation where you think everyone is going to speak as a group, but they end up letting you do it all on your own.

So if that doesn’t work, are there other solutions? Can you start cc’ing Head Boss on particularly egregious emails from the project manager? Looping her in when the project manager drops the ball? Again, this doesn’t have to be framed as “PM messed up” — it can be, “Hmmm, we’re going to miss this deadline because of the late notice — so I’m looping in Head Boss to see if there’s a way to avoid this in the future.” Or, “Head Boss, see below. Do you have thoughts on how we can navigate this?”

Or would your coworkers be willing to go as a group to the project manager, if not to the Head Boss herself? It’s possible that a really direct intervention from all of you would get through to him … although if the problem is incompetence, then by definition that may not be possible.

Ultimately, though, you’re right that it’s going to be more effective for someone to give Head Boss an unvarnished explanation of what’s going on. But if she hasn’t created the conditions that make people feel safe doing that, then I can’t blame them for choosing self-protection first.

That leaves you with either doing it yourself (with whatever risk that might entail) or accepting that, for now at least, Your Project Manager — and thus your Head Boss — Sucks and Isn’t Going to Change. That would mean that your options are either to accept it and find a way to be reasonably okay with it (or at least to stop beating your head against the wall trying to get it to change) or to look for another job, as tough as that might be.

{ 272 comments… read them below }

  1. Labradoodle Daddy*

    I can sympathize, OP. I’m in a similar situation at work. It can feel like a really frustrating catch 22 which allows crappy bosses/employers to stay crappy.

  2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    “He is a very nice person who cares about everyone he encounters.”
    Please rethink this. He is not a nice person. He is a terrible person and if you think anything other than that, he has successfully gaslighted you. A nice person does not say, “hey, how’d Jr’s soccer tryouts go?” and then tell the boss that you were unavailable/unable to work on X project. A nice person who genuinely cares about others wants those others to succeed. This guy wants to know what everyone is up to so he can keep control of everything and everyone.
    He is a dangerous, self-serving prick who is holding everyone back professionally and probably not doing a hell of a lot for their mental health either.

    1. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yeah He’s an AFFABLE person who’s charming, but if he cared he wouldn’t throw people under the bus for his failings.

          1. Labradoodle Daddy*

            I’d argue that he’s putting on a polite facade (which is a distinction without a difference, I guess…)

          2. Hills to Die on*

            Right–I am having a hard time seeing the ‘nice’ part of this from any angle. This is not how nice people behave.

              1. Drive it like you stole it*

                The bite Bernadette Peters puts into that lyric is amazing. “You’re just *nice.* You’re not good, you’re not bad, you’re just *nice.*”

        1. Labradoodle Daddy*

          In The Gift of Fear Gavin DeBecker suggests consciously reframing “charming” from a characteristic to an active effort, IE “this person is trying to charm me.”

            1. Aveline*

              It doesn’t have to be evil. But it might be.

              I know several ambassadors. All are charming. One is also inherently kind. He uses his charm to put people at ease because he doesn’t want them to freak out and not enjoy the event/talk to him about their issues/etc.

              He’s also genuinely interested in people. So he uses the charm to get through the fear a lot of people have in meeting him.

              However, a lot of selfish people also use charm as a disarming weapon.

              We have to look past the charm and see what is underneath

              1. Jadelyn*

                This is beautifully put.

                Charm, like any weapon, can be used to protect as well as harm. The truly telling thing is when someone chooses to use it and what they’re trying to accomplish it.

                1. Mongrel*

                  That’s very much like Sir Terry Pratchett about Elves;

                  “…Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
                  Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
                  Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
                  The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.
                  No one ever said elves are nice.
                  Elves are bad.”

          1. boo bot*

            I have always loved this framing, it’s one of those realizations that’s lights off/lights on once you understand it, in terms of how you see people’s behavior.

            My mother taught me the same thing – she always said, “Anybody can do nice,” (usually in response to someone justifying terrible behavior with, “But s/he’s so nice…”) I’ve found, though, that people often don’t know what I mean when I say it that way, whereas people grasp “this person is trying to charm me” instantaneously.

            (Sorry, Mama! Your wisdom steered me right, anyway!)

        2. Jadelyn*

          YES. My dad is a very charming man. He’s also an abusive alcoholic. And so many people, when I finally had enough and cut off contact with him, came out with “But your dad is so niiiiiice, he can’t be that bad, you should give him another chance!” No, what he is, is charming. A very charming jerk. Don’t mistake charisma for quality of character.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              The witch queen in Snow White was objectively beautiful but willing to kill an innocent.
              So 20 charisma, and lawful evil. (Worse, as queen she IS the law.)

      1. Les G*

        Unfortunately, this is what happens to folks who’ve worked for tyrants and a-holes too long. The company-mandated bootlicking takes on a nice, unctuous tang and before you know it, you love Big Brother. It’s a damn shame.

        1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          I am 100% supporting this. OP is the frog in the pot of boiling water thinking it is a nice swim. Boss is salting and peppering, but really not helping at all.

      2. Wintermute*

        I like this distinction. Also I’d like to add that not all “rudeness” is a personal moral failing. You don’t know what you don’t know! Maybe he never framed this that way, maybe he’s clueless to impacts? It sounds like he might be horrified to find out how much harder he’s making everyone else’s lives, but he’s in over his head and just trying to stay afloat.

        1. TardyTardis*

          True. Like in Harry Potter, Snape is rude and mean. But he saves Harry’s life. Harry has other teachers who are nicer to him, but alas they try to kill him. Oops.

    2. Stormfeather*

      This. Thisthisthisthisthis. It’s something that’s been popping up on here a lot, letter writers writing in with “they’re a wonderful person really but…” and then going on to illustrate just how they are really not nice people at all.

    3. LetterWriter*

      I hadn’t thought about it this way. But you’re right – how nice can he actually be if he feels fine treating an entire group of people this way? I need to reframe how I’ve been viewing this person.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        The reframing may also help in case y’all are paralyzed by workplace Stockholm syndrome :)

      2. neverjaunty*

        Try reframing it in terms of his behavior (he is affable and friendly) rather than his inner nature. That will also help you in talking to Head Boss – describe his specific conduct and the problems it causes.

        (Also, a decent person doesn’t repeatedly try to make their own failures someone else’s fault. “You should have reminded me”?)

        1. Aveline*

          Yep. Ultimately, it’s not about his motives or his goodness/badness. It’s about his actions violating boundaries and causing issues for others.

          This would be the same if he’s doing this on purpose or just negligently/absentmindedly.

          LW:His intent may or may not be insidious, but that doesn’t matter to how it impacts your work.

      3. EddieSherbert*

        I think rethinking your entire view of him as a person can be dangerous too though :/
        If it comes down to “I need this job even though it’s not going to change,” having some measure of good-feelings/ability-to-interact-pleasantly with your PM does matter.

        My manager had zero experience managing before I started and did a lot of similar things to your PM – however, I got lucky, and she was pretty open-minded and we could have real conversations about the issues. It took a couple years to get to a really good point for us, but the fact that I actually liked her as a person and had frequent good personal conversations with her about “fluffy stuff” like vacations or restaurants or pets is what got me through those first couple years.

      4. boo bot*

        Something I’ve found worth taking into account is, people who abuse their power HAVE to have obvious positive qualities, because otherwise no one would let them get into a position of power in the first place.

      5. JSPA*

        Sometimes the best that someone can do–with all the best intentions in the world–is still pretty terrible. And if it’s deep-seated, it’s not something they can “just do differently.”

        We don’t tell depressed people to “snap out of it.” We don’t tell manic people to “just calm down.” We don’t tell hoarders to “just tidy up.”

        Asserting that, if someone’s nice, that they can magically lose a bunch of counterproductive / avoidant behaviors…insisting that it must be nasty and intentional…hopping on yet another “abuser diagnosis train”…can we please not?

        Not everyone who makes people miserable is abusive. It’s a frustrating misery to deal with a car that doesn’t work right, and it’s much the same working with someone who can’t get out of their own way. Even if they have all the kindness and goodwill in the world.

    4. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      I think this is a pretty big assumption. This may be an otherwise decent person with a couple of enormous blind spots. He may not see himself as throwing people under the bus, he may genuinely think that everyone has the capacity to complete what they need to with what he gives them, he may think that informing Head Boss of where he thinks things fell through is 100% helpful to all involved. “Nice person who absolutely shouldn’t be a manager” is a person that exists.

      And it’s probably easier to consider options for solutions/workarounds for “nice person who just absolutely shouldn’t be a manager” than “prick who deliberately undermines us.”

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think it’s fair to say he’s not a nice person. He sounds like he’s socially adept, but not someone with a great deal of self-awareness, introspection, or managerial ability. And he sounds not particularly honest. Even if he thinks he genuinely has the ability to do the things he’s doing, nice people cultivate some level of self-awareness and do not throw people under the boss.

        He may not be a prick, but he’s certainly a person who is deliberately undermining his team, whether or not he realizes that that’s what he’s doing.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Yes, somebody who routinely ends up throwing other people under the bus, but doesn’t realize the implications of that, or change their approach so that it stops happening, is at best fatally careless with the careers of people under him … which is not really a very good person at all.

        2. fposte*

          We’re getting a little bit into the weeds here, but if he doesn’t realize what he’s doing I don’t think it can be termed “deliberately.”

          But mostly I’m here for “throw people under the boss” :-).

          1. Dust Bunny*

            The examples provided suggest he’s been told: He was apparently reminded, and had it added to the calendar, that he needed to teach a team member to do something, and still managed to not do it. At some point, failure to take responsibility for things like this becomes as bad as active antagonism, even of the guy committing it doesn’t think so. He’s harming his team members and the project by not taking his own issues in hand.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I think fposte is saying there’s nuance (and I agree!). You can be a good person and still do terrible things. You can be a terrible person and do good things.

              I’m reading their advice as “focus on the behavior, not on attributing the behavior to a fundamental character flaw or trait, if you want to be persuasive with HeadBoss.”

              1. fposte*

                And I’d say in general in life it’s a better approach, too. But I understand if first you have to dislodge the pendulum from the “nice” place by swinging it to the other side first.

              2. Neptune*

                Agreed. Regardless of the true nature of his moral character, your boss will probably respond better to “your friend seems like a good guy but is not doing well at managing us, as demonstrated by these incidents” than “your friend is an inherently bad person, as demonstrated by these incidents”.

