our new entry-level coworker thinks he’s our boss

A reader writes:

We’ve recently added someone to our team who is a project manager. At my workplace, this is an entry-level position, usually filled by people just out of college. They manage the projects, setting deadlines and sharing client feedback. It’s not an unimportant position by any means, but it is sort of at the bottom of the rung, here.

Recently, we hired a more seasoned project manager who, before this position, worked in another country, where I suspect the term “project manager” meant something quite different from what it means here. He literally thinks he’s in charge. I say this because he’s micromanaging me and others (constant messages asking how we’re doing on projects or even just “What are you working on?” which is something no one else does), because he’s ordered higher-ups around (“It’s okay you missed the meeting, but try to be there next time”), and because I’ve heard him on client calls saying, “I’m managing this project.” It’s true he’s … managing the project, as in handling it, but he isn’t our manager.

This is something I’d normally talk to my boss about, but the problem is we don’t have one at the moment. Our ACTUAL manager just left for greener pastures, and another executive is sort of vaguely watching over us till we get a replacement. Talking to him would seem absurd, given our culture and the understanding that he’s just there for true emergencies, not a situation like “It’s annoying having to tell this dude what I’m working on.”

Is there anything I can say to subtly let this guy know he’s not my boss, nor is he in charge of our work? Our team is only four people total and two are new, including this new guy. The other experienced person on the team is with me on thinking it’s odd.

My biggest worry is that your new manager, once hired, will assume this is what the role is supposed to be, since this guy is (a) more experienced and (b) acting like this is his job. And even if you explain at that point, your new manager may just decide it’s fine to let an experienced person continue with this model, leaving you stuck with the situation long-term.

So I think if you want to ward that off, you’ve got to address it now and firmly.

If that weren’t the case, I’d say there was time to try a softer approach … meaning that when he tries to “manage” you, you’d push back in the moment. When he asks how you’re doing on a project, you’d say, “I’m set — was there something you needed to move forward with your stuff?” or the distinctly peer-like “I’m good, how are you doing with your pieces?” If he asks what you’re working on, you’d say, “Oh, a bunch of things — was there something specific you’re asking about?”

But this feels more urgent than that, so I think you and your other experienced coworker need to sit down with him and have a direct conversation where you set the record straight. As in: “You’ve been asking us to update you on our work the way we might with a manager, so we wanted to make sure there wasn’t any confusion about our roles in relationship to yours. The job you’re in manages projects but not people, meaning that you’re responsible for things like XYZ but your role doesn’t have oversight or authority over either of us or our work. If there’s something you need from us, we of course want to know and see how we can help, but there’s no chain of command relationship here and so it doesn’t make sense for you to check in on our work in the way you’ve been doing.”

If that goes okay, then great. But if it doesn’t, I do think you need to consider escalating it to the exec who’s covering your team until a new manager is hired. I know they’re just vaguely involved, and if it would truly be absurd in your culture to do this, then don’t … but normally it would make sense to go to that person, explain there’s a rogue new person with significant confusion about their role, say you’ve attempted to address it directly without success, and ask them to intervene.

But also … one really big caveat before you do any of that: Are you very sure that this guy’s idea of his job isn’t actually the correct one? I know the job has been entry-level in the past, but is there any chance that someone above you changed that when he was hired? Particularly with your boss leaving, is it possible they decided they wanted someone with more authority in this role? And that’s why they hired someone experienced for the job? It would odd for them not to share that with you if so, but that does happen sometimes. If there’s any chance that happened here, that’s another reason to go higher up with it and see what’s going on.

{ 388 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Hi. The comment section is getting filled with comments that assume the letter writer is wrong about how this role is supposed to function on her team, which is likely to be very unhelpful to her.

    It seems clear that in this office, “project manager” has traditionally been an entry-level “traffic cop” type role — more of a project coordinator. She has confirmed that in the comments and we need to take her at her word on that.

    It’s fine (and useful!) to point out that the title “project manager” may be causing the confusion (if this guy came in without a clear explanation of how the job functions in this office, it’s very likely the source of the conflict), but telling her “no, this is what this person is there to do” when she’s been clear that it’s not been what this job does on her team is not useful. Thank you.

  2. T*

    Project manager is a senior position here, although not a people management position, and I admit I am struggling to imagine how anyone could manage a project without a degree of seniority. “What are you working on” would be out of scope but “Please attend meetings for this project” would be in scope! (I mean it sounds like his bedside manner is also kinda rubbish.)

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      It can be a people management position, and often is to at least a small extent! It varies.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It varies. It sounds like in this office it’s a very junior administrative “coordinate the moving pieces, tell us when deadlines are, communicate with the printer” kind of role. Let’s take the LW at her word about how it works in her office!

      1. Frenchie Too*

        I would answer his questions with “why do you ask?” If he gives a valid reason, then answer his question. Otherwise, explain that you need to focus on your tasks and can’t be giving out unnecessary reports to coworkers.
        But I would consider speaking with him, in a non-combative way, and asking what is his understanding of his new job. Then let him know that he does not have responsibility over the rest of the staff, so he doesn’t have to worry about keeping track of their work. Except when it affects his own assignments, of course. Ask him what this role looked like in his previous experience, then point out the differences. I would be polite, but NOT subtle. If this guy is trying to set himself up to be the next boss, being too subtle will only encourage him.
        He does sound obnoxious, though. Reminds me of an old post here. It was about someone who was also “taking charge” in an inappropriate way.

      2. Glen Stet*

        If they are administrators and not managers, then they should call them administrators. If I was hired to be a project MANAGER (and I have been for a number of operations) I would expect to MANAGE, i.e. be responsible for the project budget, staff assignments, progress, reports up the org and to the client – you know, Manage.

      3. Thrive*

        As a real-life example for those who haven’t seen it before, in my company we have recently introduced a “project manager” role to coordinate projects. This role is to:
        – Update Sprint, or whichever tool the project team is using, on a daily basis
        – Communicate and update the milestones
        – Perform the project administrative tasks that used to be done by the project staff, e.g., assembling and rolling forward the budget

        The purpose of this role is to remove the burden of time-consuming administrative activities from the project staff to reduce distractions and to be more productive. My company calls the role “project manager” instead of “project coordinator” to give the person in that role the authority to follow up on the status of tasks of people much (MUCH) more senior than them so that the project overview can be updated accurately on a daily basis. The project manager is usually a junior staffer (e.g., a 2-year analysts) or is outsourced from another jurisdiction.

    3. Eric*

      Do you have a project coordinator role at your company? This sounds like what I have seen as that role just with a “manager” title.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yes this is much more in line with what I’ve traditionally seen as project coordinator. And of course titles can vary between companies to the point of being almost meaningless, but that’s where my questions downthread come in re: how did we get here

      2. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

        Yes, it sounds like a more administrative role, which would confer a coordinator-level title. Someone below mentioned that “sanitation engineer” is often used to describe janitorial work, and sounds like similar situation. Also, it really depends on the office culture and environment! I have a title which in my institution, puts me one step below our ED. In other places, it’s a very fancy assistant’s title. Just depends!

        My spouse is a lifelong PM, and what he does is use things like “Junior PM” or “Senior PM” to confer pay grade, area of responsibility, and magnitude of project. Not helpful in this context, but there are a few folks below noting that they are PMs and it’s a higher-level role in their respective orgs. Wanted to provide another example that shows PM titles could be assigned to more junior staff. All of the project managers report to him, not to one another.

