my boss is impossible to reach when I need responses

A reader writes:

I work at a small organization that’s heavily regulated (financial services). I manage the marketing projects for the organization and report directly to the CEO. He is a smart and kind man, but he is impossible to get in touch with. He never replies to my emails about large-scale projects and events, publications, email campaigns — pretty much everything. Our internal policies require that all materials must be approved by him, so I can’t really push projects forward. It’s come to the point where other stakeholders are being delayed with their launches because we’re so behind schedule. It makes me look unprofessional and I am genuinely wondering if he even cares about my function within the company.

I’d love to speak to him about this but am not sure where to start. I don’t feel comfortable criticizing him but he must realize him bottle-necking me is a problem for the company.

None of what I’m about to say should imply that it’s okay for your boss not to get back to you because even if he’s incredibly busy, never responding to you at all isn’t okay. But it’s the situation you’re working with and rather than getting hung up on being annoyed or offended, you’re much better off just figuring out how to work around it.

So, first, have you tried other ways besides email to get the responses you need from him? If you mainly email, instead you should try calling, popping your head into his office (if you’re in-person), or even leaving print-outs on his chair instead. If you don’t have regular check-ins, ask to schedule one-on-ones weekly or every two weeks so you always have a time when you know you can get your stuff in front of him. Email might be easiest for you (it’s easiest for me too), but if it’s not getting the results you need, try changing it up.

But if that doesn’t change anything, then it’s time to talk with him. The key is to approach it without judgment. Judgment in this case would mean assuming that he’s not getting back to you because he’s lazy, disorganized, slacking, doesn’t care about your work, or so forth. Instead, assume he’s not getting back to you because his schedule is overloaded. Even if that’s not true, approaching it that way will help you get your tone right.

You should also go into this conversation assuming that it’s possible he’s making reasonable trade-offs — that even though he’s delaying your work, he might be doing it to focus on legitimately higher priorities. Who knows if that’s true, but it’s always a possibility and it helps to acknowledge it, both in your thinking and in your tone.

Then, when you talk to him, you won’t be complaining or criticizing him; you’ll be asking for his help in solving a work problem. Say something like, “I know you’re really busy, but because it’s so tough to reach you, projects like X and Y are getting delayed because I can’t move things forward without your input or approval. It’s causing problems like ___. Can we talk about what I can do when I can’t get in touch with you?”

Ideally you’d also come prepared with some suggestions, like a standing weekly call, deputizing someone else to sign off on some of what he doesn’t have time for, letting you move things forward on your own, or putting proposals for how to handle something in your email with an agreement that you’ll move forward if you haven’t heard back from him in X amount of time.

Meanwhile, if you’re worried about how this is making you look to others, it’s okay to be transparent with people. You shouldn’t do it in a blamey way, but it should be fine to say, “I need X from Bob before I can finalize this and there’s a delay on his end. I’m going to follow up with him and I’ll update you about the timeline when I know more.” You also might find it useful to prepare people for that from the beginning of projects — “I’m hoping to have this ready by (date) but it’ll depend on how Bob is able to prioritize it relative to everything else on his plate.” (There might also be opportunites to enlist other people in getting your boss’s attention — if someone else involved in a project has an easier time getting his ear, in some cases it could make sense to have them be the one circling back to him.)

But assume it’s your job to flag this situation for your boss and the problems it’s causing in the same way it would be your job to flag something like “we’re missing invoices because the mail room is short-staffed” or “the printer prints everything in pig Latin.” It’s not personal and it’s not about you or about him (well, it’s really about him, but we’re going to pretend it’s not); it’s just a work problem you need to solve.

{ 151 comments… read them below }

  1. Artemesia*

    great advice especially about organizing your head to set the tone. I have worked with several bosses like this and yeah, it was because they were avoidant and disorganized and procrastinators — not because they just had so much to do that they didn’t get to the thing bottlenecking projects. We called on boss’s office ‘the black hole’ because nothing that ever went in came out again.

    But it doesn’t help to be mad about the boss’s incompetence — it does help to approach it as Alison suggests and to think about other routes to your own success at getting approvals.

    1. OP*

      I have tried alternative approaches; i.e. calls and our Slack channel, but he also ignores me there as well. I’m not the only one in our organization who has a tough time reaching him, but my work is the most impacted, so I am frustrated.

      I appreciate the advice about the mindset. Thank you

      1. hufflepuff hobbit*

        I realize you may be working remote, which makes this moot, but it sounds like you need in-person contact. I am a boss (not willingly – it’s one of those things where if you get enough seniority and are good enough at your individual contributor role, they MAKE you supervise) and I also just hate electronic communication strategies (although I absolutely answer phone calls — I swear I’m only middle-aged and not 75 like I sound). My reports have learned to come find me, especially if something is urgent.

        You shouldn’t have to, but it may be the only solution

      2. InfoSec SemiPro*

        I’ve been on both sides of this! I’ve had an unavailable boss and I’ve been an unavailable boss (too many direct reports + health stuff makes for some ruthless prioritization.)

        Have a regular 1:1 – schedule for more often than you need it, because things get bumped around. If you need an every other week check in or things grind to a halt, schedule for weekly and give the time back when you don’t need it. I also kick an agenda of what I need from said boss to them before the 1:1, during a time when they are filtering priorities for the day – during their first boring meeting, right before they start their day, lunch… whatever. If they can glance through it and kick off items a, b, d, e, and f, yay! If they don’t, I have an organized list of what sign offs I’m trying to get from them.

        Have the big picture discussion and bring a list of what you need their input on regularly that needs a better solution. When I was being unresponsive boss I often read all of my email and chats but screwed up responding to all of them, and worked with my directs that if they didn’t get a response, they should just consider it a sign off, on everything except X, Y and Z. (This is *terrible*, mind you, but still better than waiting on radio silence.) Get delegation to occur for everything that is possible within the laws of physics and federal law. If Alice hasn’t been able to sign off on something for months, Alice needs to delegate that authority to keep the business moving.

        When you get to the stuff that really needs Unresponsive’s sign off, make that transparent to others, so that you aren’t being used as ablative armor for their unresponsiveness. “Jane, this looks good to me, so I’m sending it up to Alice for her approval, I’ll leave you on cc for that.”

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          And if he approves stuff verbally, absolutely document it with an email confirming your understanding of the discussion, or at least a memorandum to the file.

      3. Anne*

        OP, I just want to say that we 100% feel your pain. You are not the problem here, your boss is! And it sucks to be you, just doing your best, and be hamstrung by an unavailable boss. You have every right to be deeply frustrated.

        None of the advice here is meant to suggest that you are the problem or that you “should” be doing things differently. Just strategies to help you surmount the obstacle that is your boss.

      4. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

        OP, when was the last time you communicated with your boss? It kinda sounds like he simply has not acknowledged you for ages. Do you see him in the office?

        1. OP*

          We are WFH because of the pandemic and I haven’t had an actual one-on-one conversation with him in months. Aside from my sending him messages asking him to review things, he has been pretty MIA. He will reply back and commit to reviewing whatever I need (but doesn’t, ha!). However, this isn’t usually a problem for me because I enjoy working autonomously, however I do need his signoff when projects are ready to launch.