                1. Seeking Second Childhood*

                  A phrase worth remembering! Well said.

                  It’s sort of like the Wizard of Oz’s man behind the curtain scene… a very good man, but a very bad wizard.

                2. Seeking Second Childhood*

                  Annnnd my phone didn’t show that it had posted part of that when I went on and added more. Sorry!

      2. fposte*

        Yeah, I think that’s getting a little black and white. He’s not necessarily a terrible person. He’s a crap project manager, but that doesn’t make him a terrible person. It’s good to realize that this is a big deficit in an otherwise nice person–that even though he wouldn’t actively hurt other people he’s passively harming them, and that’s still on him. But that’s not the same thing as his being a terrible human.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          I agree he’s not a terrible person. That’s too black and white also. He probably loves his family and is fun at parties, tells good jokes, gives to charity etc.

          1. fposte*

            And maybe I’m trying to move too quickly to advanced skills. If the OP is paralyzed because she thinks he’s nice, it’s probably helpful for her first to realize that this isn’t nice at all. I’m pushing for the point after that, where it doesn’t matter whether he’s nice or not when you decide what needs to be done.

            And really, it’s his boss I’m pointing my finger at. His boss is the one making sure he’s protected despite his incompetence and creating professional repercussions for people who complain.

            1. Sloan Kittering*

              This is actually super important! I remember in “why does he do that,” a book for abused partners, the author said that the first step is focusing just on what the person is doing, because you’re never going to convince an abused wife that her husband is some terrible monster – she no doubt loves him, remembers time he was good, has seen him when he’s most vulnerable etc. But if you can accept that the thing he is doing is hurting you, that’s a much more reasonable place to start from.

              1. fposte*

                Yes, I also like the idea of assessing them after mentally muting them; if you don’t hear what they’re saying, what do you think of what they’re doing?

            1. fposte*

              And I’d be more on board with calling him a terrible person. I’m not saying “Aw, OP’s PM says hello to people; he can’t be terrible.” I’m saying that “terrible” is a write-off of a person that seems pretty extreme here; you’d have to be pretty high on the paragon scale to never have done your job badly in a way that impaired somebody else, so there’d be few people who weren’t terrible.

              1. TootsNYC*

                There’s also “nice” as meaning “eh, OK.”

                But I agree with you that words to describe behavior are far better.

                so “nice” doesn’t describe behavior. “Pleasant” and Personable” do.

                So–excise the word “nice,” and stick to describing what someone does.

                Even “polite” is better at focusing on behavior than “nice” is.

            2. Dust Bunny*

              This seems bigger than “do [one’s] job badly in a way that impaired somebody else”, though. He’s basically holding the team hostage to his incompetence and/or disregard, since, because he is friends with Big Boss and there is a precedent of PM getting a pass because of this friendship, they don’t really have other avenues here, nor are there many other viable job options in the area.

              I’ve messed up occasionally and inconvenienced a coworker or two, but I’ve never pulled something like this.

              1. Sloan Kittering*

                It’s entirely possible he doesn’t realize he’s doing this or doesn’t see the problem (which does not mean he would change if OP just explained it well enough, however). He thinks its the job of the Manager to Be In Charge Of All Things. Especially if he’s not getting coaching from his own boss and isn’t be provided with a feedback loop, he’s not seeing it. Also, if this system is working for him – he’s getting rewarded, he’s looking good to the higher ups – he’s not going to want to change no matter what his underlings say.

                1. Dust Bunny*

                  “All of the group has spoken to him at varying times about these problems, but it appears to have done absolutely nothing and had no impact.” Preceded and followed by examples of his dysfunction.

                  There *is* a feedback loop here; he either is as dumb as a brick or he doesn’t think he needs to engage it from people who aren’t his superiors.

        2. neverjaunty*

          In the context in which the OP has to deal with him, he’s an ass. It doesn’t matter for her purposes whether he believes in nice things and spends his weekends ministering to the sick.

          1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

            I would say it DOES matter. There’s a wildly different approach in viewing him as wanting the best for everyone and just going about it really, really badly–and a really clear “here’s what’s wrong” might just get through.

            Or maybe it’s coming from a place of extreme self-doubt, which I think is another possibility, and there may be a workaround there too, or at least a tiny bit of optimism that he will grow in confidence and competence over time.

            But if the chosen perspective is “he only cares about himself and is a terrible person” then there’s not much to hope for besides a new job or a lightning strike, and I don’t think that’s particularly helpful for anyone.

          2. TootsNYC*

            And this is why (both comments here) it’s good to focus on behavior. Don’t talk bout him being an ass, or being nice–neither of those are behavior.

            (“being”)

            He acts in a pleasant manner. He greets people in pleasant tones. He gives people the time off they ask for.

            He hogs information.

            1. neverjaunty*

              Exactly. His behavior is terrible even though he may also have a pleasant demeanor. The LW isn’t his therapist and it isn’t her job – nor does it help her situation – to spend time puzzling over whether he is or isn’t “nice” in his secret heart of hearts.

        3. animaniactoo*

          I would say that throwing people under the bus IS actively harming them.

          Generally my standpoint is that we need to stop thinking of people as “good people” and bad actions as things that are only done by “bad people” – we have to recognize the greater capacity for good people to do bad things. Because it will make it easier among ourselves to see and believe that Person We Know and Like actually might have done [bad thing] when we hear something to that effect.

          But I think that when you’re looking at a pile of bad actions, you can and really may need to stop framing as “good person”. However, removing that framing also doesn’t mean that you have to swing all the way to “bad/terrible person”. Just a more realistic view of “not really such a great person, no.”

          1. Sloan Kittering*

            Strongly agree. But if OP has human fondness for this person, s/he’s not going to respond to comments like “This person is a bad jerk who sucks,” because s/he’s going to be like, “no, Bill has lots of great qualities!” and not hear what we’re saying.

        4. Aveline*

          You don’t have to be a terrible person to do a terrible thing.

          Up until he was confronted about the issues, it might have been unintentional. But it’s been addressed.

          If he continues to throw others under the bus after being told, that’s not nice or kind. It’s an intentional action harming others. It’s knowing.

          That doesn’t make him evil. The world isn’t divided into saints and death eaters.

          Plenty of “good people” do bad things. Pointing out they aren’t kind or nice is not the same thing as saying they are bad or evil.

          1. fposte*

            I’ve lost track of the threading here, but I completely agree with you; it’s the opinion that the world pretty much was so divided and he was the other side of it that I was disagreeing with.

            1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

              Sometimes I want to tell people: I’m not trying to be mean or unhelpful! Occasionally I’m just genuinely stupid.

              1. fposte*

                And I’m also thinking about how many people I know who are anxious and defended and therefore struggling at their jobs. I don’t exculpate them just because of that, but seeing inside their head gives a whole nother slant on the situation.

          2. Iris Eyes*

            There is also compartmentalization. The big NASCAR race happened to be on the other day and they were talking about how one of the drivers was so nice and was playing with his kids before the race but that when the flag waved you had to be mean and nasty. Different environments do call for different behavior sometimes people don’t see their own hypocrisy.

            There might be a path to an emotional appeal to the PM if otherwise he is a person who cares about others.

          3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            At this point, if this were my coworker, I would not spend anymore of my time wondering if this person is good or bad. This is the person I cannot trust. This is the person whose ridiculous power trips interfere with my ability to do the work that I was hired to do (presumably for the clients and/or the company’s bottom line). I have no doubt that in his mind, he’s a great guy, and that he has an explanation for everything he does that puts him in a good light. I don’t care. I just need him to stop doing to me the things that he is doing to me. I admit that this is the kind of stuff my dad used to cut contact with people for. Maybe it runs in my family. I’d be tempted to do the same, or as close to the same as possible, given that we still work together.

      3. ThursdaysGeek*

        Yes! People are not evil or good, they are evil and good. All of us have blind spots, have areas where we fail (at best) or are deliberately hurtful. What the boss is doing is most definitely not nice and is causing harm. But that doesn’t make him a terrible person. It makes him a terrible manager – only one aspect of his personhood.

        “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn)

      4. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        It would be easier if the boss were a nice person who shouldn’t manage. I agree. But nice people don’t manipulate the situation of a staff member speaking to the CEO into persecution by his staff. Nice people admit when they make mistakes or when they failed to train people. Nice people don’t do what LW says this person does.

    5. SleepyTimeTay*

      This, so very much this. He is not a nice person. Please step back and objectively look at this. He is very self-serving and purposefully doing this to professionally harm your team. And if he truly cared about all those he encounters, he’d want to set tou up for success and help build your professional work.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Even if not purposefully, which may be a bridge too far, he’s being in effect criminally negligent (in the non legal sense of course, but just that he should know better and do better)

      2. RUKiddingMe*

        Yup. He’s not giving necessary info, ignoring calendar appointnents, refusing to train, and then blaming his reports when they don’t do the work **that they are unable to do** because he refuses to give them any more direction than “do it.”

    6. Kate R*

      Yes. This. I feel like sometimes people throw comments like that in these letters for a “it’s not personal” or “I don’t want to get them in trouble” sort of feel, but this dude is terrible. Ignoring people asking for training and then getting angry when they aren’t trained, throwing them under the bus when stuff doesn’t get done, complaining to other groups that this group is problematic and not performing…these are not the characteristics of a nice person. But since Head Boss is friends with PM, and there’s already a history of repercussions from complaints, this seems like a “you’re boss sucks and isn’t going to change” type of situation IMO.

    7. mark132*

      At first I was inclined to disagree with you, but went back and re-read the post more closely. And you are 100% correct. He is not a nice person.

    8. Triplestep*

      I think that many of us (especially women) just have a really hard time characterizing people as “not nice”.

      I used to tell myself that my boss is a “good person” and “someone I’d like to have a beer with” and isn’t it too bad she’s just a terrible manager? But I’ve come to the realization that she’s not really a good person, and I would not want to have a beer with her. I prefer when she’s nowhere near me! Those were just things I told myself because they made me feel better about myself.

      She actually has a lot of the qualities most people agree are those of “bad” people. She lies, she holds grudges, she keeps score – I don’t tell anyone at work these things, and I won’t even after I can finally leave here, but I’m entirely comfortable in the notion that she is not a good person. It’s liberating, actually.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        I do think there’s a gender component, but I also think that almost nobody is 100% bad, which muddies the water. People can have destructive qualities but still tell a hilarious joke or be great in a crisis or whatever. In fact, all of us have good and bad qualities, even those who are typically good people – even ourselves!