        One last thought is that perhaps OP’s colleague could use some coaching or conversation on the internal culture and politics of the org. Ensuring people make it to a meeting is within scope, as well as seeing what the team’s workload is like since you’re often in charge of resourcing. However, it sounds like communication is a huge issue, as is their understanding of the amount of influence they may have over OP. They should know if OP is maxed out in case they need to move some work around, but there’s a better way to ask. Unless PMs don’t actually assign work in a project, they’re only working as administrative support, and in that case, please ignore!

        1. Howard Bannister*

          I’ve worked with Junior PMs before, and while it was understood that they weren’t managing me I was still expected to give them daily updates on my progress, attend meetings they put together, and generally let them know what was going on.

          It sounds to me like the way they’re using the title is extremely confusing; it confused me, and it’s confusing the new guy.

    4. CeeKee*

      Yeah, I’m wondering if this guy applied for and accepted the job assuming that the title meant something other than it does, and nothing in the interview process cleared that up for him. It’s not unusual to assume that a “Manager” title means “manager”–if the job wasn’t clearly presented to him in that way I can’t really fault him for not just intuiting that what they actually meant was “coordinator.”

      1. Parcae*

        I agree. Experienced people sometimes have good reasons for accepting entry level roles, but in this case it’s setting off alarms for me. I can totally see a sloppy interview process creating a lot of confusion. Potential sources of miscommunication here:
        – Hiring manager may have been on their way out, resulting in less care and attention to the hiring process
        – New hire may have missed that the position pays at entry-level due to different compensation standards or cost of living in their previous country
        – OP’s company uses non-standard job titles
        – Poor onboarding process due to no official manager for the position

        OP, I think you have to talk to your break-glass-in-case-of-emergency manager. Not to try to get the new hire in trouble, but to clear up expectations all around. If I accepted a new job as a project manager and my new coworker approached me to say, basically, “stop project managing– that’s not your job,” I’m not sure I’d believe them! And there’s a genuine chance the new hire *was* brought in to do standard project managing, but that message didn’t get out to your team because– again– there’s a management vacancy and people are flying by the seat of their pants.

        1. Christina*

          I agree with this. I am a PM and all of the things this person is doing is in line with traditional PM roles! Sounds like there’s a major miscommunication here.

      2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        That’s what I was wondering, too! I doubt that most people WOULD assume that a title including “Manager” was really a powerless entry-level position and WOULD assume that it meant that you’d actually be – you know! – MANAGING. The reality of this job should have been made clear during the interviewing process; if it wasn’t, then yes, the LW (and possibly others in their position who’ve been annoyed with this colleague’s understandably managerial behavior) should explain that reality to the colleague. But it really shouldn’t have been left up to them – who hires an employee without making it very clear what that person’s job and authority level includes? It sounds to me as if this company is a bit TOO “relaxed” in its approach to all its employees if this is happening now.

        1. Raine*

          Yeah, but speaking as a senior project coordinator, I’ve seen “manager” applied to positions that are very much more “coordinator” or even “administrative assistant” functionalities. Either way, the LW has to get clarification on what this new PM’s functions and role are.

        2. Daisy*

          When I was entry-level I applied to a ‘project manager’ role. It seemed odd to me at the time, but it was clearly entry-level because it paid £22K, and when they talked about it the interview it was clear that it was a fancy sort of project admin. So, this certainly happens. I wonder what the relative pay was like for this role at OP’s company? That should be an indication.

      3. Ellie*

        I thought this as well. Where I work, the project manager runs the entire project – they’re the most important person on the team with hiring and firing power. If the project manager tells you to do something, you do it. So I was very confused reading this letter, and I bet this poor new hire is too.

        I don’t think you can handle this on your own, because it might feel like a bait and switch for this poor new hire who thinks they’ve been hired as a manager when they haven’t, and there might be fallout from that. I think you have to go to your senior executive and lay out the issue. Otherwise, could you go to the line manager of the new employee? It’s their job to manage them, and they should be able to clear up the misunderstanding.

      4. Medusa*

        True, but why would he just assume that he was managing these three people without anyone informing him of that?

    5. John Smith*

      Part of my job is as a technical manager and I have exactly zero managerial responsibilities. While I’m responsible for making sure things run ok, lists are updated, things work etc etc and get to decide what needs doing on technical aspects, I have no control or authority over other people. It’s weird because I’m held up as “second in command” in the team even though there are more senior people than me but I’ve found that happens when senior management need a scapegoat for their own or my manager’s incompetence. Anyway….

      The problem I think is people see the word “manager” and think they’re in charge. A lot of the time it’s a case of having lots of responsibility with zero authority, and it is problematic if the role is not made absolutely crystal clear to everyone.

      1. TootsNYC*

        we have people whose job title has “manager” and they don’t manage anything. I think their title is that way to justify a salary band or something.

        1. alwaysonefootoutthedoor*

          My ‘desk description’ has manager in the title because I manage an operation with legal liabilities, and need a little bump to make certain types of rank-conscious colleagues pay attention, but my official title is a boring number grade via my state agency employer.

      2. Lorac*

        Same experience here. I know someone who’s a senior product manager at a large tech company I’m sure everyone is familiar with. One thing they said that was critical to their success was the ability to get convince people to do things while not having any actual authority over them. And that it was critical to build good relationships with everyone they worked with because their job was to convince them that their idea was their idea.

        1. Andy*

          Yes, that is fairly common role. And still, everything a guy in letter does is fairly normal for that role.

          They ask about how it is going and what you are working on. They complain when you ignore their meetings, including to us seniors. While they are not my direct boss, I would be actively undermining them if I refused to provide info about progress or info they need to set priorities. They need to know how and where things are going.

          There are periodic power struggles and so on, we do set boundaries with them and they with us. But fundamentally, asking people to go to meeting or inform them is not put of line.

        2. Andy*

          > because their job was to convince them that their idea was their idea.

          And frankly, this part is myth. It does not happen and if it would happen it would harm the PM in question.

          1. Deanna Troi*

            This is not a myth. I work with a woman who is BRILLIANT at convincing people that:
            1. They’re going to do something they didn’t want to do.
            2. They’re going to love it.
            3. It was actually their idea.
            4. They’re super happy with the way things are working out.

            She is the one who always get sent to talk to people who don’t want to switch to new processes, who don’t want to take on new projects, and who want to try to skirt the regulations. I’m someone who is super blunt, and I’m in awe of this woman’s genius!

            1. DrunkAtAWedding*

              I had a manager like that when I worked at a call centre. We’d get him on the phone for difficult customers and they’d soon be agreeing that, yes, while they had been very very sure that the sky was blue, they could see how, in some lights, it could be green. I think the Scouse accent helped.

      3. some dude*

        Same. I have “manager” in my title but do not manage people – I manage administrative processes. which means working with people, but I don’t have managerial responsibilities of them. I know of project managers who similarly don’t have people managing duties, but need to make sure that everyone is on the same page. It’s a very important role, but not a managerial one, and if they came in hot trying to tell people what to do, it wouldn’t go over well.

    6. Wisteria*

      I was in a project management role as an entry level person. I was actually an intern, although I was a graduate intern, at the same level as someone a few years out of an undergraduate degree. I ran the weekly meetings, recorded progress toward goals, recorded and checked for updates on action items, etc. I did say things like “What are you working on?” and “It’s ok that you missed the meeting, but try to be there for the next one.” Different companies are different. Also, different people are different. I’m working now under someone with more years out of undergrad, and all of them in industry rather than graduate labs, than I had at the time, and he is a shi!tty project manager.