          1. JSPA*

            Is it possible that his inbox is so full that anything with an attachment is failing to deliver, but not in a way that you see the failure? I’m not sure how that’s possible…but I’ve been tracking down that sort of a bounce recently, and it appears to be real (???).

            So now, I’m first sending an email with no attachment, saying only that I’m about to send over a large file that it needs to be approved in 30 seconds; and that if, for some reason, they don’t see it within two minutes, there’s a problem with the system.

        1. world's okayest assistant*

          I’m the assistant for a director who sounds a lot like this. Reading the post I thought, “Is the writer me?” I can tell you right now that if the assistant knew any better than OP how to get through to the boss, the boss would really be putting that assistant forward as a checkpoint. If that’s not happening, either the OP is in fact the assistant with an absentee or absent-minded boss or the boss pulls it with everybody. I truly admire Alison’s advice and in fact, my situation is so similar to that of OP’s that I am keeping this post a template of how to manage my boss going forward. I get so exhausted at playing the little woman and framing things so positively for someone who has received recognition for great leadership–and raises, too–when the overcompensation required from me and everyone else to keep things afloat is exhausting. And that was before crisis mode hit.

          1. Mazh*

            How are you “playing the little woman”? You are the boss’ PA and regardless of your gender you are supposed to adapt to her work style, not vice versa.

            1. iliketoknit*

              I took this to mean that world’s okayest assistant feels like they have to do a lot of traditionally “feminine”-coded support stuff to get their boss to do what’s required, without the boss getting huffy or defensive or ignoring them – which is an adaptation to the boss’ work style, but not an especially congenial one (compared to just speaking directly like professional adults). I don’t think it was a complaint about being the boss’s subordinate, just how they have to handle the role. Being a subordinate shouldn’t mean you have to adopt stereotypical gender roles.

              1. world's okayest assistant*

                Thanks iliketoknit! You said it so well — though I do regret using that term not thinking of how it could be misunderstood, or worse, reflect any disrespect to anyone.

                For context, I’m a college-educated woman with 10+ years of experience working in an office that prides itself on being highly sensitive to gender equity, yet I find the same old gender roles playing out again and regardless of one’s level of office or experience. I have four bosses; one is a woman, three are men. They’re all impossible, and I love them.

            2. world's okayest assistant*

              Understood, Mazh, and thank you for your candid counsel. I agree 100% about adaptation and am mindful of my place. I adapt quickly and cheerfully to all of my supervisors’ styles in a matrix management set-up and have outlasted two prior assistants because of it. If my tone was out of sorts here, I apologize. I meant no offense. This forum has been a great resource to me in my professional development.

              Please know that my comment was made in the spirit of affirming the OP’s frustration, and not to suggest that support work doesn’t require tremendous respect for one’s superiors. Of course it does. I remind myself that the respect I show my bosses every day is indeed a reflection of respect for myself and my craft. I did vent a bit in my comment, as I see now upon review.

              Again, thanks for the note. I certainly respect my employers and all fellow citizens of my workplace.

          2. mf*

            “I get so exhausted at playing the little woman and framing things so positively for someone who has received recognition for great leadership–and raises, too–when the overcompensation required from me and everyone else to keep things afloat is exhausting. ”

            Former EA here. I feel you on this. Seems like you’re constantly catering to his ego and softening the message of “this is the absolute minimum of what I need from you in order to do my job.” It just really sucks to be in that position.

          1. Tidewater 4-1009*

            Maybe he should get one! My previous boss had two for most of the time I was there and they would keep track of what needed to be signed.

      5. Wintergreen*

        How up front on deadlines & how much info are you sending in your emails? I know my grand-boss, you have to be crystal clear and only send as much info as he needs up front. If it will take more than 5 min to respond or he has to think about it, it will get forgotten.
        a) “Need response by Friday – Is Project X a go? Details attached.”

        If you are getting really frustrated or feel like putting yourself out on a limb a little more you could also try
        b) “Project X details attached. If no response by Friday I’ll assume it’s a go. Thanks”

        1. OP*

          I am very clear on what needs to happen by what date. But I really like idea B – I will propose this arrangement to him. Thank you

          1. clogerati*

            My boss is like yours and that’s how everyone in our company handles her. Typically she doesn’t respond to things in a timely matter because she really does think it’s great and has nothing to add and other times it’s because she needs time to formulate an appropriate response (she definitely has some not so secret social anxiety). With B she at least knows that it’s okay so say “hold off on launching I’ll give you a response shortly” (although typically that response takes a week, but at least everyone knows it’s coming).

        2. mf*

          Yes, agree–for busy, distractable executive-types, I’ve had a lot of success with super short emails. 1 or 2 lines at the most and make the response a yes/no whenever possible. Also, use bullet points instead of sentences.

      6. TardyTardis*

        Does he have an assistant who does know how to contact him? I would cultivate a relationship with that person if he does.

    2. mf*

      Yes, I’ve had the same experience–bosses like this are avoidant, disorganized, and procastinators. Unfortunately no amount of “come to Jesus” conversations about “Can we talk about what I can do when I can’t get in touch with you?” have worked for me. People like this tend to be hard to reach because the company structure doesn’t hold them accountable, so they just keep getting away with this bad behavior. They basically have no strong incentive to change.

      But you do have to try, and I think Allison’s script and framing is the best way to go about it.

  2. Grits McGee*

    Is it ok to mention to the CEO that the delays are causing a hit to OP’s reputation? I’ll admit that this (actions of a boss making me look bad) is a particular pet peeve, and something that I’ve left a job over.

    1. Lady Meyneth*

      I wouldn’t do it in an initial conversation. If OP can’t get any of the proposed solutions to stick, and the delays continue even after they flag it to the boss, then OP can talk to him again and include the reputation hit there. But I think to mention it right off could sound judgey and confrontational.

      1. Antilles*

        Also, from a practical perspective of just trying to fix the problem, focusing on the impact to the business/customers is going to get many people’s attention more quickly than your personal concerns.

        1. TootsNYC*

          sometimes people will actually respond more to a personal appeal from someone they know. They may figure the customers will be customers regardless, and if you lose a couple, others will replace them.

          I used to have to approve the final proofs of our projects. I knew when the press date was, and I had a lot on my plate, and I’d bump them down the list. Because I knew that they could go later.

          Then one day I realized that the guy whose job it was to pry them out of me had a jerk of a boss who thought it was a personal failure of his that he wasn’t regularly bringing back pages on her timeline. So I made it a point to send them back more rapidly, solely because I didn’t want him to suffer for it.

      2. LadyByTheLake*

        I don’t see why OP’s reputation is being harmed — OP should be being VERY upfront about what the delays are (without being accusatory) “We’re ready to go other than Bob’s sign off” “Bob’s been busy and we haven’t received his go ahead yet” “I’m excited about launching this as soon as Bob signs off” repeat repeat repeat.