      2. sheworkshardforthemoney*

        Exactly! I had a manager like that, she was sloppy and missed deadlines all the time which affected our ability to do our jobs. Her go to response was to laugh it off as no big deal. It was a frustrating management style but she was a “wonderful” person. I would love her as a friend when the stakes are lower but not as a manager.

        1. Yay commenting on AAM!*

          Yes, I had an unqualified male manager of this type. We all liked him, because he was fun to work with, chatty and witty, lots of fun stories, a good sense of humor, and always had fun music on or a fun YouTube video to share.

          But because he was SO much fun to work with…he did not do work. I’d say 70% of his job went undone. Schedules weren’t created, payroll wasn’t approved, customer contacts weren’t returned, budgets were neglected, trainings were skipped, equipment wasn’t purchased, etc. And that was not “nice” and created tons of tension, no matter how much fun he was to BS with in downtime or how many hilarious YouTube videos he had queued up.

      3. Autumnheart*

        I think “toxic” is a better way to describe this kind of thing, since just about everything CAN be toxic in certain scenarios, even things we can’t live without, like water or oxygen. This project manager is a toxic work influence. Maybe he’s an okay person when not project-managing and reporting to his buddy, but that’s the situation the team is in right now.

      4. Observer*

        When a boss is genuinely a bad person, as your sounds, it really is liberating to recognize it. But, it’s equally liberating to recognize that someone may be nice and even mostly good, but is still terrible at their job and doing things that actively harm others – and that it’s perfectly ok to do something about the bad behavior even though they are nice and good.

    9. ThankYouRoman*

      Preach!

      He’s not a monster. He’s not a villain. BUT he’s also not a nice person. He’s a self serving bag of turds.

    10. Jaguar*

      Are you really telling the OP that they’re wrong (and brainwashed, no less) about someone they know and work with and you’re right based on no information other than a few paragraphs on a blog?

      1. designbot*

        I think we’re telling her that one thing she’s saying conflicts with the other things she’s saying. She says: he’s nice. She also says: he throws people under the bus, blames his own failings on them, and doesn’t follow through. We’re pointing out that those concrete examples of things he does to the team are in conflict with the assessment that he’s nice. We’re not making it up, taking it out of nowhere, we’re reading the specific things she wrote and coming to a very different conclusion.

        1. Jaguar*

          It seems to me that if someone is saying two things that you can’t make sense of, the way to approach that is to ask questions, not to tell them they’re wrong.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            I don’t think anyone is telling OP that she’s “wrong.” People are saying “hey if you look st everything you are saying here…this doesn’t generally add up to “nice.”

            It’s a perspective, widely shared amongst the comnenters here, which is something thst might give OP s hint that maybe she’s missing the forest gor the trees. No one is saying “you’re wrong.”

        2. bonkerballs*

          I think we have a few concrete examples of ways in which he’s behaving poorly, but we don’t have any other information to make any definitive statements of his character. OP may have lots of examples of him being a good person and treating her well that don’t have any bearing on the issue she wrote in about. There are kind ways of pointing out to the OP that she may need to reframe her thinking of her boos, but for us to come at the OP and say things like “He’s not a nice person. At all.” or “he’s a terrible person” or “he’s a giant pile of turd” can be incredibly overwhelming for the OP in a super negative way. Look at the OP from a few days ago who commented about how incredibly hurt and offended she was based on the comment sections complete trashing of her fiance – she really couldn’t take any actual good advice from the comment section because there was such a deluge of comments telling her her fiance was trash and she should dump him. It’s just not helpful and often (as with the OP from a few days ago) wildly offbase.

    11. CM*

      Truth. Nice people care about the needs of others and how their behaviour affects those around them. The examples given in the letter make it sound like the PM cares mostly about figuring out who’s to blame for the problems with their projects (definitely never him) and that’s it. Like: “It’s not important that I train you how to do this, what’s important is it’s your fault that I haven’t. PM out.”

      Regardless of what he feels in his heart, that kind of behaviour implies a belief that the only thing that matters in that interaction is his ego (protected by proving that he’s not at fault, and boosted by criticizing someone else). The message behind what he’s saying isn’t just “No, it’s your fault we didn’t do the training” it’s also “The only thing I care about in this interaction is whether I feel good about myself.”

      That’s not how nice people approach their interactions with others.

      1. froodle*

        The message behind what he’s saying isn’t just “No, it’s your fault we didn’t do the training” it’s also “The only thing I care about in this interaction is whether I feel good about myself.”

        That’s not how nice people approach their interactions with others.

        Oooh, this is good. I think this is the best framing I’ve seen of the issue so far in the comments and I’m stealing it for future use. Very well put.

    12. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      That was my first thought. He’s a crappy person. That he’s a likable crappy person makes him all the more crappier.

      I have very little patience with this kind of “nice guys”, having dated at least one of them. Everybody loves him, he’s being a dick to you in private, and if you ever bring it up, you lose everyone’s support for throwing unfounded accusations at The Nice Guy.

    13. Harvey 6-3.5*

      Nice or not is irrelevant. OP should document everything. Literally everything. Every time she needs assistance, information, or work, she should send an email outlining the need and timeframe. If she receives no response or an incomplete response, she should respond and cc big boss with a polite reminder. Milestones, deadlines, and other information should also be communicated by emails. Detailed summary emails, perhaps weekly, should cover all the information and refer to previously sent emails. If not unreasonable, weekly or monthly summary emails could also be cced to the big boss.

      While this is additional work, it will help protect the OP against the project manager’s incompetence.

    14. MCMonkeyBean*

      That was where I got stuck too. It’s not advice on the topic they are looking for but I think it’s interesting that it’s so common in many advice columns (especially if the complaint is about a loved one or partner) for the letter writer to go out of their way to describe someone as nice when it seems clearly not true to an impartial third party.

      Certainly lots of nice people exhibit bad behaviors on occasion, we all get frustrated sometimes… but “he is nice and cares about us” and “he regularly throws us all under the bus” are not sentences that can both be true about one person.

  3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Having been in the group of people that raised performance issues to Head Boss and suffered professionally for it, OP, please listen to Alison. Based on your coworker’s experience, it doesn’t sound like Head Boss has the emotional distance to fairly assess or give feedback on your PM’s management deficiencies. You may want to raise things with the PM, but also be prepared for that to be unsuccessful. Assuming that Your Boss (and Grandboss) Sucks and Isn’t Going to Change, and with the information you have from the week your PM was on vacation, how do you want to proceed?

    In my case, I quit, and it was the best decision I ever made. I wish I had done it a year earlier.

    I’m an eternal optimist, but knowing when certain things aren’t going to change can be emotionally liberating. Now you know exactly what’s changeable and what isn’t, and that can give you clarity on your next steps.

    1. Rumbakalao*

      It’s a rough situation, but I got the sense that due to the lack of other options in her area and some kind of commitment(s) she and the others would have a very hard time leaving. Which sucks, because it doesn’t seem like this is a situation anyone in her position can change. As far as addressing the problem, there really isn’t a reliable person to raise the issue to. So if they can’t fix it, then they’ll just have to learn to live with it. IMO this option holds the same weight as just finding a way to quit, because constantly having their work undermined, getting gaslit on the regular, and extremely low morale is a terrible way to spend your career- at this rate it’ll only start to hurt OP’s professional reputation if she (and the other coworkers) are starting to be seen as incompetent.

      Side note, I kept reading PM as Prime Minister and had a very different situation playing out in my head.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I agree, and I agree that quitting is not a decision that anyone takes lightly. When I quit it was an awful experience: Because of local relationships, I had to find an employer over three hours away in an entirely different geography who would let me work remotely (but I had to commute to employer’s HQ 2x week, which was brutal). I took a massive pay and benefits cut. I ultimately left the state for several years before returning to the same geography/sector.

        I was able to do that because I was young, didn’t have family obligations, and had no assets, but I think my approach would have been very different if I had commitments and was geographically bound.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            It was the second-worst job I have ever had. I was also in a very narrow sector in a geographic region with very few social justice organizations, which is partially why I had to go so far away to find an alternative. But I was really worried that if I stayed, I would suffer professionally in terms of skills acquisition and ability to lateral to a different employer (i.e., I was afraid this was the professional equivalent of the Sunken Place).

            When I applied, I couldn’t have known that the phone calls were coming from inside the house. But once I learned that that was what was happening and that it wasn’t going to change, I was able to get a little bit of emotional distance.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              What do you mean by the phone calls coming from inside the house? Are you able to elaborate? Sounds intriguing…

              1. Electric Sheep*

                I also use this phrase! It’s a reference to an old urban horror story first appearing in the 60s.

                It goes like this:
                A teenage girl is babysitting at night. She’s put the children to bed upstairs and is sitting downstairs, watching TV, when the phone rings. [Remember that this is an old story? The phone is the home fixed line phone; no mobiles/cell phones.] She answers the phone, in case it’s the parents, checking in on their children. But it’s not: it’s a man with a voice she doesn’t recognise, who asks her how the children are. Slightly weirded out, she tells him that he has the wrong number, and hangs up and keeps watching tv. After about 20 minutes, the phone rings again. She answers: it’s the same man, asking how the children are. She tells him to stop calling and hangs up again, now feeling even more unsettled. Five minutes later, the phone rings again – she picks it up but hangs up as soon as she hears his voice, and calls the police. They reassure her and say it’s probably a practical joke, but to find out who it is they will trace the next call. She hangs up and almost immediately the strange man calls again. She lets him ask about the children and then hangs up – only for the phone to ring again. It’s the police, telling her that she has to get out of the house now: they’ve traced the line and the call is coming from inside the house. She runs outside immediately and is soon met by the police. Turns out that the man was calling her from the phone upstairs after killing the children, trying to lure her upstairs to kill her as well.

                So basically the phrase means you think you’re in a safe situation, but actually the threat is coming from that situation. Duh duh duh! All this not as it seems and you need to get out.

                1. Maolin*

                  And now I’m really wishing I hadn’t read this far down in the comments section – at 2.30 in the morning. I had been summoned to let the baby dog out, which isn’t uncommon at this hour. I usually do a little light reading – if AAM letters and comments can be considered light reading – before having my second sleep session of the night. I *loathe* horror/thriller genre, including ghost stories. I was curious about the phone reference, too, and just had to keep reading. I should have scrolled on by after “old urban horror story” but as with a train wreck, just couldn’t look away. Now I’m in fight or flight mode, my blood pressure is high and I’m never getting back to sleep now! Why, oh why, do I always have to look?!