    7. DrunkAtAWedding*

      I’d imagine that depends on the size of the projects being dealt with?

      I used to work as an Operations Manager, and that was managing the day-to-day schedules of technicians visiting customers to keep their broadband working. It was an entry level position and I had no authority over anyone. I just did coordinating, because I was in front of a computer showing all their routes and schedules and they were trying to drive a truck and couldn’t have that info in front of them.

      Around the time I left, they were talking about changing the job title because of exactly this kind of confusion.

    8. Anon and on and on and on*

      Titles can vary. It sounds like in this org, “project manager” is used in a different way than it might be elsewhere. It is kind of a misnomer, but it’s one that seems to be internally consistent, so I wouldn’t get bogged down in insisting that the LW is wrong about how their own workplace functions.

      As another example, I once had a jobs where my title was “System Administrator, [Department] Resources” and consequently people constantly thought I was a sysadmin. (Yes, it was a terrible title but I was very junior and there was really nothing I could do about it.) But despite the fact that in most other contexts, “system administrator” does not mean anything like the low-level technician job I actually had, it was in fact my title and I did not in fact do any actual sysadmin work.

    9. Lily*

      It sounds to me like “project manager” in the OP’s workplace is sort of like “office manager” is in most offices – the person who makes sure the copier is full of paper and pens are stocked and the lights stay on, but not the person who gets to order around the people in the office.

  3. what am I, a farmer?*

    Would it seem less absurd to go to your interim manager if you frame it not as “this guy is annoying me” but as “there’s some confusion about roles and lines of authority on our team and I’m hoping you can help clear it up?” That frames it as a business concern rather than a personality clash, and accounts for the possibility Allison mentioned that there might have been some other miscommunication along the line.

        1. Haven’t picked a user name yet*

          Agreed – my guess is 30 rock. Of course jack is wearing a tuxedo after 6pm. He isn’t a farmer!

          1. Damn it, Hardison!*

            Oh, I forgot about it in 30 Rock! That makes more sense; it’s a pretty random line from Justified, it just happens to be one of my favorites.

        2. what am I, a farmer?*

          yes, 30 Rock! I was using it for our “bad bosses on NBC comedies” thread a few weeks ago and forgot to change it, haha.

    1. LCH*

      agree. it will also help you learn what this guy was told about his job vs. how this job usually operates in case there actually was a difference.

    2. Annie*

      I agree with this approach. It also ties in firmly to what this interim manager/exec’s primary concern is: being the management liaison to make up for the fact that there’s no formal manager.

    3. The New Wanderer*

      I had to do this once with someone who decided to unofficially assume a lead role and came by my desk to grill me about my progress on something. I was decidedly frosty about it, which is not like me at all, and I think it had a lot to do with this guy assuming authority over me that no one had granted him, that I knew about anyway. I mean, if it had been announced, I would have no issues because that’s part of a lead’s role (assuming they handle it more professionally than this guy). In this case I immediately took it up with my actual team lead who assured me the guy was out of line.

      There is always a chance that someone in a new role, with different (and in this case more) experience will have different strategies in how they manage their work. If the scope and/or nature of their role has changed, this should definitely be communicated to everyone to avoid these kinds of misunderstandings.

    4. Forrest*

      I also think it makes sense since this guy IS new— I mean, it’s ok you and the other person who is an established employee trucking along for a few months without a manager, but someone should be looking after the new starters! As much as anything I think you need to do it for the new guy himself, because how absolutely awful to left to drift in a new job and discover you’ve been annoying the heck out of your coworkers because you thought a project manager was a senior title (not unusual!) and you’re actually more like a project coordinator.

      1. Smithy*

        I agree with this – first of all to get clarity, but also, if this guy has a strong disconnect between his perceived seniority of the role and actual seniority….it may really benefit from a more engaged and compassionate management moment.

        As someone who came from another country to the US, trying to assess where I was best placed and what that meant salary wise was imperfect. Even as a native English speaker, ultimately I had no clue what job titles and seniority translated into. Due to international moves and even just ambiguity on job descriptions, I have seen this happen before and it can really demoralize people.

        This isn’t about lying about what the job is, but it’s having a more senior manager take the time to explain the role, the structure of the team, the paths for growth, etc etc etc.

    5. cmcinnyc*

      Your structure sounds a lot like the structure where I work, and yes, people do waltz and decide I’m The Project Manager, especially if they come from a company where that’s a senior title. In construction, it’s a very senior title, but here, it’s entry level. I would skip straight to talking to your for-now manager, not with a complaint but a question: is this guy the boss of me? Because you need to know. If he’s not, then you can let the higher up know what’s been happening in the spirit of “you might want to flag this for whoever you hire to replace Zelda.” But if he is indeed the boss of you, better to find out immediately.

    6. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I think it’s a great idea to go to Interim Manager for clarification of the role’s span of control, and to not lead with her annoyance with the newly hired Project Manager. It’s possible the role was explained appropriately, but the PM heard ‘Manager’ and nothing else. Or it’s possible the interviewing panel assumed everyone had the same understanding of what PMs do, and they didn’t clarifiy. It’s also possible the new PM is doing what he was told to do, and the team was never told.

      Whatever the reason, the misunderstanding needs to be addressed and fixed, and I like WAIAF’s approach.

    7. TootsNYC*

      You might frame this as “making sure there isn’t any confusion for the new person once they start; it could create some conflict and confusion if Project Manager ends up trying to do the same role as the person you hire, if this pattern is allowed to be established. It’ll be unfair to the New Actual Manager–and to the Project Manager as well.”

    8. Sometimes supervisor*

      Agreed having a higher up weigh in would be really helpful. I’m in an industry where job titles are seemingly randomly generated and even a seasoned veteran would be taking an educated guess at what a lot of people’s actual job duties are based on what’s written on their business card alone.

      Basically, I’ve been in many conversations along the lines of “This is/isn’t your job, sometimes supervisor, so you need to do/not do X”, “Actually, my job is…”, “No it isn’t because that’s not how it was before you were promoted/when the last person was here/at my old company”, “I get that but my job still…”. The deadlock has only ever seen broken by a higher up. And it’s not a whingey “Jane keeps bossing me around” issue, it’s a “I’ve been told I should/shouldn’t be taking responsibility for X – can you confirm?” that’s important for doing my job and keeping my team running smoothly.

      I also think it’s important OP keeps an open mind that they *could* be wrong. As Alison notes in the caveat, it could well be that new hire has been hired on a different job description to his predecessor and the message just hasn’t been communicated to the team – so it would be good to get weigh in from a higher up. (One of my most awkward moments was when a manager tried to loudly force me out of a staff meeting because “this isn’t for you – what are you doing here?” – cue an uncomfortable silence after grandboss explained I WAS supposed to be there because I had specifically negotiated being able to attend these meetings as part of a recent promotion and he had happily agreed).

      1. Wut?*

        Wow, that manager sounds like a doooooosh! Even if they were correct, the way they handled it sounds awful. The awkwardness was all on them!

        1. Sometimes supervisor*

          Oh yeah, this wasn’t an isolated incident with this manager and I have a few stories to tell like this from my time working with her (in fairness, she’d probably argue I was just as bad – we just didn’t work very well together and I later learned she was also going through some horrible personal crap which, while not a justification, is at least an explanation).