        1. OP*

          I do mention to external stakeholders that I am awaiting final approval on things but the timelines are ridiculous; e.g. 3 month approval delay on a newsletter. I am sensitive that it makes me look like a poor project manager and that I am unreliable.

          1. Artemesia*

            You have a terrible boss. A frigging newsletter? Wow. Someone else needs to have sign off on that ‘I know you have so many heavy responsibilities on your plate; might we have Charlie sign off on the less important or routine things like final review of the newsletter, the payroll, the ads for new positions?’

            And rather than your reputation, focus on losing clients and the organization’s reputation. But boy does this suck because of course you are judged at not being able to manage upward on this. Only way I can see it working is for you to have an actual regular meeting with him with your punch list in hand that he verbally confirms and you follow up with confirming Email.

            I know you have probably tried some of this — but really no way will work except a regular meeting in person or zoom, preferably in person if you are both at work.

            1. Esmeralda*

              Nah, a newsletter is likely to be really low priority for the CEO, so that’s not the sign of a terrible boss.

              Does the CEO know that clients are unhappy about the delays?

              The weekly (or biweekly? weekly is better because if it gets cancelled for some reason, it’s not too long til the next one) meeting is a good idea. Have a standard agenda. Make it a short meeting (15 min? half hour?) — remember, CEO’s time costs more than yours. Suggest you schedule it for a Tuesday or Wednesday so that if it gets cancelled…or you need follow up…there’s more time in the week to reschedule.

              Plus Alison’s other suggestions, all very useful , speaking from experience.

              I’m a bit startled that the newsletter was delayed three months. You’ve got to be resourceful and not rely on one means of communication. (I have to teach my undergrads this every year…)

              1. TootsNYC*

                if it’s low priority for a CEO, then it shouldn’t even BE his priority. It should be someone else’s responsibility.

              2. Artemesia*

                you miss the point — why must the big boss have to sign off on something as stupid as the newsletter? If it has to be double checked then someone else needs to be designated. That he becomes a bottleneck on everything is the primary sign of a terrible boss which he is.

                1. OP*

                  the newsletter content contained financial and investment data, and our P&P require him to approve all external communications. I understand it may be a low priority for him however the rules are the rules, and /i don’t have alternative options.

    2. Brooks Brothers Stan*

      In cases like this, I’ve found it’s best to go with a soft approach (company’s rep) at first before swinging a hammer (personal rep). There’s a legitimate chance that people at that level aren’t realizing the reputation hit the company is taking with delays such as this, and a gentle reminder that timelines in the real world are different than timelines in the c-suite can be enough to get a ball rolling. If that is not enough, and effort has been made to address this, then it would be appropriate to mention that these delays are now affecting your personal reputation.

      Of course, the entire point of your job could be to save the company’s reputation by offloading the hit onto you.

      1. OP*

        I don’t feel compelled to communicate the personal impact just yet (although, there is some) because I genuinely just want to get projects moving. Thank you for your advice on the soft approach!

        1. Threeve*

          I would definitely be candid with all the stakeholders hit by the delays, though.

          You’re not complaining, you’re being factual: the project is currently on Boss’s plate, you follow up with regular reminders, but you’re not sure when you’ll be able to pass along final approval.

      2. GammaGirl1908*

        “…the entire point of your job could be to save the company’s reputation by offloading the hit onto you.”

        Barney Stinson? Is that you? Nice suit!

    3. Laura*

      Depends on the situation. If you have the relationship with him, it might be okay to say, “Should I send Jane to you when she comes looking for my head?” It might shake up his priorities or he might say that he will talk to her.
      I wouldn’t go the “I worry about my reputation about the speed these are turned around”

    4. EventPlannerGal*

      I wouldn’t make it a big part of the discussion – I feel like if it turns out there are other factors at play (eg the boss being tied up on XYZ genuinely very important time-sucks) it could easily come across as self-centred. They could try “it’s making the marketing department look bad”, or if OP deals with external stakeholders they could try “it’s making us/the company look bad”, maybe?

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Along those lines, I had a PDF program with a versioning problem that changed all my comments to wingding font when I clicked out of the text box. It wasn’t really that fun.

      1. Zephy*

        I had a printer start printing only the headers and footers of webpages and documents in Arabic, of all things.

    2. TardyTardis*

      I remember one April Fool’s Day where someone (Deana, you there?) changed the default language of the printer to French. We went through a lot of menus changing it back…

  3. Anon for this....*

    If the firm is in financial services and heavily regulated, the OP can’t move forward without the required approvals. Doing so would cause a number of problems for the company with their regulators. The OP could talk to the CCO about what the policies and procedures say and whether they can be amended. The CCO may also be able to help remind the CEO of his obligations as well.

    But seriously, don’t ask him to deputize someone or move forward without his approval without confirming that this is possible with your compliance department. I’d try talking to him first, as Allison suggested, but the Compliance Department would be your friend here.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Sure, if it’s that kind of thing. If it’s a new internal filing system or the staff holiday party, not so. But adapt to fit the context of your job and your industry.

      1. Esmeralda*

        Sometimes “everything must be quadruple checked and signed off on up and down the division laddder” permeates workplaces in highly regulated fields. I worked a couple of years as a tech editor and documents expeditor at an engineering firm that designed nuclear power plants. It took forever to get stuff signed and moved along, and my division focused completely on internal communications = zero to do with anything at all related to atomic energy and power plants. That’s actually why I got the job: my boss was frustrated with the black hole docs fell into, so I was hired to make sure stuff moved along. Literally moving it: once I’d identified the roadblocks, I’d walk a doc over to Mr Roadblock’s office, hang in the doorway til he signed it, picked it up, and walked it to the next signer.

    2. I'm A Little Teapot*

      Yes, but it’s also not unreasonable to expect the CEO of a heavily regulated company to have some understanding of the regulations. Certainly enough to know that they need to talk to legal/compliance.

    3. Ann Perkins*

      This. Sometimes in small RIAs and such, there’s only one person who has the necessary qualifications to sign off on marketing materials, and no separate CCO. Best practice though is to have at least one backup for this sort of situation, and it might be necessary to start deputizing someone else to do day to day signoffs. Most firms need some in-house compliance other than the CEO, even if it’s shared with another function like operations or finance.

      1. Anon for this....*

        I totally understand and work in the industry for one of the regulators. There’s a difference between a small RIA and a large firm. If the CEO is also the CCO, he can be held personally accountable by the regulator. If there’s a separate CCO, they should have the ability to enforce the policies and procedures. That may be a meeting between the CCO and the CEO with a “what shall we do here” approach… but if the P&P say the CEO has to approve things, then that’s how it goes. Depending on the type of approval, they may be able to amend the policies to deputize someone else, but that’s a conversation between the CCO and the CEO. That said, there are some approvals that MUST come from the CEO and cannot be deputized. Depending on what the OP needs, the CCO may need to have a frank conversation with the CEO.