                  For OP – does Head Boss have a boss that you could turn to if their friendship with PM prevents you from getting an effective solution? If you are unsuccessful raising concerns as a group to PM or Head Boss, can it then be escalated further? Rotten situation – and I know how much harder it is when you don’t have alternatives within your local area. Fortunately, I was able to relocate but it sucks that such terrible management and incompetence forces such an ordeal – relocation is a PITA and feels really unfair when the problem lies elsewhere. Good luck to you!

      2. TardyTardis*

        I had the same problem for several years; toxic boss, overwhelming work load–but the job was in a small town and the largest employer. The pay sucked, but the benefits were literally life-saving, so I just hunkered down and endured till retirement.

    2. Psyche*

      Yes. It sounds like because it would be so difficult to leave, the OP desperately wants the situation to be fixable. Since going individually to the big boss was shown to be too risky, she wants going as a group to be the next step. But that is still risky and the rest of the team is not on board. Since it doesn’t sound like their fears are unfounded, I don’t think that going as a group is going to happen.

    3. Sloan Kittering*

      I would say you can use this approach even if you’re not going to quit, which as others have pointed out may not be possible. Alison has other articles about how to survive when Your Boss Sucks and Isn’t Going to Change.

    4. Naomi*

      OP, I know you don’t have a lot of other options in your area. But you can start a job search anyway. Jobs being difficult to find in your area isn’t the same as impossible (and you can also look for telecommute jobs). Looking elsewhere doesn’t commit you to leaving this job, so if you can’t find anything else… well, you’re no worse off than you are now.

    5. LetterWriter*

      It’s sad to hear that you went the group route yourself and even that was ineffective; this makes me really feel that my team members’ fears are far more valid than I had previously realized. Unfortunately, quitting/relocating isn’t an option based on location and population here. Not a good situation.

      1. Lance*

        I admit, I am a bit curious to know what you mean by that last point, exactly. Is it that you don’t think you’d be able to find a job elsewhere? That you’d find the inconvenience too large? Or is there something else tying you to that area?

        1. LetterWriter*

          Nothing I can fully go into without giving away the location or identifying information, I’m afraid.

        2. Temperance*

          Not LW, but I can explain. I’m from a pretty rural, pretty poor area with few good job opportunities. I left, because I could, without regrets. Many of my friends who did not or could not make the same choice are working retail or fast food, in their 30s, because other jobs just really don’t exist.

      2. skippy*

        What about finding a new job? Are you in such a small/remote place that there are really no other companies doing activities related to project management?

      3. RUKiddingMe*

        Ever given any thought to just pulling up stakes and starting over elsewhere? Scary? You bet! But…it can be even more awesome than it is scary.

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I ended up quitting, but I also think it’s ok not to quit. I think the emotional distance approach can sometimes make a not great situation more bearable.

        Right now it sounds like you want to find a way to fix this in part because relocation isn’t feasible, but it may feel liberating to realize you can’t fix it and that it may not make sense to fix it. It basically makes it not your circus, not your monkeys. And then you can figure out how to ride out the fact that your PM is not a great boss, which may be more effective and sustainable for you in the medium term…

        I’m really sorry that relocation/population is a limiting factor. I worked in a Super Rural Area and had similar challenges, but I was lucky to be able to relocate. I understand that that’s not the case for many of my colleagues and friends who are still in Super Rural Area.

  4. Are you a coworker?*

    Wow. I read this and wondered if I wrote it. Feels so familiar. I’ve been here a long time, so talked to Grand Boss, who gave me a few comforting words and promptly forgot about it. I’m going to start job hunting soon. Please send an update. If something positive happens for you, it will be inspirational. Good luck!

  5. The Doctor*

    Two words: DOCUMENT EVERYTHING.

    Make sure to put all information and training requests in emails. Copy the Head Boss on all emails. Archive all emails.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I don’t think this will be effective if Head Boss has already decided that PM is the saint and victim. It’s also a great way to burn goodwill with the PM and the Head Boss. Assuming I operated the way Head Boss has been, if my grand-reports were copying me on all of their email requests, I would be incredibly annoyed and would tell them to cut that shit out.

      1. MLB*

        I second the documentation. I don’t know if I’d copy head boss on everything, but sometimes people don’t realize how bad and extensive something is until they see it in writing. It may not help, but if they go to head boss again, seeing lots of examples of issues may put it into perspective.

    2. LetterWriter*

      Head Boss would be Very Not Happy if we copied them on everything. I have, however, been keeping records, screenshots, and saving emails just in case as a CYA.

      1. Sarah M*

        I was going to suggest that you (and really, your group) do this, even if copying Big Boss on everything isn’t a viable option. I would also keep hard copies in a safe place, just in case. If you’re ever in a situation where he tries to throw you (or another group member) under the bus again, they could be very helpful. Good luck!

    3. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      What about frequent documentation to the PM? If a regular update to him includes, every time, “pending training with PM” or “pending PM approval” or “pending such-and-such information from PM,” maybe even with deadlines (“this is required by X date for the Y date milestone”) then it might be harder for him to brush everyone off.

      1. LetterWriter*

        I like that it subtly calls attention to where the roadblock is in the work. I might try doing that and suggest it to the other team members.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Can confirm this is often a good strategy. We added a column to our recruiting report, which goes to the SVPs over each area, saying “Next steps”. So it might be something like “HR to repost position” which would tell them, this is in our court right now. Or it might be “hiring manager to review applicants and schedule phone screenings” which tells them ownership is on their report right now, so don’t come to us about how long it’s taking. It proved wildly effective in getting managers to take ownership of the process and speed things along, since they knew their bosses/grandbosses were going to see exactly what the holdup was, if there was one, rather than being able to nebulously blame HR for not moving fast enough.

          If you have any kind of timeline or report that you keep updated and review with him regularly, I would definitely second the recommendation to begin including something like that.

          1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

            And this kind of regular check in can definitely be presented as “this would be helpful for ME stay on track” and not “we need to keep YOU on track.”

            It sounds like the manager is very sensitive, and so it’s important to frame things as Not His Fault even when they’re secretly designed to compensate for his failings.

    4. Ann O'Nemity*

      I don’t know about copying the head boss on all emails. That’s going to come across as very bizarre. I agree with strategically looping them in when it makes sense to do so, but not every time.

      Keeping documentation for CYA purposes is a good idea. And the emails can be used to nudge the PM, e.g. “I’d like to get the training scheduled that you mentioned in your previous email, see below. Would any of the following times work this week?” Or, reiterating an in-person conversation, e.g. “Thanks for meeting today about the Teapot project. As we discussed, I’ll have the spout design done by Tuesday. Let me know if there’s anything else.”

    5. LKW*

      I would not copy on everything but definitely document everything. I recommend the format below. I recommend copying your boss when you’ve made three unanswered requests and there is a cost impact.

      Dear Supervisor,

      I am following up on issue. Please see emails below where I requested information on
      Date 1
      Date 2
      Date 3

      Without this information the impact will be x amount of time added to project or y amount of cost to project. Please provide information no later than date so that we do not incur impact noted above. I am copying boss so that she is aware of potential risk to project.

      Make it a money issue. People act when they know it’s a money issue. If everyone on your team is showing that they are actively seeking answers and not getting them at the cost of the project, at a minimum it will clarify that the team is hitting a wall.

      I do an email, resend of email with new note, resend of email of email… etc. when I hit this issue. When someone misses a meeting, I write a short note saying “Something must have taken your attention, I will reschedule so we can resolve this”

      Your team needs to get aggressive with your manager and your requests.

        1. TechWorker*

          Also useful if you’re waiting on a decision is once you’ve not got a response and it’s close to deadline to write emails like:

          ‘The deadline for this work is x. I’ll go ahead with (my suggested solution) if there’s no feedback before (x-reasonable time).’

          Sometimes this prods the person into responding, sometimes they think ‘oh ok I actually don’t care that much’ and things still get done. (To be fair I mostly use this tactic on other, non-responsive teams, but using it on your manager seems reasonable if they’re also particularly non-responsive!)

  6. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I hate to say it but…

    If your Head Boss is really good friends with this PM and responded badly the last time concerns were brought up, then your chances of the situation changing are nil. It has taken me almost 20 years, but I’ve finally come to the realization that there are some ongoing problems that upper management just doesn’t care about with one big exception: if something major blows up and there’s no way for the PM to hide but even then I’ve seen bad bosses skate from consequences.

    For a lot of head honchos, they only see what they want to see because they’re preoccupied with other things. That’s the reality.

    What a timely letter though as I’ve been through this before and am going through it again. I work at a government agency, which means my boss is a political appointed. The first time there were problems, I took a risk and alerted a friend of mine higher up. She didn’t seem phased by what I was saying and shrugged it off as not her problem because she couldn’t do much. Four years later, things publicly blow up over time, and that boss doesn’t get reappointed due to incompetence. Now it’s happening again with a new person. I’m literally sitting at my desk weighing the consequences of going back to that same person. Yeah I could risk my career again, but nothing came of it last time because no one cared until it became a public embarassment and it was too late to correct.

    1. fposte*

      Yeah, I’m inclined toward this view myself in this situation. Head Boss has already heard there’s an issue, and merely punished the person who reported it. The group approach works best when the issue is a focused one and the person’s manager doesn’t already know it–this is a broad “he sucks” and the manager already knows it. I think there’s also a decent chance the Head Boss will take this as “your managing sucks” (which he ought to, because it does) and respond poorly to that, especially delivered as a group message.

      IOW, I think the OP is still stuck on “If we tell Head Boss the right way, he’ll fix the PM,” and I’m not at all convinced that’s true.

      1. Troutwaxer*

        IOW, I think the OP is still stuck on “If we tell Head Boss the right way, he’ll fix the PM,” and I’m not at all convinced that’s true.

        Yup. That’s what I see too.

        1. fposte*

          And that can be so hard to realize, because it’s so simple and so logical that it seems obvious that it would work. And yet . . . people.

      2. LetterWriter*

        That’s brutally honest but eye-opening. You’re right – I shouldn’t place my faith in a system that has already shown isn’t working due to human elements.

        1. fposte*

          Sorry. I hate to discourage such a good impulse, and I’m sure you will be in workplaces where it will serve you well, but it doesn’t look promising to me here. I hope doing some job hunting or at least windowshopping reveals some good alternatives for you; the less stuck you feel, the easier it will be to deal with the situation.