    9. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      Another agree!

      This muddied reporting line sounds like something the interim manager would want to know about and clarify. The framing @what am I, a farmer? offers is solid and gets at the root issue.

    10. iglwif*

      Strong agree with this! And it really *is* a business concern that there are competing narratives about New Guy’s role, responsibilities, and reporting lines.

      I work in an industry where the same title can mean 25 different things at 15 different organizations, and getting clarification of what THIS org means by it is absolutely key–making assumptions is a straight road to frustration.

      There are so many possibilities here but whichever one is reality, the situation is clearly not working, either for the employees concerned or for the company as a whole, and the interim manager should want to know about that (whereas they are unlikely to appreciate someone coming to them and saying “omg New Guy is so annoying”, no matter how true that may be).

  4. Manana*

    This all seems like normal follow up for a project manager? If he is responsible for setting deadlines and meetings, and ensuring the project meets those deadlines, then saying he is “managing the project” is accurate. I don’t see that he is trying to flex authority here, he seems like a normal PM to me, especially one new to a company and wanting to keep projects on target. Asking people where they’re at on a project, stressing the importance of key stakeholder presence in meetings, making themselves known as a contact for questions, this is part of the job.

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Yeah.

      OP’s company is the one being weird here. If they haven’t informed the new hire that when they say “project manager” they mean “project paperwork gofer and customer contact”, they need to do so ASAP.

      1. Manana*

        Agreed. My read is that whoever made the job description did not realize that Project Manager is a well established, multi-industry role and since they’ve been hiring people with no work experience to fill it, they think they are administrative assistants. This dude is an actual PM with experience and doing what he assumed (rightfully) he was hired to do.

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          It would be interesting to know if there’s a salary mismatch between the ‘junior’ project manager/administrator role as it seems to exist at OPs company, and his expectations and history with salary. I work with both types of project people and there could be a 3x or more difference between them in salary…

          1. Salsa Verde*

            Yes, this is what jumped out to me. I am a PM and the salary is often what I use to determine what the organization sees the job as, since lots of times descriptions really are not specific.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, I’m thinking the salary itself would have made it clear or at least raised questions. I wonder if it’s a situation where he took a big step back because he needed work, but is having trouble adjusting his actions to the reality of the new role.

            1. JB*

              The letter mentions he’s new to the country; I’m guessing he doesn’t yet have a solid expectation of what salary looks like for the kind of PM he was expecting to be in his new home.

          3. Manana*

            I was also wondering about the interview/offer process. Because the PM is from another country, that adds yet another layer of likely mismatch of expectations. Possibly this is a big salary bump for him so would again seem natural to be a more senior position.

            1. Ellie*

              My partner once worked for a company that had trouble filling a very senior level management position because it didn’t pay nearly enough. They ended up hiring a brilliant Russian woman who had been living in Australia for several years, but hadn’t been able to find a job (probably due to discrimination). When she was offered this position, at the very lowest on the already low salary band, she leapt at it.

              I can see this new hire either not understanding how low the salary really is, or else thinking that this is the price they have to pay to get their foot in the door.

            1. Your local password resetter*

              If that’s the first time he sees his salary, then something has gone very wrong in the hiring process.

            2. Rew*

              I’m from northern europe and my pay is about $42k. According to interwebs in the USA someone with junior in the title (compared to my specialist) makes $53k. I can totally see why the salary wouldn’t necessarily ring alarm bells when you move from abroad.

      2. Student*

        It kind of sounds like a Silicon Valley business that decided to give their admins very fancy titles, from OP’s description. The kind of place where I expect somebody carries the title “Network Ninja”, “Code Wizard”, or “HR Rock Star”.

        I know the financial industry also does weird title inflation to try to make clients feel like they’re talking to somebody important, so maybe it’s one of those banks where every junior customer service position is given the title of “Vice President of Clients on the Northwest Side of This Specific Street”.

    2. TheGingerGinger*

      I would also suggest that your company look at renaming this role, if it’s truly no a senior level position. Everywhere I’ve ever worked a project manager is a leadership role. It’s one that requires specialized training and is not something that would be filled by an entry-level employee. Like, there are certification courses and things for it and it generally requires a lot of time and money investment to get into. Something like Project Coordinator maybe? Because at least in my industry, a Project Manager is something very specific, so it seems like an easy way to confuse job seekers. I’m not surprised this hire is trying to manage team members time and output.

      1. Cringing 24/7*

        I think Project Manager being a leadership role vs being a more entry-level role may be a regional or corporate/cultural issue. I live in the southern US and everywhere I’ve worked Project Manager has been as OP described – entry-level. The PM would then report to a VP of (whatever department the project covers), and they did, indeed take ownership of the project’s moving parts and deadline, but in no way had any sort of leadership role over people.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          My current client isn’t in the banking industry, but has a similar org structure. Almost all professional and technical hires get the title of Assistant Vice President in addition to their functional title (Director of Underwater Basket Weaving, Central Region).

          Some non-leader/manager new hires misunderstand the AVP title in spite of clear explanations. It’s not an easy discussion to have, but their direct supervisors remind them they can’t change policy or assign work to people on another team just because they have a VP title. Because they don’t, and the person they’re bossing around has the same title. Sigh.

        2. fhqwhgads*

          This confuses me more, since where I’ve worked a VP is at least five levels above entry level and wouldn’t have an entry level person reporting to them.
          That said, I don’t really think this is a regional thing within the US. A lot of folks are referring to this: https://www.pmi.org/
          Not that every professional project manager is working toward a PMP certification etc, but when people are saying “Project Manager has a specific meaning and certifications associated with”, that’s what they mean. I’m sure there are places like you’re mentioning and OP is mentioning where it’s used to mean something else, but I strongly agree with everyone saying using that title to mean not that sort of role is going to be VERY confusing to a lot of applicants. More than not, I’d imagine.

        3. L*

          I’m in the UK where Project Management has a defined government mandated structure called PRINCE2. (Am currently studying for my quals). I’m just as confused as everyone else!

    3. all good*

      In one of my first jobs out of college, I was called a Project Manager but it was more of a Project Coordinator job. I think that’s what OP is talking, especially since they called position “bottom of the rung”

    4. I should really pick a name*

      It sounds like he’s a project manager, but the OP’s projects are not among the ones that he’s managing.

    5. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Yes, unless he is trying to approve time off or keep track of general work hours (unless they are tracked for billing purposes), all of this presented seems to be project managing. It is passive phrasing, “what are you working on?” rather than “have you finished the TPS report?” but he might be trying to see if his project is on track. Even if the company has redefined the role to be more senior, she and her coworkers wouldn’t necessarily report directly to him, but they should report on the projects. That might chafe a bit if you’re accustomed to the position being entry-level.

      1. twocents*

        I agree. I think it’s weird that they have project managers that aren’t allowed to manage the project… how do the project managers know the project is on track if “how is x progressing?” is an inherently offensive question?

    6. Professional Nag*

      Yeah, agreed. The letter writer needs to check in with whoever they know to be aware of why and how this guy was hired and clear it up with them, because on one end or the other of this someone has their wires crossed and it’s impossible to tell who’s wrong about his role.