        I’m a regulator. If I got wind of this, I would imagine there are other problems as well from a regulatory standpoint. But it’s not uncommon, in smaller firms, for the CEO to be a roadblock on things like this. Either they are too controlling over business operations and won’t delegate (and then this happens.) Or they don’t care. Either way, it can lead to a lot of problems. That’s why I’d try looping in compliance here… they can help or at least are aware of what is going on and the OP’s backside is covered.

        1. OP*

          This is so helpful to know – thanks for sharing your input. There may be an opportunity to adapt out P&Ps and perhaps involve our CCO to sign off on materials as opposed to the CEO. There are some things that must be signed off on by him but there is some flexibility on other projects. Thanks, again!

  4. AnonEMoose*

    I totally agree with the advice about how to approach this. It makes it about the problem, not about him personally.

    …and is it wrong that now I kind of want a printer that prints everything in Pig Latin?

  5. Antilles*

    Having dealt with similar issues in the past, the biggest thing that helped me is to schedule a set meeting to handle as much of this stuff as you can. Get it set-in-stone on his calendar that every Tuesday and Friday at 8:00 AM, we will meet for an hour. Then you come to those meetings prepared with as many of the materials needing approval as you can.
    Obviously, not everything will fall neatly into those timespans, but I’ve found that it helps tremendously. Even better if you know ahead of time some things are going to fall between your meetings, so you can let boss know that X will be ready Wednesday afternoon, what is your availability then?

    1. Code Monkey, the SQL*

      Yes, this is a great approach – one single meeting that you can count on is worth hundreds of emails into the black hole, and you can frame it as “Boss, I know you are busy, so I’d like to consolidate the approvals requests. That way, if things come up midweek, our clients will always be able to count on us dealing with them by X number of days out.” (or however you feel phrasing it will work best for your industry)

  6. Forrest Gumption*

    Honestly what worked best for me when I was in the same situation was getting the CEO to agree on a two-day turnaround for the things she absolutely had to approve personally, and getting her to delegate the rest of the approvals to someone who was not so busy.

    1. So Anon*

      Yes, the only real solution is to take Boss out of the loop on this. Boss has a certain window of time to act, and at the end of that window, somebody else gets to approve it. Hoping Boss will change is just asking for things to stay the same.

      A good boss will prefer to hand off authority anyway because it’s one less thing on their plate.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        My boss keeps saying he needs to delegate more things to me because he’s letting things fall through the cracks. He’s overloaded, which is understandable, but it’s starting to trickle down and affect others. Thing is, HE WON’T LET GO OF ANYTHING. He’s not necessarily a micromanager, so I can’t figure out why he won’t follow through with delegating. It would make his life so much easier! Grrrrrr!

        1. OP*

          Gah! That is so frustrating. There is some great advice in the comments here – hope you find some golden nuggets.

      2. Antilles*

        In heavily regulated industries, it’s often not possible to delegate approvals.
        It’s absolutely worth OP sitting down and thinking through which things really need Boss’ approval (e.g., marketing materials in financial services have specific legal implications) versus things where it’s just policy/convention for him to approve but that could be changed.

        1. MissDisplaced*

          I worked in a regulated industry where our regulatory/compliance typically reviewed most things, with some things (new product, shareholder or PR) also requiring legal review. We were larger, so we did have those functions in-house though. The VPs or CEO only got involved on shareholder or big PR initiatives.

          I do think it should be brought up to the OP’s CEO as a possible solution if the company has anyone qualified to do so in-house. They said it was a smaller company though, so IDK if that would be possible. Otherwise, I fear you’d have to schedule the weekly “approvals meeting” and try to stick to it.

          1. OP*

            I love this idea! We are a smaller organization so I could suggest our compliance director signoff on projects instead. Thank you.

        2. Loosey Goosey*

          And if *someone* absolutely needs to sign off, then Boss should determine who an acceptable alternative person is, and shift this review to them. I’ve worked in small organizations (like, 15 people small) and the CEO directly reviewed maybe 10% of my work. This sounds incredibly inefficient, especially if Boss just doesn’t have the time.

          1. OP*

            This is the exact situation that I am in. I like the idea of having my CEO identify an acceptable alternative. Thank you!

  7. C in the Hood*

    I like Alison’s advise on this: finding other ways to get his approval. And sometimes it comes down to just physically going to him and saying, “Bob, what’s the best way to get your approval on these? Would you like to meet once a week and go over them? [& other suggestions]”. And if sitting down with him is the best way, make sure that you prepare & organize all questions and documents so that you’ll take as little time as possible, in order of priority.

  8. WellRed*

    I don’t know if OP has tried anything in addition to emails (in any case, I feel your pain). Alison’s advice is spot on. I’ve said it before, if the method of communication you use isn’t working, try something else. I’ve seen people in my own office try emailing someone outside the company for a couple of months with no response. Once they finally picked up the phone (In this case), it was a world of difference.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I have to assume that if OP is writing in to AAM, they have already tried all the normal means of office communication. Usually, people like her boss tend to ignore them all. Even if in the office, I’ve had this type keep their door closed all day in meetings and you can still never talk to them or get the needed approvals. Or, they may never come in the office because they’re always traveling.

      Best bet is to get the CEO to designate someone else to run things through unless it meets the highest level criteria.

  9. Jester*

    My boss from three or four years ago was equally as hard to get a hold of. We had two offices and our department was slip between both locations. I was a web designer so getting her approval for things couldn’t just be done over the phone. She needed to actually look at that things and usually on different devices. She was supposed to have a schedule for which days she was going to be where, but she never stuck to it and would bounce back and forth for meetings too. My coworkers at the other office and I were constanting messaging each other, ‘Have you seen Boss?’ or ‘Is Boss supposed to be at Location A or B today?’ I wish I had more advice for LW because I solved the problem by leaving the job.

    1. sssssssssssssssssssssssss*

      Same here only I was laid off. And while I was crying about my lay off, I remembered I would never have to deal with this person again. It took away some of the sting of being laid off.

      Email me. I would – he wouldn’t reply.
      Call me. I would. Don’t have time, I’ll call you back. Or never reply to my voicemail.
      We arranged a regular meeting time. He’d bail, not show up or schedule something else without telling me.
      Next time, he said, after a ball was dropped, just call me.
      OMG, when I do, it’s no better! I could go on…

      He was just really disorganized and unreliable. And I was very low in his priorities, despite being part of his team. And I had zero power to fix it. It was the only benefit of my lay off.

      I wish the LW the best of luck.

  10. Ginger Baker*

    Yes to all of this, especially standing meetings and *other methods of communication* but also, wanted to flag something Alison did not include: if the CEO has a good admin, copy them in and reach out to them to figure out how to get sing-offs. LEVERAGE THE ADMIN. Source: Have been and currently am *the* person you need to reach out to if you want BossMan to reply to your [anything that isn’t direct client work] email. Everyone in our BD department knows this and the other internal departments are catching up (partly because any time I get looped in, I reach out to the person in question and let them know it’s in their best interest to always cc me). Among other things, *I* have a standing meeting with Boss and we go through everything on my “did you get this done yet?” list until everything is cleared.