  7. Adlib*

    I keep seeing letters that could be from different areas of where I work. (This is one of them.) I’m fairly certain they aren’t, but that just makes me shake my head that the same problems (and people, apparently) are prevalent in a lot of places!

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I hope the OP from the other day, the one who wrote about being conscripted as a personal assistant to a full time employee sees this. Yep, you meet the same people every where you go. Be prepared to deal with the same people in different clothes everywhere you go. Good and bad. But ain’t none of us that special.

  8. The Tin Man*

    I know this letter is focusing on the problems but I have an awfully hard time seeing this as someone who is “a very nice person who cares about everyone he encounters”. I’d understand if he were a nice person but generally incompetent/unresponsive, but he throws people under the bus and complains about his team to make himself look better!!

    1. skippy*

      Absolutely! There’s a thread above that calls him a “terrible person” – that seems a bit strong for me. But nice people don’t act like he does. Maybe he’s a friendly person, but throwing coworkers under the bus, blocking them from doing their jobs, etc etc — not nice things to do!

  9. Catwoman*

    If anybody gets the bright idea of an anonymous letter, DON’T DO IT!!!! (Pre-emptive PSA)

    If Something Must Be Done, then I think Allison’s suggestion of going to the Head Boss for “advice” is the best route, ideally as a group, but as an individual if you must. The more specific and factual you can be the better. You can also frame it around how well things went on PM’s vacation and maybe that’s an indicator that workflows could be improved, i.e: “It really increased our efficiency to be able to put a direct line of communication between the glaze vendor and the teapot painters. We got this deliverable achieved in 1 week compared to the month it took when this direct communication wasn’t available.” If you can show the Head Boss the difference in output between PM’s vacation and otherwise, he’ll be able to put two and two together. Make it about output and efficiency and let Head Boss connect the dots. Suggest improvements in processes instead of criticizing the PM.

    1. Rumbakalao*

      I think this is probably the best idea as far as actions to take if OP just HAS to do something. Being careful to present concrete examples and ideas of things that can reasonably be improved rather than showing up as an angry horde is more likely to go over more smoothly. I would honestly avoid even mentioning Boss other than clarifying that the week of maximum productivity happened while he was gone.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Yes. Given this situation, if OP decides they really must approach the grandboss, this is the approach I’d suggest: proactive and positive, not even seeming to be blaming the manager. Unfortunately.

        1. EH*

          I’ve used this approach myself, with good success. Everybody likes to think they’re an expert, someone people ask for advice, so pitching it this way makes Head Boss feel important and wise, and they start from a positive vibe instead of a negative/defensive one.

    2. TootsNYC*

      yes! Look at the information flow, since that’s what he clogs up, and lobby to have multiple people on it. So he CAN’T hog the information.

      And then the rest of you can divvy up the projects in terms of who takes the initiative, and do everything you would have done if he’d been out of town.

      You have that glorious period of productivity to point to as prompting this, and to use as an example of the benefits that will accrue.

      (also–he doesn’t have time to train you? Time to self-train, colleague-train, or to call the person whose website/product you’re using and ask them)

      Stop thinking about changing him, or what’s wrong with him, and make like a stream–find your own way around the obstacles in front of you.

      1. LilyP*

        Would “PM has too much on his plate to train me on X, so I want to (sign up for an online class on X/find someone in another department to train me/hire a consultant to do X)” be a reasonable request to make of your grandboss? You can make it a little positive/flattering to the PM (he’s just so busy with all this other important work!) and still ask for what you need

    3. TardyTardis*

      Oh, this is a thought-especially if you can frame it as a way to help relieve some of the ‘horrendous workload of the PM’–‘we’re just trying to *help* him, honest!’.

  10. MuseumChick*

    What a crappy situation. I wish I could tell you differently but I have a feeling that the only way this will change is if a large number of you hand in your resignation at the same time.

    The only thing you can do at this point OP is document everything, look for a new job, and I would also encourage you after you leave to write a glassdoor review.

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      I thought that at old job (I was the 9th to leave in about 6 months citing the same reason as the 8 prior female employees). Nothing happened.

    2. LKW*

      Some people are really good at convincing the higher ups that it’s the project or the role that’s tricky to keep filled and it has nothing to do with their supervisory skills.

      1. Lord Gouldian Finch*

        I worked for a company (for about three months) where the real problem was management incompetence – they’d overpromise to clients and force everyone to scramble to try to figure out how to keep the promises. They had huge amounts of staff turnover, too. I found an emergency plan from two years before my tenure listing all the staff – I recognized maybe three names out of twenty, and one of those left right after I was hired (the other two were management). But they insisted the cause was hiring “university” people who didn’t know how the for-profit sector worked.

        I used to work for one of their competitors (I left that job because I moved away). How these people ran things was astonishingly sucky.

        1. LKW*

          I feel like it’s one of those “If everyone you meet is an asshole… you’re the asshole” things. If everyone on your team sucks, and their replacements suck, and those replacements suck…

      2. The New Wanderer*

        I interviewed at a company that I think had finally realized the Bad Manager was actually a problem, and not the multiple entire teams that quit en masse rather than continue working for him. They reorganized things so that the team I would have led didn’t report directly to Bad Manager anymore, but would definitely have to work with him. Because despite the turnover caused by him, they didn’t get rid of Bad Manager or even remove him from management altogether because he was considered “too valuable,” even though that type of role and that knowledge base and skill set are not at all rare. My interviewers were pretty up front about the situation and what it would require from the person in my role to deal with Bad Manager. I declined the offer.

        1. TardyTardis*

          I remember a former manager like that–she used to have six or seven reports, most of whom eventually either left the company or lateraled into other positions, and eventually she only had one, and had a hard time finding someone capable of reading her mind till right there at the end, when someone *was* able to read her mind. (and then she retired).

  11. Hiring Mgr*

    Yeah, I think talking to the boss (or anyone) as a group only works if you’re confident that person is actually interested and competent enough to take action. In this case, due to the longtime friendship, it sounds like it wouldn’t be helpful and could cause blowback like you’ve mentioned.

    It sounds like the PM could just be way in over his head and just doesn’t know what to do or how to train and manage people..

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      I still think the rephrasing here is good though – you could approach either the boss or the head boss as a group, not in a “we are lodging a formal complaint” way, but in a “here are some recent deadlines missed / things that need to happen imminently and we need a plan, what can we do” type way.

      1. LetterWriter*

        I think approaching PM directly, even as a group, would work even less than Head Boss, because he takes everything so personally. It wouldn’t be seen as “Can we work on these things to improve our training and efficiency?”, it would be seen as “We all hate you, as a person, specifically.”

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Are there any suggestions you can request that he isn’t going to care about / aren’t going to affect his power / seem unimportant to him but that would make your lives easier? Maybe you can start with those. “Can we ask company B to cc Blake on emails about Widgets (when boss doesn’t like/care about widgets) might be more palatable than a big level setting discussion. “Can we ask for a training budget this year” isn’t an attack if it’s a request and lets him feel like a beneficent ruler granting a boon to the serfs. There’s also the art of letting him come up with the idea first if you raise a lower stakes issue, but that one isn’t fool proof.

  12. animaniactoo*

    I think that Hey Karma above has a very valuable point here. You’re looking at words not actions – and the actions of a guy who hoards the work, roadblocks the information, and throws his team under the bus are not the actions of a good guy who genuinely cares about people.

    Basically – you’re looking at what I’m now going to call The Bill Cosby Effect. He’s not a good guy. He’s really really REALLY good at playing a good guy.

    Which frankly means that he probably has head boss fooled too – and confirmation bias is going to mean that even if you all go as a group, it’s still not going to change the things that would need to be changed for this situation to work out. You can’t save head boss. You can’t save the work, or the company.

    What you can do right now is work on recognizing what’s in front of you for what it is – and saving yourself from it. Whatever that means – transfer departments? Get out of the company? Stay but occasionally check in with head boss as a one-situation-at-a-time “helper” in the sense of “Hey, PM has been really busy and X and Y is falling through the crack. If he can do Z, we can handle X & Y – any chance you can get him to prioritize Z long enough to get us to X & Y?” Document the crap out of your attempts to get help in case it ever gets to be your butt on the line? Document while trying to get yourself out of the team/company? Figure out what is the best path forward for you in managing around this situation that will not change. Not in enough time for it to make a difference for you and your co-workers.

    At some point, far down the line, PM will have finally reduced enough of his shine and piled up enough victims for The Bill Cosby Effect to wear off… probably. But it doesn’t look like that day is today, next month, or even next year based on what you’ve written here.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      You’re not wrong that an internal transfer may be a good goal to work towards too, even if it takes a career shift, if OP gets the sense that this is truly a toxic manager.

  13. MK*

    I actually disagree that this is one of those cases when it makes sense to address a problem as a group. That can work if you want to change a policy or something similar, but if your end goal is to get your boss fired or demoted, a group complaint isn’t the way to go. Even if the head boss agrees that the manager’s practices are dysfunctional (which he probably won’t do since the manager is his friend and apparently has badmouthed you to the whole company as a problematic team) and tells him to change the way he does things, the manager is unlikely to change permanently.

    I don’t really think there is a way to fix this. Your manager is incompetent manager who either is a manipulative person and blames you for his own incompetence or truly believes you are incompetent yourselves. Either way this will hurt your career. Your head boss is his friend and has been convinced by him that your team is the problem. Even if all of you resign and quote him as the reason, the boss will probably still believe his pal is a star and the rest of you problem employees; maybe if it happens again with a different team, he might get wise.

    And please, don’t be cavalier about people’s discomfort with complaining to the boss. I am frankly surprised that Alison didn’t tell you to drop it altogether; this is a boss who is friends with the manager and has a history of retaliation and the vibe I get from the answer is that the team is being shortsighted to not be willing to go to him? By the way, the “the whole point of raising something as a group is that there’s safety in numbers — that it’s much harder to retaliate against an entire group of people” is a bit of a straw argument: just because the whole team complaint does not obligate the boss to react against all of them, he could go after the ringleader ot the person they see as the ringleader or one senior employee to keep the junior ones in line or junior employees to cut the senior ones support basis or simply the person who is least important for the work or more easily replacable.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      It’s good to recognize that people can have legitimately different priorities. OP is worried about their career and reputation, but there are probably several coworkers whose number one priority is just keeping their current job so they can pay for their kids medical expenses, or whatever. That person isn’t going to be rallied into complaining about something no matter how OP rephrases it or approaches them, and they’re not necessarily wrong.