      I’ll say, with my last PM job, this kind of constant nagging of all involved parties is exactly what they wanted me to do. I thought it was BS, personally, because I would not like to receive that type of oversight, but it’s how they wanted their PMs to operate. I had to have updates from everyone involved on projects multiple times a week, and if I didn’t have those every-other-day updates and meetings with all my misc stakeholders at least once a week (sometimes more!) I would get scolded and told to immediately get the update or schedule the meeting. I would venture to guess that this new PM has had similar experiences. What I don’t know, however, is whether or not this is what he has been asked to do at the LW’s company.

  5. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Here’s how I’ve handled these personalities in the past:

    Him: what are you working on?
    Me: a variety of things.
    Him: like what?
    Me: I’ll discuss in the next staff meeting. See you then!

    Him: how are you doing on project x?
    Me: fine. How are you doing on project y?

    Him: It’s okay you missed the meeting, but try to be there next time.
    Me: I manage my own schedule but thanks!

    Him: let’s get a meeting scheduled to discuss your project with the rest of the staff.
    Me: I’m good, but if you do have one, please send me the notes.

    Him: do you need to discuss project A?
    Me: nope. [silence]

    This same turd used to go to everyone’s cube every morning for a “check in.” I was either intentionally on the phone listening to the movie times and practicing my signature or I was getting coffee. Also I don’t drink coffee, which everyone in the office knew.

    1. Witch*

      I think this would be okay if you both were laterally positioned within different departments, but sometimes a project manager actually does need to facilitate things like team meetings.

      Some of these blow-offs would be fine once or twice if you were on deadline. But a consistent stream of this is just throwing a wrench into the workflow because someone’s attitude is rubbing you the wrong way.

      1. Witch*

        In thinking about it, it’s really about tone. Because even a junior people could frame, “Hello, it was suggested that I organize a staff meeting to go over your project. Can I get some time on your calendar?” As more open and respectful than coming down as a directive.

        1. Elle*

          Eh, I set up meetings all the time at which I’m the most junior member of staff, and I see no reason to kowtow to people about them. If they don’t think these meetings are something they need to do, that’s for them to take up with their line manager. These are necessary meetings, and I’m not going to waste both of our time by pretending that the meeting is optional.

          Even with our vice-principal, the tone is “when suits you”, rather than “is it ok if I put this meeting in”.

      2. HereKittyKitty*

        Yeah if someone’s job is to be a project manager you’d be… directly impeding their job by replying like this. It’s one thing if it’s just a casual coworker being uptight, but if it’s someone whose job is to check in on projects, your work, schedule meetings, etc then this would be a huge problem.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          It comes across as very combative and adversarial to me; everywhere I have worked, an employee would have to be literally laying golden eggs to get away with it.

      3. Koalafied*

        Yeah, “I manage my own schedule” in response to anyone at my company following up on a key player who missed a project meeting would be taken as extremely hostile. If someone was asking about a meeting they didn’t run, that would be weird, but if they’re the person who scheduled and led the meeting then it’s absolutely their prerogative to know whether a key team member is going to show up to meetings.

        If it was a really junior person asking a really senior person they might be more supplicating in their language but it would still be completely within their scope to say something like, “It’s too bad you weren’t able to make today’s meeting. I know you’re so busy – is there a time I could move the meeting to that would make it easier for you to attend, or would it help if we frontloaded the stuff relevant to you at the beginning of the meeting so you can leave once we don’t need you anymore?” Showing a lot of deference but still ultimately trying to underscore the point that the whole team really needs to be there as close to 100% of the time as possible for the project to go smoothly. Even a VP would be widely seen as a nasty crank if he responded with, “I manage my own schedule” to some poor coordinator just trying to corral all their cats and get a project over the finish line.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        If they are a project manager or peer with a clear need-to-know, that makes sense. But it sounds like Snarkus had the same experience I mentioned in another thread, with someone who just took it upon themselves to act as a lead (or supervisor or manager) without the actual authority, need, or approval to do so.

        1. Anoni*

          Right, but in this case it’s not entirely clear if that’s what’s happening. I’m beginning to think perhaps the OP isn’t sure what the new person’s role is with no manager on site rather than it being multiple layers of miscommunication starting with the salary and job description, continuing in the interview and offer, and persisting through the hiring on process and training.

      2. hbc*

        Think of the difference between the way you would follow up with your boss versus your employee, or how you might follow up with the customer if you’re a project manager. There is a way to get status updates or to talk about the impact of absences when you have responsibility for tracking/coordinating but no authority, and “Try to be there on time” is not it.

        1. TechWorker*

          Ok you can add more deference (‘last week we ran over, it would be great if everyone can try to be on time next week!’ Vs ‘be on time’ for eg)… but you *can* make requests like that without formal authority over the people in the meeting. And if you’re the one scheduling and running the meeting… that’s totally reasonable!! Like I probably wouldn’t literally tell my boss they should be on time but that is not a direct comparison even with a junior PM.

        2. Snarkus Aurelius*

          This. If you’re not my boss, do not act as though you are.

          Fake it all you want but you will never make it.

        3. Koalafied*

          The quote was actually, “Try to be there next time,” which comes off totally different from, “To to be there on time.” I agree that a senior leader’s punctuality is not for a junior staffer to criticize. Scolding the guy over being late is totally different from trying to get him to come to the meeting at all. Lateness can be accommodated but if he’s not there, he’s not there.

          1. hbc*

            Even “Try to be there next time” is way too order-like for me. I would never say that to my boss or even a colleague. “We covered X and Y which are hard to move past without you” or “We have some fairly big decisions to make in the next meeting which I think you’d want to weigh in on, unless you want to delegate,” or even “Can you be there next time?”

            1. Yorick*

              Also, “it’s ok you missed the meeting” is too “supervisor-y” for me if I don’t need this person’s permission to attend or not attend meetings.

      3. Working*

        I think the real issue here is that “project manager” at this company means “project assistant.” The person who’s actually the head of the project should be doing that, not this guy. On one hand, I really feel for him because it sounds like there was some miscommunication/lack of clarity that I wouldn’t fault him for – but on the other hand, has he not noticed that the other people working on this project are more experienced than him and it wouldn’t make sense for him to be in charge?

    2. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

      This is fine for a busybody, but he has good reason to think that his questions are within the scope of his job. It’s fine for OP’s company to expect less managing from him, but if he starts getting passive aggressive responses without anyone telling him “hey, the title is project manager but we’re really expecting performance more in line with what would typically be done by a project coordinator,” then this poor guy who thinks he’s doing what he’s supposed to do is going to be confused and demoralized by why his coworkers are acting so cold with him.

      1. Sometimes supervisor*

        This. These scripts are fine if OP is 100% sure the new hire is trying to act with authority he doesn’t have AND is 100% sure they know this (or has at least had this spelt out for them so they should know this) but persists anyway AND higher up manager has spoken to them/decided they’re not interested in this/is definitely unapproachable on this. But, until those three are ticked off the checklist, it’s going to come off as needlessly hostile.

    3. LTR/FTP*

      In my former career as a PM, I worked with several personalities that would talk down to me like this when I was just doing my job. It made my job SO MUCH HARDER. Some people just tend to look down their nose at project management and consider PMs annoying people that don’t actually do any work. It’s very disrespectful to treat PMs like that, and good luck making any money on projects or getting them done on time without PMs. I don’t do PM anymore, but I’ll never again work for management that doesn’t respect and support the PM role.

      When a project is a success, the team gets all the credit. When it’s a failure, the PM gets all the blame. It is a VERY difficult role when you aren’t given authority over the team.