    1. Anonforthis*

      A MILLION TIMES THIS. If the CEO has an admin, use him. Help him problem solve with you – “i need approval on this document by Wednesday at 3pm. Will CEO have 10 minutes to look prior? Can we get something set on the calendar for him to review?” Be very clear about deadlines, and draw attention to exactly what needs CEO in advance too through using highlights or bulletting decision points. Ask the admin for help in how you can sharpen your communications to get more rapid responses. Maybe CEO only can look at emails from 7-7:30am. Maybe he sorts by subject lines. Who knows. The admin can help.

    2. been there*

      Not a solution but just wanted to say that admins like you are worth their weight in gold. I hope they pay you accordingly.

    3. Daffy Duck*

      Good admins keep the world turning!
      About the only piece of work advice I ever got from my father (an engineer) was always be nice to admin and maintance. They can save your bacon when things get tight.

    4. Ann Perkins*

      This is what I came here to say too! The EA might practically be the best person to help you come up with a solution.

    1. Attack Sheep*

      This, too. And sometimes reaching out to the admin is the best way to get a response – he/she can make sure there’s time booked in the manager’s schedule to look at the document and/or get a copy of it in front of him between meetings, reminding them if needed or at least getting it on their radar. Completely forgot about this tactic! (generally best if it’s an admin that directly supports them and manages their schedule, though).

    2. kittymommy*

      This. I’m admin for top level people in my organization and if directors or other staff need something signed off or reviewed and they are running into lack of follow-up with my boss(es) their best bet is to have me handle it. First because I can build it into their schedule if needed and second because I’m one of the few people who can essentially supersede everyone else and have them do what I want first.

      1. Ginger Baker*

        “because I’m one of the few people who can essentially supersede everyone else and have them do what I want first.” YEP THIS. If you have a skilled and respected admin, this is the 100% work dynamic the develops. I give people suggestions all the time on the best way to communicate with BossMan (including SUPER DIRECT SUBJECT LINES, like “Prefer to fly back into LGA at 8m or JFK at 7pm?” …is my subject) but at the end of the day, emails from *me* will always get looked at, guaranteed, no matter what (and if they don’t, I know when to call to get an answer).

  11. AndersonDarling*

    Does the CEO know that his sign off is required? I was at a company where the executives would make up rules all the time and then forget about them. “We don’t accept any more accounts unless I approve them!” “I want to be cc’d on every email to this customer.” “I’m going to sign off on all vacation requests from now on!”
    They’d shout out these rules and everyone would jump to change procedures, but then the execs would complain about “all these stupid emails. Why is everyone emailing me about this?!”

    1. OP*

      You know, this may be worth bringing up to him because if he can agree to let certain projects move forward, that will help me a ton. Thank you so much!

  12. Daria Morgendorffer*

    I’ve worked in Audit for most of my career and used to having to push things forward because deadlines. My rule of thumb is email if you can wait for an answer, phone if you need a quicker answer and go and see them if you need an even quicker answer. Getting in front of someone (ie arranging a standing meeting as Ask the Manager and another poster has suggested) can be an effective way of getting stuff agreed and moved forward.

    1. Attack Sheep*

      This is very true! As a person who often had to provide stuff for audits, I can attest that this is very effective (and will usually get you an honest answer if the truth is there are other priorities and they need to either ask you (audit coordinator) whether an extension is possible or approach their own boss to discuss how to best deal with the competing priorities.

  13. MissDisplaced*

    It is really frustrating to work in this situation.
    Because, of course, people like the CEO will always be busy. But if they can’t let the OP make the decision, or delegate the approval to someone else, everything will continue to be late and OP will be the one taking the blame when nothing is getting done. Unfortunately.

    And while I think that all of these suggestions about meetings/calls/delegation are good ones, if it comes down to being a control issue, you may never get it solved unless the delays actually start costing the company money.

  14. Steveo*

    I’d like to just point out to everyone who is “the boss” in this situation, as I know I’ve been a SPOF (single point of failure) in many projects before. Sometimes delegating can feel a bit like shirking, especially if you like to be in control of things and are super Type-A (which is likely why you are “the boss”). However, delegation and empowerment is the opposite of shirking, it is doing your job effectively, helps the org make progress on goals, and if nothing else helps to grow your own staff into future roles.

  15. So Anon*

    I have had managers like this. They’re endemic in my field. In my experience it goes one of two ways: you have a well meaning boss who is just disorganized or maybe in over their head, but they believe that you should be able to get your job done anyway. That kind of boss will admit there’s a problem and will at least try solutions, like handing off approval to someone else or giving you more authority to act without Boss’s say so. They’ll be relieved (perhaps secretly) because now they don’t have approving your work as a task.

    The other kind of boss can’t get their act together but also can’t let go, and they’ll come up with solutions that are unworkable or that they’ll never follow through with. They may also blame you for their own incompetence by saying that you should have tried some other solution (which won’t work either) and will ignore you when you point out all the things you’ve tried. If you have this kind of boss, the only solution is a different job.

    1. The Rural Juror*

      I have the latter, and he seems to have the memory of a goldfish. He constantly forgets that he’s told me to consult with him before moving forward on something, because he can’t let go, but then won’t make the time to look at anything. Then we miss a deadline and somehow it’s my fault because, “Why would you wait for me for that?” We go through this cycle over and over, even when I tell him, “I can handle this so you’re not being pulled away from other priorities.” He’ll still say he wants me to circle back and present it to him to approve.

      Like the OP, I feel like it makes me look bad. In actuality, it might be his fault, but I’m the one who’s seen by our client as missing the deadline. It’s so frustrating! Especially considering it’s not coworkers that know what he’s like and can commiserate, it’s my clientele. I definitely cannot say anything that would make him look bad, so I feel like I have to take on the accountability of it. It really makes me want to quit sometimes…

      1. So Anon*

        What does he say when you reply “I waited for you on that because YOU TOLD ME TO”? If he denies he ever said that or ignores you, I’d quit in your shoes too.

        1. Idril Celebrindal*

          That’s my boss.
          “Always get approval from me for everything!”
          “Why do you keep asking me these questions, just take care of it!”
          “Why did you do that without asking me, nobody tells me anything anymore!”
          “I never told you to get approval for everything, that makes no sense!”
          “No of course I don’t want you to just take care of it, why would you think that, I wouldn’t ever say that!”
          “Don’t keep asking me for approval, you know how to do your job, just do it!”
          “I’m so overwhelmed, I can’t possibly deal with anything else, stop asking me questions about what to prioritize!”
          “Why are you working on that, you need to be doing this other thing, why didn’t you ask me about priorities?!”
          “Make sure you CC me on everything, I can’t stand not being in the loop!”
          “Why is everyone sending me all these emails, I don’t have the time to read them all!” “How would I know you sent an email, I turned off email notifications because I get too many!”
          “Stop coming by my office, you are interrupting me!”
          “I can’t stand seeing IM notifications, stop bothering me!”
          “Our offices are right next to each other, why are you calling!”
          “Why does no one tell me things?!!!!!!!!”