    2. Bostonian*

      The group is already getting labeled as “problematic” because the PM isn’t taking responsibility for anything. Not only would going to the boss probably fall on deaf ears, but it would be more “evidence” that this group of employees is difficult to work with.

      Honestly, I think their best bet is to work “around” the bad PM. How did they get the information they needed when he was out? Recreate your success without him. If you get asked about it, be honest: you weren’t getting what you needed from him but still had a job to do.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Yes! Do this!! This was how it worked out for me in a similar circumstance. You have to manage *around* your boss – just assume he’s going to be a useless roadblock and keep going. For example, in your example, it sounds like someone needs training on producing sketches. Can you find external training or – if you can’t get approval for that – train each other without bosses involvement? Can you meet independently and create workplans that just assume the boss will not help? You may find your boss even appreciates this, you’re suddenly proactively doing what he wants but has been incapable of articulating. Or … not.

        1. my two cents*

          And I think the more obvious the work-around-ing is, the better. They don’t have to be secretive about it – they’re just trying to Do The Job!

        2. WellRed*

          This is definitely worth a try! The OP is worried about their career and reputation but at this point, I can’t help but think continuing on in the same vein will hurt both.

      2. Becky*

        Honestly, I think their best bet is to work “around” the bad PM. How did they get the information they needed when he was out? Recreate your success without him. If you get asked about it, be honest: you weren’t getting what you needed from him but still had a job to do.

        This is what I was going to say. I think the best way to go about it is to go to him the first time, if he doesn’t come through then go around him; I would recommend though NOT trying to go around initially. Keep this documented well! So if it comes to it, you have evidence you did attempt to go through him but did not get a response/what you needed in time to meet the deadline and so had to go around him to complete it on time.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Yeah try to act like you’re looping him in at least. Hopefully you wouldn’t get in too much trouble if you can prove that you did check with your boss and whatever you were doing was in service of a deadline. There are certain truly toxic companies where even this mild stuff could get you labeled as a “troublemaker” or whatever but it sounds like OP really needs to try something for their own sanity at this point.

      3. LetterWriter*

        The only way we were able to work around him was because he had left an out of office saying he was on vacation – so everyone who thinks they have to go through him was redirected to the other team members. It’s hard to recreate that when the influx in communication stemmed from an out of office. I’ll have to think of other ways we can work around him.

        1. Lance*

          Oof. Then that becomes a tough one, since any suggestions to go straight to you might seem like you’re subverting the PM. Would it be possible to reach out pre-emptively in any way, maybe cc’ing the PM to show that he’s being kept in the loop?

          1. valentine*

            It sounds like PM has created a narrative where he’s a martyr shouldering a useless team. That’s a weird value to have for HB, versus leader of a shiny team of stars, unless he thinks it’s his only possible value, and is dependent on the friendship and isolation. LetterWriter, you may be able to attack the latter by forging relationships throughout the company. Even if Jane in accounting still goes through PM, once she’s interacted with you more, she may cc you, give you a heads up, and talk about you, thus cutting into PM’s frame job. If PM or HB cracks down on you for this, something so SOP, that’s good information to have, but I think you can reduce their wrath at least once by saying you got used to doing what you did when PM was out.

            If you write in anonymously to the Friday open thread and share your industry or skills, the commenters can help you with ideas for remoting and freelancing.

        2. TootsNYC*

          try to get it codified somehow.
          Like, maybe you get all the people sending stuff to him to send it to a central email, which the rest of you monitor too.

          Persuade him to appoint a backup point person for each category, similar to “account managers.”

          And if there is ANY pattern (stuff often comes from Jane in Accounting; Marketing sends an average of six things a week), follow through on those privately or informally:
          – pick one of you to always stop by an say hello to Jane, and then say, “anything you’re waiting on from us?” Maybe even directly ask Jane to always loop Fergus in.
          – If Marketing has only sent 2 things and it’s Wednesday, contact someone there and ask if more is coming.

          1. TechWorker*

            Agreed; surely this situation is calling out for an email alias. It’s ingrained where I work that ‘to get the quickest response always email the alias’ (rather than the manager or whichever random team member you worked with last time). Even if requests have to go through him to some extent, getting people to cc the alias so you’re at least aware of the work might help. Tbh it absolutely doesn’t solve the problem if he then thinks he has to do everything himself and doesn’t delegate, but it may be a way to get the rest of the team kept in the loop more rather than less.

            Also the example about not knowing how to do x, boss said they would show you, but didn’t… obviously I don’t know in context, but was there anyone else on the team who knew how to do that? Again you *shouldnt* have to deliberately work around your manager but this seems like a team where helping each other out as much as possible is the way to go!

        3. Jadelyn*

          How much shit would you catch for proactively reaching out to those you spoke with previously and asking them to cc you on stuff that’s your area when they send it to the boss? Especially if these are people you work with on a regular basis, they probably noticed the upswing in performance while the boss was out and they were communicating directly with you guys, so it shouldn’t take much for them to put 2 and 2 together and realize that including the relevant team members on the communication, instead of sending to the boss only, could make things go faster.

          1. valentine*

            they probably noticed the upswing in performance while the boss was out and they were communicating directly with you guys
            Yes, where do extra-team colleagues stand on the bottleneck? Here we have a reversal of “When the cat’s away,” and no one outside the department has taken steps to preserve it?

            1. LetterWriter*

              If they said anything about productivity, it might have been said directly to PM after his return. As far as I am aware, no one has been contacted directly about the difference. I’m going to talk to the group about how we can recreate the communication flow from that time period while ensuring PM is still kept in the loop and we don’t ruffle his feathers.

        4. LizB*

          So now your team has been in touch with at least some of the people who normally go through him. For future projects, can go back to those people when you get stuck? Like, if Bob had you do a project while PM was gone, when you get another Bob-department project and get stuck, can you send a quick email to Bob saying “I just need to know XYZ, could you send that over to me directly please?”? If this works, eventually the other people will realize they get waaaay better results when they go directly to your team members.

          The other option, depending on how well you know some of these other stakeholders, is to approach them directly and say, “Hey, I’m glad you were satisfied with the Llama Project last month! It’s actually a lot easier for us to get those projects done if you come directly to Sally with your request — sometimes PM gets so busy with requests it’s hard for him to get all the information out quickly. I’d advise you to loop him in, but also work with us directly for the fastest results.”

      4. Someone Else*

        Yes, that’s what I was wondering. I was surprised by the part of the letter that his being OOO removed the bottleneck. That tells me there is SOMEONE or SOME WAY to get the info without this PM. So can it be done as a regular course? Ie try him once, he bails, try the alternate. Or is Big Boss the alternative? That would rain on that parade since she’d be unlikely to help when not covering for the absent PM. But if there’s anyone else to go to for cover, start going to them instead.

    3. LetterWriter*

      I want to go on the record by stating I’ve never been cavalier about my coworkers’ concerns, nor do I think it’s fair to state that I called them short-sighted; this is an on-going discussion our group has had where we are trying to figure out what to do and I suggested speaking to Head Boss and explaining why it would be better than one-on-one. My coworkers have told me they are on the fence about talking to Head Boss and are currently considering and still discussing it. I have at no point ignored their feelings in this matter, but wanted to know if there was a way to better frame the situation or view the situation to continue our internal team discussions. Considering Alison’s response, I’ll be rethinking the situation and sharing my new thoughts on it with them. You do, however, have a good point about how people can single out “ringleaders” for things like this, and that is a situation all of us would like to avoid.

      1. MK*

        OP, I did not state that you called your coworkers short-sighted; I said that Alison’s answer, not your letter, somewhat gave me that vibe. Specifically, this part:

        “If they care more about preserving a reasonably harmonious status quo than about solving the problem with the project manager … well, you and I might disagree with them, but it’s a call they’re entitled to make.”

        It’s not wrong, but it’s not a fair way to put things, as if the two choises are keeping the peace or solving the problem, when it’s much more likely that taking action will both ruin your work repationships and not solve the problem anyway.

        I understand your problem. But personally, I would not take it upon myself to try to convince someone who is on the fence about talking to a boss who has been known to retaliate to do so, because I would feel responsible for what might happen to them. (Possibly I am too influenced by my particular position: I cannot be fired except for specific infractions and my very senior role is also too independent for any supervisor to have much power over me. Most of my coworkers are not in such a position; in a similar situation, they would probably bear the burden of any retaliation)

        1. LetterWriter*

          Yes, and that’s why I also asked what we can do as a group ourselves if speaking to HB together isn’t the best option.

  14. irene adler*

    Probably not a whole lot you can do re: boss given he’s buddies with grand boss.

    Another tactic is to get the info, training, work, etc. for yourselves. You did say that things got done when boss was out on vacation. How did you get the necessary info, training etc. to complete your work during that time? Can you do this while boss is in residence? Can you get the info you need to do your job from the source itself, and bypass the boss? Can you find the training you need from other sources?

    Sure, this won’t solve everything, and boss is likely to nix the work you do based on the training or info you procured for yourselves. Which would end up creating more work for you. And boss may even turn into a ‘not-so-nice’ person when he sees his reports fending for themselves (effectively cutting him out of the loop). But it will show him that his ‘hoarding’ approach isn’t working for him.

    1. Ashlee*

      I agree with this if it’s possible to get the info now that he’s back. How did you get the info you needed to move forward while he was away?

      I wonder if others in the company saw how well things went without him and now that he’s back are seeing how poorly things run with him?

      1. LetterWriter*

        We got it due to his out of office. People knew they couldn’t go to him, so they went to us. It’s hard to think of a way to recreate that since it was simply bc he was gone.

        1. TootsNYC*

          Ask him to appoint account managers
          Create “account manager”-type relationships without his involvement
          The fact that you were able to respond promptly while he was out might motivate others to send things to him AND to one other person (or to the team as a whole, if you can create a group email address, or something)

          And you can walk around at lunch on Wednesday and check in w/ the folks who might have sent him stuff, and ask them to resend and to copy you/Fergus/whoever.

          1. LetterWriter*

            We can certainly try. Part of the problem is that PM has ‘trained’ these people to just go to him, so if we can undo that conditioning, it would help a lot.

            1. TootsNYC*

              train them to INCLUDE you, not to come to you instead. Once they see that working, and you guys responding to them, believe me, they’ll stick with it.