  6. Lacey J*

    This new hire sounds like he’s doing actual project management to me. This is normal behavior and normal questions for traditional project managers. PMs need to know what people are working on and how far along they are in order to inform their stakeholders on how the overall project is going. It’s possible the new PM is a jerk and is being more pushy than they need to be, but all of the quotes in the OP’s letter sound like something I’d expect a PM to say.

    (I am a project manager, PMP certified and have been working in project management for 6 years)

    1. Kassie*

      Agreed. I’m also a PM and it sounds like they found a good one. And maybe they are being a “jerk” because they aren’t getting the info they need and are getting frustrated. I wonder if the new employee was hired because they want a real PM to do real PM work and just hasn’t notified everyone else.

      1. Another PMP*

        This is my take on it – something similar happened to me once. I was hired as a professional PM but the person I replaced was an admin level project coordinator. My boss (who was new to his role too) was trying to improve outcomes by hiring someone with a PMP cert but the rest of the office wasn’t on board with me having the nerve to ask them for things and we both left within a year. It was really frustrating not being able to get what I needed to complete projects on time and to be treated like an annoyance for even trying!

        I feel for the PM in this situation, he’s just trying to keep his projects on schedule!

        1. princessxena*

          I think that whichever he’s been hired for, OP’s higher-ups seem to have dropped the ball. Either it’s an entry level project coordinator position and this guy wasn’t told about it, or he has actually been hired into a leadership position and the higher-ups haven’t informed OP and the rest of the team. There’s always the possibility that he was told it was a junior position and is ignoring it, but in that case there should still be some sort of interim manager present to clear things up.

        2. Name Required*

          I had a similar experience being hired for a professional PM role that included managing the people doing the work, something they had never had in their structure before — they were a very small company with no formal management, and their outcomes showed it. I started job searching after a technical resource screamed in my face because I politely and calmly asked him the status on an overdue change that we’d promised to deliver. He couldn’t deal with having deadlines after years of having none.

      2. Underrated Pear*

        I’m not a PM, but that’s how I read this as well. I feel like I’m seeing a lot of assumptions that the guy has an attitude problem (and maybe there are aspects he needs to work on, yes), but if you genuinely thought that your work entailed being on top of all these components, and everyone you worked with was treating you with contempt for trying to be on top of them… that would be pretty off-putting.

        I feel like there are 3 possibilities here:
        1. He’s got an attitude problem. The role was made clear to the guy before he was hired, but he didn’t listen and is overstepping.
        2. The role wasn’t properly explained to him, so this *experienced project manager* understandably assumed that he was expected to do regular project management things and is confused as to why he can’t seem to get necessary information out of the other employees.
        3. The company actually does want the role to take on more of a normal “Project Manager” type of authority going forward and has neglected to inform the other employees of this change.

        I feel like #2 and #3 are both at least as likely as #1, and if either of those is true, my sympathy is with the new guy! I do feel like the LW needs to ask higher-ups about this, but their framing should definitely be “can you clear this up?” rather than “this guy’s a problem.” (And by framing, I don’t just mean framing the language to be diplomatic… I mean genuinely try to extend the benefit of the doubt.)

    2. Emily*

      Even “It’s okay you missed the meeting, but try to be there next time”? If you’re not managing someone, that’s a weird thing to say. Maybe, “at the next meeting you’re presenting, so I wanted to make sure you you’d be able to make it” ,or “if this time doesn’t isn’t going to work for I’d like to find one that does.” But if someone is more senior (or even at the same level), I’d be coming at this from ‘how do we make this work for the project’ not telling them what to do.

      1. Wisteria*

        Depends on the company. In my industry, it can happen that a project lead can have people who are senior to them on their project team. Depending on how senior, “try to be there next time” would be perfectly acceptable. The more senior one is, the more demands on one’s time there are, so the tone and wording of “try to be there next time” would have be adjusted based on how many directions that person is being pulled in.

    3. someone*

      Even so, PMs usually don’t ask “what are you doing?”. They know which piece of the puzzle you’re working on and ask about just that, not everything. This might be sloppy wording. When my PM asks how things are going, they’re really asking “how are things you’re doing for my project are going”. The PM may be trying to ask this but has poor word choices.

      1. PT*

        It could also be the LW didn’t transcribe what he said exactly, either, and transcribed what she heard. We all know that people sometimes don’t always hear what was actually said, especially if there’s a crossed wire (like, “That is not your job Fergus stop asking me questions.”)

      2. Sometimes supervisor*

        I also wonder if this is a tone/wording choice issue. I’m a project, but not people, manager. I would ask people what they are working on – but it’s in the context that I’ve just had an urgent piece of work land on my desk (or am expecting something like that to happen in the not too distant future) and I need to know what capacity we have in the team.

        Likewise, I wouldn’t tell my boss or grandboss “It’s okay you missed the meeting, but try to be there next time”. But I might say something like “I noticed you weren’t in the weekly teapots team meeting. I actually had something on the agenda that I was hoping to get input from you, Jane and Fergus on. Will you be in next week’s meeting or shall I schedule something for the next few days?”

        1. Yorick*

          In that situation, “do you have time to take on a new ticket?” or whatever would be way more useful than “what are you working on?” And it wouldn’t come off as badly either.

      3. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

        I’ve definitely asked “what are you working on” in my role as a PM before. My team would have several projects and I would want to know which of the ten they’re currently working on so I can help them reprioritize if they’re working on the fun one instead of the one due next. I was not their boss, and in fact lower in the hierarchy than some of them, but that was part of my job as the PM – managing priorities for the team.

      4. LTR/FTP*

        In an Agile environment it’s pretty common for PMs to ask DAILY “What have you done since we last spoke, what are you doing next, and do you have any blockers?”.

        1. Yorick*

          It doesn’t sound like this is done in OP’s environment, or that it’s this person’s job to do it.

    4. KuklaRed*

      A lot depends on the industry. In my industry project managers operate pretty much how the OP describes it. They do not manage any people, but they do monitor the work happening on the projects, the communications with the clients, etc. The people management is left to the directors (like me) or the senior directors. It would be pretty odd and very out of scope for a pm in my company to go around asking other people what they were working on or to admonish them for not attending a meeting.

      1. Ele4phant*

        Hmm. I’m a people manager and I also manage projects (and there are people more junior to me that only manage projects).

        But, if you’re managing projects, you do manage people within the narrow confines of your projects. And that very well may include managing up to ensure the lead is engaging when they should. I don’t know that I’d ever suggest admonishing someone senior to you, but absolutely a good PM should be pushy about getting what they need from people above them.

        And, I can also see a PM reaching out to an associate or even another PM about what’s going on, just so they have a sense of what resources are available or that are needed for other projects over their own so if necessary they can juggle things around. So that doesn’t strike me as odd either.

        I do trust the LW to be accurate in her recounting, but I can absolutely see a mismatch of expectations and the new PM isn’t “wrong” for assuming what his duties are, his new employer just didn’t do a good job of clarifying what his role was actually supposed to be.

    5. LTL*

      We should trust the OP. They know the expectations of the PM best. This isn’t the first one on their team.

      1. Alex*

        This is not the problem however. I’m sure OP knows what it means at his company, but when communicating with someone outside that bubble, you can’t state “the sky is green” and expect people to agree yes, the sky is green. I and most others think that OPs company did hire someone for a role that is different than what they named it, and did a poor job explaining that difference (or there was some other communication problem in the way), and the fact that the actual manager left during the process and has still not been backfilled has not helped as the only person that “might” have known is know gone.