          1. Sister Michael*

            Working for this person landed me on medication, and that’s not a joke. She was horribly mean about all of it.
            Sadly, she is a friend of my mother’s and treating me that was meant burning a bridge, as I won’t be in the room with her anymore.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Yeah. I’ve had the later. It’s so frustrating. Nothing you do will ever be the right call with them.

      The company I’m working at currently has a culture like that. They will make internal meeting upon internal meetings to go over things, but without ever actually making any hard decisions to kill or move forward on projects. And they wonder why things never get done and they’re in trouble.

  16. Heidi*

    The way I frame it is that most people will respond to a request after the first or second email. The people who don’t respond after two emails know that they are like this and have chosen to live this way. It’s therefore fair to ask them how they want to go about getting stuff done of if they even want to get this stuff done. Some of my colleagues will tell you to just keep emailing them repeatedly so that it keeps getting pushed to the top of the inbox and maybe someday they’ll see it at a time when it’s convenient for them to respond. Some will say to get their assistant to wave it in front of their faces. If this is what they want, I will set aside time in my schedule for whatever summoning ritual they require, and then it becomes just another part of the job. Should you have to do this? Of course not. But sometimes it’s the least bad option.

    1. OP*

      Oh, believe me, I’ve tried 3..4..5 follow-up emails, phone calls, IMs. I really don’t want to be his EA but it may be the most effective approach. Thank you, Heidi.

  17. Attack Sheep*

    Totally agree with Alison’s advice. Also want to add:

    Talk to your manager about how you can make this process easier for him and get a sense of how he prefers to be contacted. For some managers, e-mail is everything. For others, they are drowning with e-mails and would like a quick reminder in passing – “the X reports are due tomorrow – any chance you might be able to have a look at them by the end of the day?”. Others prefer hard copies – whether they are tactile people, prefer to make handwritten notes, or like the visual reminder (nothing like a document needing to be approved sitting on your keyboard, even better if it has a sticky note saying “For review – if possible by X deadline”.

    From a process standpoint, ask if they prefer hard copies – it may be easier for them if you print the documents off and type the revisions based on their written notes. Or, they may rather you set a one-on-one meeting once a week where you go over outstanding approvals and let them know what’s coming. Or, they may like a 15 or 30 minute meeting where they review in front of you and give verbal feedback (if this sounds crazy, I promise I have had various managers throughout my organization who have preferred each of these approaches). You can also ask if they like to be reminded, and when (2 days before? 1 day before? When something is due EOD?) and the best way to do that (phone call, e-mail reminder, Outlook/Calendar reminder, text message. sticky note on desk, reserving 15 minutes before deadline). They will have a preference, even if they haven’t thought about it until now!

    A few other random examples of how I’ve made urgent/important/legislated approvals easier in a pinch:
    -pasting the parts they need to review into the body of an e-mail or a Teams message (so if they are on their phone, it’s easier to read without opening the attachment and deadling with the formatting)
    -put them at the desk at the end of the day so they can take them home
    -if it’s a second review, mark the sections that have been revised since their last review (highlighted, arrows, sticky notes, different colour in text program) to save them time
    -ask if an extension is possible (to the group that you are submitting the document to) if the manager is truly unavailable and there wont be legal or operational consequences to a delay (would run this by your manager first)
    -Ask if they would want you to make a judgment call or if there are certain documents they are comfortable approving based on your judgment (for instance, we had really repetitive PSAs that had to be director-approved and never changed. I was allowed to say “this is director-approved” as long as I had read it and had no concerns that I felt should be flagged to the Director.

    At the end of the day, it’s about communication styles and figuring out which one works best with your manager. The better you know your manager and their preferences, the easier it will be to give them what they need, to get what you need!

    1. OP*

      Thank you, Attack Sheep. “Ask if they would want you to make a judgment call…” is my favourite tip! That would be perfect on my end.

  18. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    I would ask my boss directly about the best way to communicate with him before I started putting folders on his chair. If he’s easily overwhelmed, he might respond poorly or it might just get thrown into a big pile with other projects.

  19. Helen J*

    We have, or rather had, a somewhat similar issue at my office. My boss needs to sign off on certain things and people complaining to me when he didn’t (I’m his assistant). So I started knocking on the door to his office, pausing briefly and walking in, ringing his phone until he answered- basically pestering him because people were pestering me because he wasn’t making decisions or getting back to people. After a few weeks he became more responsive because he knew that I would start “reminding” him until it was done. We still have the occasional issue, but if the phones starts ringing and he hears knocking at the door, he knows it’s time to make decisions. That might not work for OP.

    If the issue is he is so overloaded/busy, perhaps they should consider hiring a “Co-CEO” or something along those lines so that decisions get made and things can move forward. One person can only do so much, so either there is too much for him to do or he is indecisive/a procrastinator that needs some needs prodding.

  20. hbc*

    Does it really make you look unprofessional? Having worked in a company with tons of needless bottlenecks, the only people I saw take the reputation hit were the ones who hid the truth or told it in unprofessional ways. There’s nothing wrong with putting together a project plan and saying, “We’ll have the final review of the materials on October 8th, but it could take up to three weeks for Fergus to approve and then it’s a week at the printers, so we might not hit our October target.” If instead you say anything that leaves with them with the impression that things will be delivered in mid-October, that’s where you run into trouble.

    I think a lot of people shy away from stating the facts like this because it feels so…accusatory and bus-throwing. But there’s nothing wrong with stating the facts as you know them, and if it does get Fergus riled, there’s an opening to ask what you *should* do. I’ve never had problems with this blowing back unless the bottleneck in question was clearly a raging jerk–which is a problem beyond not being able to meet your deadlines.

    1. Threeve*

      My current job sometimes uses this in our email chains:
      Step 1, Person 1, complete
      Step 2, Person 2, complete
      Final review, Person 3, complete
      Final approval, Bob, pending

      So everyone on a project can look at their last email and see who and what they’re all waiting for.

    2. OP*

      Great point. I am fairly transparent but am mindful about the bus-throwing thing. One of my fears is that I shirk away from a great campaign or project because I know it’ll be backlogged or held up. Thanks for writing – it makes me feel better :)

      1. hbc*

        Glad to help. If you’re like me, that whole blame thing is hard because I would be embarrassed to be the bottleneck. But when I am (because it happens), it would only make it worse for someone else to take the blame, and every boss I’ve respected has felt the same way.

  21. Cats14*

    Good god. The exhausting hoops we have to jump through on an hourly basis just to keep a rough over our heads.

  22. GL*

    Another thing you could try: talk to his assistant. Seems likely he has one since he’s the CEO. They may be able to tell you what communication strategies work best with him. And if there are specific times you’re struggling to get ahold of him, they may be able to let you know when it would be a good time to reach him in person/on the phone.

    I used to work with a higher up who liked people to swing by in person but always seemed to be on the phone. A couple times that I really needed to talk to him, his assistant was happy to send me an IM when she saw that he’d finished whatever call he was on.

    1. Ginger Baker*

      This was my #1 bit of advice, but somewhat terrifingly, I see OP above commented that the CEO…does not have an assistant. Which…frankly, this alone would have me Deeply Concerned. Is the CEO wasting a bunch of time doing admin stuff that should absolutely be done by someone not costing the company thousands of dollars per hour?? Just. Ouch.