              1. Blue*

                I’ve definitely had success with this route. Once they realized that I was helpful and could answer faster than my boss, I became the go-to.

        2. TardyTardis*

          I don’t know if it would work, but is there some way to go to him, look all starry-eyed, and explain that all you want to do is to help him? It would take some acting to pull it off, mind you.

  15. Psyche*

    If you do want to approach the PM about it, you may find it helpful to frame it as “Things are falling though the cracks because of a communication problem. Can we try to come up with a new system to make sure it doesn’t happen again? While you were on vacation we did X, Y and Z which seemed to help. Do you think we can do that going forward?” rather than “You are hoarding information and that is making our job difficult.” Sometimes approaching a problem from the standpoint of the system being the problem can help avoid defensiveness and prevent repercussions if they are not receptive to change. You didn’t complain about them, so they don’t have a reason to be angry. It is a polite fiction.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      I liked that you also presented the solution you wanted to see and then put it to the manager. I think this is what OP needs to do assuming nothing is going to do. Love the phrasing “can we try this and see” which I think is an easier sell. If boss is a real jerk you may need to do some BS consensus discussion where they end up feeling like it was their idea and they take credit for it later, but sometimes that’s what it takes to manage up.

      1. PieInTheBlueSky*

        Perhaps the OP could sell the PM on any process changes by pointing how it benefits to the PM. “This frees up time in your schedule,” or “You don’t have to sit in any more of these boring meetings,” or “These changes will improve our output and make you look good,” or “If we do this, we won’t have to pester you with questions as much,” etc.

        Granted, the PM seems to be the source of the problem here, but the PM doesn’t seem likely to be going away soon. Getting the PM’s buy-in on process improvements will at least make OP’s work life a little more tolerable.

        1. TootsNYC*

          “more efficient use of your time; we can gather the preliminary info, and then come to you for direction”

          whatever framing you can use that doesn’t make it sound like he’s not needed.

          Manipulate him!!

        2. Sam.*

          Completely agree here. I worked for a info/project hoarder, and I really detested him initially. But I managed to convince him that letting me do things (i.e. my actual job) made him more valuable because he could focus on the high-profile parts of our work. It was a lot of, “Oh, you don’t need to waste your time on something this basic. I’ll follow up with them directly and clear up these details,” and “I went ahead and drafted that communication for you to save you some time. Obviously, feel free to change whatever!” Eventually, he realized that he could trust me to do high-quality work and it genuinely did free him up to focus on the shinier parts of the project (AND the projects as a whole moved much faster). He backed way off, and we ended up working together quite well.

    2. CM*

      I was thinking something similar. If everyone can’t agree to complain as a group, it’s possible everyone can agree to set new boundaries with the project management process. You don’t even necessarily need the PM to buy into it if you all stand strong. You can just — for example — put a kanban board on the wall and say, “From now on we’re all going to write down the tasks you assign and put them on the board so nothing gets forgotten.” He’d look insane if he tried to push back on that, and it gives you a public, organized way to document what’s happening.

      1. LetterWriter*

        I’m embarrassed to admit that we do currently use a kanban board. It’s one of our efforts to mitigate this issue and so far has not helped, since even though the task on the board is assigned to, say, Alice, everything still funnels through and is controlled by the PM.

        1. animaniactoo*

          For this exact reason, there’s a step in our process that says “details given” and THAT task is assigned to the person who controls the information flow. It does not show up on *my* list until the person with the info has passed it along and checked off their step. I’m thinking it might be useful to list such a step in here on yours.

          Also, while we use actual pm software, we can post status updates on our tasks – can you do similar? If so, even if PM checks off their task but hasn’t passed along all the info, Alice can place a status update on hers that says “Waiting on [X information] from PM.”

    3. TootsNYC*

      also, if he frames himself as being supportive, take advantage of that. Tell him that it’s a good way for you all to practice some of the skills you’d need for professional growth.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Haha this brings me back. “I would really value the career experience of (managing your calendar so you stop forgetting you committed us to meetings). Can I take it on as a stretch assignment?” Blergh.

  16. Sloan Kittering*

    In a similar situation, I had some success at carving out a specific subset of the work task that was “mine” and defending it from my hoarder boss. I initially developed my own expertise on my own time, then kind of announced/requested in a performance review that I wanted to become the One Who Oversaw the Widgets. Boss initially resisted but I asked him to give it a try for a month or two. I was lucky in that the Widgets were not a super desirable assignment and could be handled pretty independently – I pretty much carved it out of the regular workflow. I STRONGLY defended my widget role from my boss, who tried several times to put his useless nose into it. Sadly this made me a bit of a hoarder myself, but ultimately my boss was more interested in ruining other aspects of his department and found widgets boring. In this way I ended up making a role for myself in another part of the company as Head Widget person. (Unfortunately, I actually also find widgets kind of boring, but it was the only way around the barrier of my bad manager).

    1. Hills to Die on*

      I have totally done this. I will take the crap role if it means I can keep people from trying to crowd in on my stuff.

    2. LetterWriter*

      That’s a good idea. Perhaps part of my issue is that I tend not to stand up for myself or my work. I need to learn to do this so that I *can* defend what I’m doing as you’ve described.

      1. TootsNYC*

        think of it as standing up for the OTHER people–the ones who are sending work to your department and not getting it back.

      2. EddieSherbert*

        It’s hard to do!
        I had a similar style of boss (thank goodness she was willing to get feedback, but it was a long process) and in hindsight, I’m annoyed with how *long* it took me to call things out and defend myself.

        Own your work, figure out your own workarounds, and maybe just consider no response… a response so you can still hit *your* deadlines.

        Someone else mentioned doing this – but I highly recommend adding phrases and notes to projects/emails that say:
        “pending PM’s approval”
        “PM, if you have revisions, please let me know by X”
        “Just a reminder that tomorrow is X. Please send me any revisions, if needed, today”
        “This was approved per no revisions from the PM”
        etc.

        1. LetterWriter*

          Interesting take on this. No response as a response and the execution example is quite helpful, and a polite way of calling out the communication block. Thanks!

  17. mark132*

    I think probably your best option is to try make sure the blame goes to the PM for any missed deadlines etc. Lots of emails etc that show that you are waiting on him. Based on your letter, I don’t think this will work very well, but at least if they try and hold you accountable you have documentation to push back with.

    I hate to suggest this, but maybe stop caring so much? Show up, do the “best” you can under the circumstances and keep collecting your paycheck and not worry as much. And keep your eyes open for an opportunity and be prepared to take it when it comes?

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      I have a personal mantra about my current crappy boss: “I can’t care about this company more than my boss does.” Like, I will do the best I can within my role, but I also need healthy boundaries.

    2. TootsNYC*

      if the boss is framing this to the outside world as him having a department that’s problematic, all the emails in the world are not going to help.

      Facts don’t matter when the framing is strong.

      1. mark132*

        I agree it’s a not a great hope, but it’s better than nothing, I was in part thinking they could be useful later if needed for unemployment benefits as well.

  18. my two cents*

    I think you guys should start working with each other the way your team had while the PM was out of office, and just plan to keep PM “aware” of the day to day.

    Even if you guys do not have much overlap in roles, I’d wager that *someone* has at least seen the forms/submission site/etc. And are any of the software systems generic, whereas you might be able to Google a user guide or manual? Are there training sessions available from the sofware vendor, where your team could sign up? “yeah PM we decided we ALL need this training, and here’s a formal way” and then email the details with PM’s M on there too.

    Also, I’d start copying PM and PM’s M on anything project related, especially when it includes details and deadlines. If there’s a question not getting addressed, throw PM’s M on there for the optics. Eventually, PM’s M will have too much emailed documentation to ignore your team’s feedback about PM.

    Your PM sucks, and isn’t going to change if he’s the only one required to address it. By looping his manager in, you’ve now got time stamps on replies and his manager can see what kinds of training gaps are still present by the questions being asked (and not answered).

  19. ThankYouRoman*

    This sounds unbearable. I’m sorry that you’re dealing with it.

    I have to be honest though. If I were on your team, I wouldn’t join a group effort v either. There isn’t anything to gain and a lot to lose.

    I’ve learned that these are the times that taught me to roll with the punches to save my own sanity. Don’t get trapped in the “but I did!” banter. He’s a goon who knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s not training anyone on purpose. He doesn’t want anyone to see they could easily slide into his job. If his team is too good, then he’s in jeopardy if Head Boss decides they’re not friends anymore or becomes friends with others. It’s easier to act as a buffer telling the outside that he’s the only one worth a cent on the team, he’s stuck with a mediocre staff, etc.

    My heart hurts that this is an area with less jobs than people. That nightmare is why I ran for a big city. But not everyone is able to uproot, in my case I had no true roots anyways.

    1. LetterWriter*

      I think you have a strong point about PM worrying about his job. This might be a case where he’s afraid of obsolescence.

      1. ThankYouRoman*

        It’s very common fear, especially as an insecure person ages and deals with new staff who show they’re bright or driven.

        It’s kinda like those people who assume every person is trying to steal their spouse. The jealous and insecure streaks running so deep.

        I hope that understanding the psychology behind his crappy behavior may ease a bit of the stress. I still hate him on your behalf, these people drive me up the wall and out the window!!

          1. ThankYouRoman*

            Not with his head so far up his bosses bum. I’ve seen this over and over again…but when that boss retires —> bye bye bye

      2. TootsNYC*

        in which case, if you try to slide into the info stream, be sure to be as deferential as possible, and check with him frequently, make it look as though you’re following his valuable guidance, etc.

      3. bookartist*

        Argh! If he really did his job, he would still be very much needed to run the ship. AI isn’t going to take over human judgement when evaluating intake anytime soon. Schedules and calendars need to be managed by a person. PM tools don’t run or groom themselves. I seriously want to sit this guy down and give him PM 101!

        1. LetterWriter*

          I feel a course in leadership and PM would go a long way. The generous part of me in this situation wants to think that he just doesn’t know what he’s doing.

    2. Sloan Kittering*

      Definitely information hording is a sign that someone in insecure in their role. Failure to trust other people often stems from a lack of confidence in your own ability to manage properly also. It seems easier to try and do everything yourself if you don’t know how to get a team to work together properly or hold anyone accountable.

  20. Secretary*

    Is there a way do deal with PM to get just what YOU need and have that spread?
    For example, if you were in the place where your coworker was, and he was telling you to get something done and you needed to be trained/get submission site and he said he didn’t have time?