        Basically, OP operates on the insider knowledge on how their company operates with that title, and the PM – an outsider – operates on the institutional knowledge on how much of the rest of the world operates with that title. These two clash, and there should have been someone higher in the foodchain getting involved much earlier than this mail was ever drafted.

        1. Yorick*

          Yes, OP can say that the “sky” at their company is “green.” They’ve seen their “sky” while none of us have, so they know it better than we do.

  7. Nesprin*

    I am baffled by the idea of a ‘project manager’ who doesn’t oversee other people’s work. OP, does your company does weird things with titles (sanitation engineer== janitor e.g.)?

    1. Gerry Keay*

      Project managers do oversee other people’s work and I think that’s the case with this letter — but project managers focus on the work product rather than on employee management. Personally I think what LW has described is within the realm of normal for a project manager, but PMs don’t have hiring or firing power.

      1. Govt Contractor*

        It really depends on the project/program and the company/field- what you’re describing sounds more like a product manager to me. Certified PMP with 8 years experience as a PM and another 5 working as an SBO and hiring, firing, managing, and PIPs were definitely within scope for my role.

        1. So they all rolled over*

          As a software engineer, every place I’ve ever worked that had any kind of PM (be it product or project manager), I did not report to them and they couldn’t fire me. If they didn’t think I was doing my job they could go to my actual manager (usually a Software Engineering Manager) and try to convince them to fire me, put me on a PIP, whatever.

          What’s an SBO?

          1. Can Can Cannot*

            They might not have been able to fire someone directly, but I have fired people on my team because the PM (someone I trusted implicitly) recommended it. The PM was responsible for delivering the project, and if someone on my team was able to help do that, their job was at risk.

            1. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

              Yes, but they still had to do some level of convincing, even if it wasn’t a lot because you trusted the PM more than the employee.

        2. Gerry Keay*

          Interesting. I work tech-adjacent so my experience of project managers probably is a lot closer to product managers!

      2. Ele4phant*

        Our firm has lots of short, fast turn around projects and it is typical to be working on multiple projects at once, with different teams. It can be hard to have the eagle eyed view of what demands are on your other team members and how one of your own projects might need to be prioritized or reconfigured unless you ask other people what they have going on.

        It’s less about “I’m dictating to you what you should be doing peer/person I don’t manage myself” and more “Hey my thing has a hard deadline coming up trying to figure out if I have available what I need to make that happen or if your project demands are going to create a resource jam we may need to figure out how to fix together.”

    2. Jamie Starr*

      At ex-job we had multiple project managers. Their job was to oversee the installation of large scale artworks in non-museum settings – the art/exhibition was the “project.” Their responsibilities ranged from managing the fabrication of a new commission to overseas shipping of a pre-existing work to repair/restoration, and always included the installation/de-installation. They did not manage or supervise other employees at the company (unless they were a Senior PM or the dept. head), but of course they did have to manage the hiring, scheduling, pricing, etc. for the independent contractors (e.g. fabricators, shippers, engineers, etc.).

    3. The Rural Juror*

      In my teeny tiny company, all project managers manage the moving pieces outside of our company (material purchasing, communicating with vendors, logistics, etc) but do not manage each other. The other positions in the company are office manager and controller, but they’re on the same level as the PMs. The only person with actual authority over anyone is the owner/president. We have weekly staff meetings where we discuss projects and let the controller know what’s coming down the pipeline for accounts payable. It would be extremely odd for any one of us to act as if we have authority over anyone else and tell them they shouldn’t miss meetings. It would also be strange for anyone to try to manage someone else’s workload unless it was because we were covering each other’s vacations.

      We each have multiple clients and accounts to handle, but the only overlap we have with other PMs is when we get together and discuss vendors and help each other succeed.

    4. hbc*

      I think it’s like the title Office Manager–you’re (usually) not really in charge of the office, you’re responsible for smoothing things out in the office. I’ve worked in a Big Pharma company where PMs were pretty much as the OP describes.

      1. serenity*

        My former workplace had an entry level “Program Manager” titled role that was essentially a Coordinator position. I’m not sure if new hires were confused by it (not that I’m aware of) as the job responsibilities and salary were quite clearly junior.

        I think Alison is right when she says that way too many people are questioning or correcting the OP. It’s not unheard of for certain junior-level roles to have “manager” in the title (as counter-intuitive as that may be) and it’s probably not helpful to her to constantly have to push back against this.

  8. I edit everything*

    It sounds like in OP’s organization, the project manager position is mis-titled and is more of an admin/traffic cop/project assistant role, rather than a management role. I did this kind of thing when I was an editorial assistant–my boss had all the authority, but I would track submissions and assignments for that giant book project, send out contracts and file pay requests, shuttle those submissions to the appropriate volume editor, etc. I didn’t have any authority to go to the volume editors and inquire about their work or their presence at a meeting. That was my boss’s role.

    LW sounds like they’re roughly equivalent to my volume editors, and their new coworker is in a role similar to mine.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        I work for a tiny company and most of us are project manager/coordinators. We each have multiple clients/accounts we handle, but we don’t manage other people within the organization. We manage everything outside of our organization such as purchasing materials from vendors, logistics, scheduling, and delivery the products.

        It would be very strange for any of us to try to manage another person. The only employee with any seniority over anyone is the owner/president. I can understand why you would think your coworker is way out of line!

      2. Another PMP*

        Then this problem is really not too small to take to management – if the PM role in your org is actually supposed to more of an assistant/support job, you’d be doing everyone a favor (including this PM) to get that clarified. If the role has changed, you all need to know that. And if it hasn’t, he needs to know that so he can either adjust his expectations of his team or find a job that is a better fit.

      3. Alex*

        Then this really is on your company and not the new PM – he is doing what he thinks is his job, and in most other companies, he would be totally right.

        You can’t hire a senior Project Manager and then expect him to do junior Project Coordinator work just because your company is using the wrong title for the position – and I think nobody told him either when he was interviewing, or he most likely wouldn’t have taken the Job.

        It’s the same in my field (IT) – I’ve seen people trying to hire for “Head of IT” or “Director of IT Operations” or whatever fancy title they have had, and when talking to them, they still expected you to man the Helpdesk!.

        1. BeenThere*

          Oh they totally can, “other duties” it’s very common in technology. There are plenty of extremely experienced and skilled engineers that get paid very well yet when they join big company X they are stuck going level grunt work in the support side of software a billion miles away from building new things.

      4. Can Can Cannot*

        In that case, do you have someone else who manages the projects? Who is responsible for tracking overall project progress and milestones? That’s typically what a PM does, and if you hired someone who expected to be a PM, they need to know this and be given a chance to find a real PM job.

        1. LilyP*

          My understanding is that the project manager would keep track of the deadlines and milestones, but escalate via their boss if something is going off track or someone on another team isn’t delivering, rather than having the authority to handle it directly or dish out warnings or consequences.

          1. Pushy Project Manager*

            But how can they track deadlines without checking in on progress with the people doing the work? How can they distribute the workload if they can’t ask about what else is going on in peoples’ workloads external to the project? I can understand having PM as a junior role (I’m pretty junior in my own org, no one reports to me and most of my project team are higher than me on the org chart) but in order to perform the basic functions they still need to be able to talk to people without getting stonewalled!