      1. OP*

        It would definitely be plus for him to have an admin, and he once did, however she left the organization and he hasn’t replaced her. He is quite busy so I am surprised he hasn’t brought someone else in but I don’t want to bring this up in case he gets offended. Crossing my fingers that he will get an EA will have to do!

        1. Ginger Baker*

          Ohhh but. He should not be offended by needing – as a CEO! – an assistant? If he’s vain or snobby at all (I say from experience…) you could lean a bit on “I’m surprised you haven’t replaced [__] yet…I heard [just google CEO+two assistants and pick the most famous] needs two to manage his workload!” otherwise a simple “we should prioritize finding a replacement for [__] soon, I know you could use someone to help manage the avalanche and take all the low-level stuff off your plate”. If you feel your CEO will be…insulted? At the suggestion that he has a large workload and, like anyone at the top of an organization, needs support roles to…support him, well, that’s a bigger issue really and might merit some thinking about the environment in general to see if there are any other yellow flags.

  23. learnedthehardway*

    I’ve been known to inform a client person by email that “unless I hear back from you by X date / time, I will assume you’re fine for me to go ahead with this”, when people are being impossible to reach and non-responsive.

    1. Ivy*

      YES! This is what I came here to say. If after several tries, you don’t get a response, you use the “speak now or forever hold your peace” wording. So, “I’ll assume this is approved unless I hear differently.” I also call this the “forgiveness rather than permission” technique and have used it extensively throughout my career with great success.

      I would recommend using it strategically at first on items with lower impact or consequence (so newsletter, yes; financial or compliance document, no) and always follow up with the boss as well: “I didn’t hear from you, so assumed everything was fine and the newsletter has been delivered.” This gives him the chance to either get on your case about it at the first instance or, more likely, ignore it — which is again tacit permission to continue: “Like last month, if I don’t hear from you I’ll assume the newsletter is fine” followed with “As per our current approval process, if I don’t hear from you, I’ll assume the newsletter is approved.” Then, if you get any feedback (these newsletters are excellent, we’re so happy to have them” you send that back to him as well so he sees what a good job he’s doing (insert eye roll).

      If other people are getting on your case, CC them in your new streamlined approvals process emails: “Jen needs this signed off on by end of month to move forward on this important initiative. If we don’t get a response by then, we’ll assume everything is good to go.”

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Sometimes the “Unless I hear back from you by X date / time, I will assume you’re fine for me to go ahead with this” does work if it’s not anything really too major or of financial impact. But I’ve also gotten in trouble for doing it, because it can ruffle feathers of people who think they’re in control (whether they are or not).

        And let’s be honest, going or being purposely incommunicado is a very passive aggressive and controlling behavior.

  24. r*

    I would add, as someone who was in a similar situation in a similar industry… Just keep an eye out for other things falling through the cracks. Like, until you see them, try to have as much good will as possible for your boss but…. In my situation, the whole incommunicado thing was tied to benefits and payroll issues as well as basically keeping all of my (finished!) projects in limbo for months.

  25. Paris Geller*

    This was one of my main complaints with my last boss, though there was a whole host of other issues as well (she was. . . not a nice boss and not a nice person.) It’s an incredibly frustrating place to be in. I tried to adopt a “keep at it and do my best work” attitude, but eventually, something had to give. That something was me finding a new job.

  26. a manager*

    Oof. I’m sometimes this boss and this is painful to read. For me this happens when one of two things happens (or both simultaneously) 1) I am legitimately focused on / distracted by key or urgent tasks that can’t be delegated and the other things – even if really important – just have to wait and/or 2) the content of what is being provided needs work and will require my direct feedback and support and I don’t have time to do that. When this happens I can just feel the impact it’s having on the staff member and it’s an awful feeling to know I’m the cause, but there are just so many hours in the day. Long term I hope to continue to more fully develop these keys staff members so that they can work independently and with fewer approvals needed!

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Do you at least get back to these people and tell them that you’re focused on X right now, but get back to them by such and such a time? I mean, at least that’s a response. It’s the ignoring and lack of ANY response that gets so frustrating.

      1. a manager*

        I do, but it’s more of a . You’re so right @MissDisplaced – I *definitely* need to really work on the frequency of updates/communication about the delays and (*deep inhale*) commit to a timeframe for following up and/or completion AND THEN FOLLOW THROUGH.

        omg, this is so painful. I can see how much frustration I must be causing key staff members.

        1. a manager*

          that was supposed to read:
          I do, but it’s more of a: I haven’t forgotten you/it – “it’s on the list’.. You’re so right @MissDisplaced – I *definitely* need to really work on the frequency of updates/communication about the delays and (*deep inhale*) commit to a timeframe for following up and/or completion AND THEN FOLLOW THROUGH.

          omg, this is so painful. I can see how much frustration I must be causing key staff members.

      1. a manager*

        <3 I think it has! I don't have it all figured out on how to break these habits and patterns, but I feel kind of heartbroken for my staff and in disappointment in myself, so that will hopefully lead to meaningful change!?

  27. Database Developer Dude*

    I get why you have to play it this way with the boss… doesn’t make it suck any less, because bosses can be incompetent, and you still have to dance around them… you, however, can be fired if you do the same.

  28. Kevin Sours*

    When you do communicate with your CEO, streamline the process as much as possible (and then streamline it further). The more painless you make it for him, the less likely he’s going to think he needs to set aside real time to deal with it (which he may not have).

    Be clear in your own head what you want from him — do you need input on a decision or do you want him to sign off on a decision you’ve already made. If the latter, don’t present any of the alternatives you’ve decided not to pursue (but be prepared to talk about them seamlessly if he asks about them, asks for alternatives, or simply expresses dissatisfaction with the chosen approach).

    Be prepared to present a detailed view of things, but don’t lead with it. Present the bare minimum of information for him to make a decision (and I’d error on the side of less detail) and let him ask for more if he wants it.

    Try to bunch up requests so that you can blow throw them all in a go (especially if you are meeting one to one). Do as much legwork ahead of time as you can to minimize the time spent going over things.

    One thing I’ve seen happen is inadvertently implying a request for feedback when it isn’t really wanted. The boss feels the need to give because it was “requested” which makes everything take longer and makes nobody happy. If you’ve got this make sure you communicate that you’ve got this.

    1. OP*

      Kevin, these are great points. I have scheduled a meeting with him and am definitely going to take your advice when I speak with him. I appreciate that each project requires different actions; i.e. signoff vs. feedback, but even establishing our communication style going forward will be a tremendous help. Very much appreciated, thank you again.

  29. Slona Kittering*

    I’m sure someone else has also mentioned this, but definitely try to see if you can get out of needing your bosses’ specific approval on every little thing – that is definitely what I had to do in a similar situation. I came to the boss with a series of options to try: Is it okay to proceed with this as long as strictly following a template you already approved? Can I do X and Y without specific sign off and then come to you with Z only? Is there someone below your boss that can sign off on matters of lower concern? If you give it to your boss with a week’s review time, can you then assume it’s approved after that week or go to the other reviewer at that point without other approval? I had to automate some things and it hampered what I could do but at least things were finally able to move.