    Him: I have a meeting I can’t show you now.
    You: No problem, when can you show me so I can get this done?
    Him: I have meeting.
    You: Right, so can you show me after?
    Him: No, I’m busy.
    You: Ok, how about I come by your office after your meeting so we can work out when is a good time for you to train me.
    Him: Fine.
    You, after meeting: Ok! When do you think you’ll have time to train me?
    Him: Well I’m busy now so maybe tomorrow.
    You: Ok, but if I don’t get trained on it I can’t get it done. So you want it done by Friday?
    Him: No! I need it done right away!
    You: Ok… so I should get trained on it right away… so should we do that today? Or do you still want to do it tomorrow.
    Him: Fine. Here’s the info you need.

    It’s a lot of extra work, and you’ll have to track every single thing you need from him, but you could slowly get more and more information out of him to do it. Also enough times of this and you may find ways to go around him to get the information you need.

    1. LetterWriter*

      That’s a great persistent dialogue example. Thanks – I’ll have to try that when this incident rolls around again.

  21. Name Required*

    Curiously … how were you able to succeed while he was gone if he’s the information/work hoarder? Can you nod politely when Bad PM instructs/delegates, and then do the work as if he weren’t there? Who did he get his information from? Are there external resources available for your work? Can you and your coworkers begin compiling your own database of documentation/references?

    It sounds like it would be better to manage the inadequacies of the PM than to expect change from the PM or Boss.

    1. Workerbee*

      My thinking is the guy is one heck of a gatekeeper, able to sit on /squash information or actively stop projects from moving forward.

      We have one of those at my work who has been holding up projects for years, yet is so good at handwaving and talking circles around puzzled executives that this has been allowed to continue despite multiple, documented evidence by everyone who is not an executive.

      1. LetterWriter*

        This is exactly who our PM is – very good at this. I responded above, but he had set up an out of office. People came directly to our group when they saw he wasn’t available, but as soon as he returned it went back to status quo. Team and I need to figure out how to get that flow moving again.

        1. Tabby Baltimore*

          I think Oranges’ suggestion down below thread might be good for serious consideration. If you know where the information or taskings are coming from, you can encourage those sources to come to you (or whoever is appropriate) on the team to get action for a “verbal consult.” Then, when the email is sent with the actual tasking, the source emails the boss but cc’s everyone on the team.

  22. Budgie Lover*

    LW: “They’re a REALLY nice lovely person, but… [insert multiple paragraphs of “nice” person beung a total jerk.]”

    The AAM community: “Shhh it’s okay. You can admit you hate this person’s guts. We believe you that they’re terrible.”

    1. Arctic*

      Although typically it is much more like:
      AAM Community: “Ssshhh you know this person better than any of us and are only writing in about your area of grievance but we’ll tell you how to feel and shout you down if you suggest otherwise.”

  23. designbot*

    I would say if you talk to the Big Boss about it (and I would talk to PM to for plausible deniability reasons) depersonalize it. Don’t say “PM doesn’t train us” say “we’re finding that we’ve had major training gaps around X and Y and want to talk about how to fix them.” Let big boss come to her own conclusion about PM’s level of responsibility for this; you just focus on installing new processes, training, and lines of communication to limit the damage he can do.

    1. LetterWriter*

      Very very good suggestion. I don’t think any of our group had considered that, and it helps keep us from saying the PM is the bad guy.

  24. bookartist*

    First of all, as a PMP, I apologize to you for this PM’s sh*tty, sh*tty behavior. As you well know, this person has no business being in the profession.

    One tactic that may help you at least document these issues, and also help you manage your work, is to create a free single user account in one of the online PM tools (Asana, Basecamp, Trello, Wrike, Teamwork, and so on…). You can set up projects with just you as a user, and assign yourself your tasks (when you eventually are made aware of them), and use the project area to document delays on the PM’s end. Of course I realize this can easily appear like a threat to the PM, but I think the “this tool helps me track my work” defense is a solid one. This of course assumes your team isn’t using a PM tool – and given what you describe, I can’t imagine he uses any. After all, that would make it explicit that he is failing at his job.

    Truly, good luck.

  25. Artemesia*

    If there are few jobs similar in the area then all the more reason for the OP to aggressively job search but privately, silently, knowing there might not be anything, but if there is she does’nt want to be competing against her colleagues. This looks like a situation with 3 choices:
    1. Find a way out to another job
    2. suffer but learn to manage anxiety
    3. come up with strategies to achieve in spite of bad management — perhaps assisting each other, perhaps learning how to find out procedures you are untrained, perhaps by being more aggressive about cornering the manager when he is a bottleneck that you can’t work around.

    But if you can get out — get out.

  26. I, me and myself*

    There’s a few info hoarders and bottlenecks in my office and I’ve found it works to camp on their office doorstep until they give me the info I need. Basically, just poke your head through their office door and ask if now’s a good time to talk about whatever-you-need. If they say no, go away and come back a few hours later. Repeat until you get the info you need. Eventually they get used to the idea that you won’t give up and start just giving you info the first time you poke your head through the door.

    And it’s really helpful if you can be easy to give info to. Be the person who only has to be shown things once, even if you have to take copious notes during that one time. That’ll make it more likely that you can get enough info by grabbing PM’s attention in little snippets of time.

  27. Trek*

    I would see if HR is willing to invest in a survey for the company. They are sent out by a 3rd party company and allow employees to provide feedback anonymously. We just did one as a company and it was eye opening for our higher ups. This will only work if employees are willing to be honest in their feedback. Otherwise you can do survey’s for managers and above only and they go to selected people and they provide feedback.

  28. CreativeUserName*

    Reading over the Letter Writers responses, it sounds like the majority of the problem is PM’s bottlenecking all points of communication to the team. Considering the type of person the PM is, the risk in going to Head Boss, and the main thing is having access to email, is it possible to instead suggest PM get an Assistant or offer to have team member be PM’s Assistant since “he’s obviously swamped and needs so much help” when in reality all you really need is access to his inbox to handle projects in a timely manner?

    1. LetterWriter*

      That’s a good idea. Not sure it would be approved with budget, but maybe something to consider or pitch.

      1. Px*

        Alternatively, come at it from the back-up/cross-training perspective. Like, of course people should not just copy the PM but the whole team in because if the PM gets sick/wins the lottery etc, you need to have a contingency plan in place. The phrase ‘business continuity’ can be helpful here! Or come up with a group mailbox for requests to go to.

        (Says the hypocrite who has been needing to train a coworker on certain things all year and still not gotten round to it!!)

  29. Lucille2*

    I have a few thoughts on this aside from Alison’s suggestions…
    1. Is PM new to people management? Sounds like rookie people manager mistakes to me; hoarding the work, becoming defensive when called out on their mistakes, throwing their authority around and retaliating against feedback from direct reports. Of course, GrandBoss isn’t much help here unless somehow they are seeing a different version of PM then your team.
    2. Is it possible to go to HR directly or someone other than GrandBoss? If you are in a large corporation who conducts annual anonymous surveys, you may have an option that meets your team’s comfort level. Anonymous surveys have their pitfalls, but IME, when there is consistent and constructive feedback regarding a single manager, it becomes visible to varying levels of leadership. GrandBoss may be forced to create an action plan if higher ups are seeing the issues.
    3. How are projects coming to your team? Do they go directly to your manager to be delegated? Or do you have a project system in place with full visibility on who’s doing what, when it was assigned/due, etc? If you don’t have one in place, I recommend suggesting one or putting in the effort to build something. Even if it is a rudimentary shared spreadsheet. Giving the team, manager, and GrandBoss full visibility of all projects assigned, in progress, completed, will give clarity to the issue of PM hoarding work.
    4. For bottlenecks where PM is not providing instruction/training, is PM the only person who can provide this? Are there peers within the team who can share knowledge? Or perhaps build an internal wiki or document people can reference as needed.

    Good luck to you, OP. If you’re at the end of your rope and going to GrandBoss as a group is your only option, you may need to spend some serious effort looking for other opportunities. I understand your boss was a good PM, but since they’re not much of a people manager, it’s best to get off this ship before it sinks.

  30. Oranges*

    Reading in the comments about the “Why it went so well when he was gone” aspect. A few suggestions:
    1) Hey boss/PM, I have a really great idea, what if we had a group email address that we would use somehow for incoming things and the person who will work on it can mark it as “grabbed” via a label? That way the PM only has to worry about the IMPORTANT things that no one else can easily “grab” and work on.

    2) If that dog will not hunt, then get to know who gives you work/info via lunch or other social times. They’ll find it much easier to come to you about things if they’re familiar with what you do. And if they’re ever wrong (example coming to you about Llama yarn info when you only deal with Llama thread count on sheets) perkily forward their email to the Llama yarn expert with a note. eg. Question Asker, I forwarded this question to Jane who knows everything about Llama yarn. Jane, could you help us out?

    This helps train them to come to you since you’ll answer any questions in your area while also teaching them who to go to for questions. And the “buddy buddy” makes it more likely that they’ll do it again. And again, and hopefully they’ll become trained to work around the PM with you… bwhahahahaha!

  31. Not A Manager*

    LW, I understand and respect that you feel that you cannot job search locally, or re-locate. But I have a question. What would you do if you lost your job tomorrow?

    Seriously. It could be because your boss mismanages your projects and then tosses you under the bus; it could be because your grandboss sucks and is running the company into the ground; it could be because any push-back, no matter how cotton-wrapped and sugar-coated, gets someone’s back up; it could be for a completely unrelated reason.

    Jobs come and go, and it’s not always within our control when they go.

    So what would you do if this job went away? Could you think about starting that process now, or at least starting to research it? I like a lot of the suggestions you’ve gotten, but I still have a bad feeling about this whole situation.

    1. LetterWriter*

      You have a good point, but fortunately the type of work we do is unionized, so it would take very VERY bad circumstances for it to get that bad.

  32. boop the first*

    Ahhh! A similar thing happens at my workplace. When the boss is away, everyone is focused and quiet. When boss comes back, there are endless interruptions, confusion and actual screaming fights. Just go awayyyy!

  33. restingbutchface*

    Is there something they know that you don’t? Is this what the last person who got canned tried to do?

    But honestly, this sounds so frustrating. I’d be job searching as a priority rather than trying to make a business less disfunctional. Prioritise yourself and your career, always. Good luck!

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