    1. OP*

      Great suggestion, Slona. I am going to present this option to him because even one step forward is a leap for me.

  30. Argh!*

    Micromanagement has a price. I told my boss that I’m not going to propose new projects until I get answers on all my other proposals. At our next meeting she said she had no record of any issues that hadn’t gotten an answer. I supplied her with a list of about 15 (and I forgot a few). She never replied to it. We meet tomorrow.

    Everybody thinks nobody is happy due to covid-19. The truth is that unproductive management is magnified and more frustrating for those of us who are in disposable jobs. We have to prove our worth by our productivity, but our productivity is being held up by people whose jobs are safe.

  31. RED One*

    If you leave printouts on my chair, I will grind your bones into dust.

    Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.

    1. a manager*

      I work with someone who agrees with you! We had no idea this was a thing until it came up and she mentioned it – we ordered inboxes the same day!!

  32. TootsNYC*

    Say something like, “I know you’re really busy, but because it’s so tough to reach you, projects like X and Y are getting delayed because I can’t move things forward without your input or approval. It’s causing problems like ___. Can we talk about what I can do when I can’t get in touch with you?”

    I’m not a fan of providing people with ready-made excuses.
    For one thing, you might be making an inaccurate assumption, and now the two of you are off on an unproductive track.

    For another, it can give people an excuse when they don’t deserve it–when they really should just face up to the problem they’re creating. By creating the excuse, you take away the prompt that gets them to look at their own behavior and draw their own conclusions. (Note that I don’t think you should scold people–just don’t make their excuses for them.)

    State the problem: “I have a problem lately that I need your help with. I’m unable to move forward on things because i’m still waiting on approvals from you. I send you things, etc., but I don’t hear back. How can I move forward?”

  33. LQ*

    My boss is like this and is out of this world busy and hates doing this stuff. I’ve finally settlted into a bit of a pattern with him that works. It’s a lot of heavy lifting. BUT on the other hand once stuff gets to him he pretty much just approves it. I know that the moment I stop doing all the heavy lifting he’ll stop just waving and approving.

    I scheduled a recurring appointment with him. This took 2 years to get him to agree to and then about 3 months out to find a good spot. Before that I would just once a month find an hour a week on his calendar and send the appointments over one by one. He doesn’t want it to be recurring, fine. I can take 10 minutes every month to do that.

    Now each week I stop and prep a big long email to review at our meeting. Each item I’ve already sent a (excruciatingly detailed) email about at some previous point in the week, I know he will not ever look at those. So I just attach the emails to the appointment. Inside the appointment I put a heading for each item, title, description, and recommendation.
    Needs approval >> Marketing documents for the Sally Campaign (email) >> The Sally Campaign is the one to move forward with more delegation of authority on items to be able to approve and move forward with them in a more timely manner. This is something that you’d ask Steve to work on 3 years ago. I’ve got the finalized approach attached and it’s ready to go. I recommend approval.

    Then I sit on a conference call with him during that meeting and read each item to him, or occasionally he reads them, occasionally he just asks a question or two, occasionally he just blanket approves all the things (he will often reply to the email to say it’s approved, which is super handy) and then wants to talk about something else entirely.

    That email then is another level of detail of each of the elements of the campaign broken down inside it and that email usually has 3-20 other emails or documents attached to it. It honestly takes me about 2 hours to make sure this is all put together each week, but I get my shit approved in a fairly timely manner so it’s been worth it.

    Partly I’m writing all this out because it sounds like a lot, but it’s effective and …it does actually make me better at my job to have to spend those 2 stupid hours putting the email together because I occasionally catch something I didn’t before and it’s essentially my final review before moving it forward to approval. It also involves nearly every single way to get someone’s attention and all the ways that people want to hear about it.

    1. Granger*

      WOW. That is the highest level “manage your manager” I’ve ever heard! Kudos on figuring out how to MAKE IT WORK!

  34. Schuyler Seestra*

    This one hits home for me. I’ve always worked remotely and had not one, but two managers who would basically ghost me. I would email, IM, call, text and wouldn’t a response. Both would frequently cancel my 1:1s. Because I was a remote employee it felt like I was stuck on my own island at times. I couldn’t just walk over to their desks. I didn’t need to be babysat or have my hand held but it was frustrating to not receive responses on urgent matters. My one boss once assigned me a major project out of my field without any instructions on how to approach or her expectations. She then proceeded ghost me for two weeks straight. Then got mad when my work didn’t match her expectations. Expectations she never made clear to me. It was absolutely disrespectful to my time. It was infuriating. I get that both managers were busy but that didn’t mean their actions were ok. They don’t get a free pass. It was so upsetting to be treated that way and negativity affected my morale.

  35. Not A Girl Boss*

    Sorry I’m super late to this party, but I wanted to suggest asking him about changing the policy to have someone else sign off on your work, or at least reduce the scope of his approvals (so he only signs off on VIP projects, or only on creative direction while someone else checks grammar and other details, etc).

    I am a quality person in a heavily regulated field, and I see these issues pop up *all* the time. In fact, I just fixed a marketing related approval hell-loop the other day.

    Once upon a time, it probably made sense to have the CEO sign off on everything. But as the company grows, often that changes but no one thinks to change the policy along with it. And often, it really is as simple as just… Changing the policy (and of course, knowing who to talk to to get the policy changed).

    You can make this a pretty easy sell to him by pointing out 1) how much this will take off his plate 2) how much it will increase the productivity of the team and 3) how much better quality the product will be if the independent reviewer is someone who actually has time to review the project in depth.

  36. But the bagpipes didn't say no*

    Can you just start getting “sign off” in the form of a lack of negative? “let me know if you want me to make changes by x date, if not I’ll mark you as signed off!” :D

  37. Lindsey*

    I have a boss who has been at the company for 37 years. He’s…not always responsive.

    I understand that there may be corporate or legal reasons you may need his sign off, but for everything else this is what I do:

    Dear Boss,

    I’ve attached the Llama Newsletter. Of note to you is that the we have a new llama caretaker in Barn A. If I don’t hear from you by COB Friday, this will be sent to the printer as we need it distributed by Monday.


    Llama wrangler.

  38. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    I often need fairly detailed client input on my work, and with one client it got to the point that I had to adopt the strategy of starting my questions email with “if I don’t hear back from you by X time (leaving sufficient time for me to wrap up by THEIR deadline), I shall consider that the answer to all questions below is “yes”.
    That way, they have been warned. I have to make sure that I word the questions in such a way as to have “yes” as the most logical answer of course. Sometimes I’ll deliberately word it so that “yes” is a ludicrous answer, which usually triggers a swift response from the client, because they don’t want the text to sound ludicrous.
    And yes, it is perfectly ridiculous that I should have to stoop to such measures, but hey, I get to hand in my work on time, which clients always appreciate.

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