            1. Name Required*

              Yeah, I think this is what confused me about this letter. I can accept that this person has no authority over their peers, but if their role is to track progress, set deadlines, and be client-facing for the project, how are they supposed to do that well without ever asking about the projects? This new person has asked directly about project status (“constant messages asking how we’re doing on projects”), attempted to get information by asking general questions (“What are you working on?”), scheduled meetings that people aren’t showing up to in order to get information (“It’s okay you missed the meeting, but try to be there next time”), and correctly communicated his role to clients in order to get the feedback he needs from them (“I’m managing this project.”)

              Like, how do people in this role normally get the information they need for their jobs? Telepathy?

              1. OP*

                We have deadlines, and I never miss them. So him checking on how I’m doing is something I bristled at because in our culture, you wouldn’t check unless the deadline was missed. He was asking me how I’m doing on a project weeks before it was even due.

                1. Name Required*

                  If no one ever misses deadlines and it’s offensive to ask about project status in the company culture, why do y’all even have a project coordinator? What do they do all day?

                2. LTR/FTP*

                  It’s the project manager’s responsibility to deliver the project on time, though. No decent project manager is just going to sit back and hope everyone just delivers their part on time, without checking in on progress. I can see after you’ve worked together a while you might develop some level of trust, but a new employee doesn’t know yet that you’re reliable. You need to prove yourself to him. No PM wants to be left holding the bag, explaining to their bosses and their clients that the work didn’t get done on time because they “just assumed” Wakeen was going to turn his part in promptly. OF COURSE he asked before it was due. That’s the job.

            2. Yorick*

              I think there’s a big difference between questions like “what are you working on?” and questions like, “this has come up, do you have time to take it on?” or “the deadline for you to submit x is next Friday, does that still seem workable?” There’s a big difference between “it’s ok that you missed the meeting this time, but try to attend in the future” and “we’ll need your input on these agenda items, so will you be able to attend next Tuesday’s meeting or do I need to reschedule it?”

  9. Eldritch Office Worker*

    I have so many questions. What did the job description say? What was the hiring process like? If this is an entry level role in this country was it not odd that someone would be “seasoned” in that role? Would people not generally move up and out of it?

    If the new worker came from the US, Project Manager is a big role and his resume would reflect that. This wasn’t a flag to anyone? Was this guy trained? Again nothing ever came up? ?? ? How did we get here?

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      I want to know how we got here too. The biggest thing for me ” he’s ordered higher-ups around (“It’s okay you missed the meeting, but try to be there next time”).”
      What/how did the higher up react? Didn’t they say anything to him?

      I can see 2 ways that have happened. The job description was basic and in interviewing him they asked him if he was ok with taking a more entry-level job and the guy said he was. I can especially see this since the guy is coming from another country. Depending on visa status, etc, he may have been desperate for any job. Now he is in the role he is just doing what he normally would do or thinks he can take over.

      The second scenario is that the company did hire him with more experience for a reason. Perhaps they knew that the other person was leaving, they saw that he had this experience and so they have changed the job description. And they just forgot to let anyone know, new guy thought that this was how it always was or that the team new.

      I partly want the OP to talk with him and find out what his thinking is. But if he has been given more authority than the PM normally would have, this might backfire. I think the best thing would be to go straight to whomever is overlooking the department at this time. Frame it as “has PM role changed to have more authority. We find that new guy seems to be doing more X which is more managerial than the previous PM’s. He also has a lot more experience than out other PM’s have had.”

    2. Haus of Panda*

      My partner has been getting entry level jobs since he graduated with his masters 5 years ago. He always gets into a role where there is no room for advancement and when he tries to move on he applies for the job he wants the “next level up” and they say “you don’t have the experience we are looking for, but you do have enough experience for this entry level role so let’s hire you for that instead.” And it’s almost always a pay cut. This is the reality. Experienced people get hired in entry level roles all day every day.

      1. Daisy*

        Why would he ‘move on’ if it’s not a step up in either title or pay? That seems like a weird tactic.

    3. Mental Lentil*

      Yep, I’m wondering about the job description, as well.

      I realize that no job description is perfect (and most of them always include that mysterious CYA line of “Other duties as assigned”), but I would think that his job description would indicate who he is answerable to, what his main duties are, and what his measurables are. A well-written job description can really head off a lot of these issues.

  10. HR Demon*

    Also not unimportant, this person moved from another country. There might be cultural differences at play here as well.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      They almost certainly are – OP or Alison I know we’re protecting anonymity but some general idea regarding the countries at play could be a huge help.

      1. Eden*

        It doesn’t really matter though, since it doesn’t affect what OP should do. Whether the job description was bad or it was a cultural misunderstanding or something about the interview doesn’t change the current situation.

    2. L*

      I mentioned above I’m in the UK and Project Management is a Whole Thing here. We have PRINCE2 which is an official framework for managing projects, and a PM has a lot of responsibilities. I’m very new to the whole thing (studying for the quals ATM) so I also wonder where OP is and where PM moved from.

  11. I'm A Little Teapot*

    In my experience, project managers do have a certain amount of authority. What this guy is doing doesn’t sound too far out line for that version of the job. There’s a lot more to effective and good project management than the administrative grunt work of meeting scheduling. Someone fresh out of school isn’t going to have the experience to do the higher level work.

    I would really think about if they realized they were missing a good chunk of what project managers could do and are trying to fix that.

    1. quill*

      I think OP also might not know what kind of authority the project manager needs to coordinate the project – i.e. setting deadlines for other people, having the final signature… This could be why they hired a much more senior person rather than an entry level person, they realized they need someone to actually exercise their authority

      1. The Rural Juror*

        If that’s the case, then it should have been communicated to everyone before the new employee was brought on. Alison makes a good point by saying it may have been fumbled by the exiting manager…

  12. SlimeKnight*

    It sounds like this guy has accurately assessed that there is a leadership vacuum and has taken it upon himself to act like the new boss, with the assumption that he will…become the new boss. So I would assume he is auditioning for your old boss’ job.

  13. Tammy*

    Definitely confirm that he wasn’t hired for a higher role than previous project managers. We had a similar situation and found out, to our dismay, that we were wrong in our assumption. It was quite embarrassing to our team when we learned the truth.

    1. Ama*

      I actually wonder if what’s happened here is that they brought in this senior project manager role to be different from the regular project manager role and because OP’s current boss left, the senior management didn’t realize no one ever talked to OP and her colleagues about how the senior role was different and how they saw the workflow changing (or didn’t actually think through that part which I’ve also unfortunately seen happen before).

      I worked at a grad school once where they hired someone to replace the in house IT person we’d had before (we were far off main campus so it was hard to get main campus IT out in a timely manner). Senior management told the admin staff and faculty “this person is replacing Wakeen for IT.” They told the guy they hired “yeah you’ll do some limited IT support but mostly you should spend your time on this cool digital research project we want you to do.” It was an absolute disaster — new guy thought he was within his boundaries to tell someone “oh, I don’t have time to come hook you up to the network printer right now maybe next week?” current staff and faculty were confused and frustrated because Wakeen was always immediately available, and everyone was mad at everyone else.

    2. Mephyle*

      In these situations, the employees are dismayed and embarrassed because they weren’t given the information, not because they behaved badly given the information they had.

      And the higher-ups who failed to give them this vital information? Not dismayed and embarrassed at all, perhaps even miffed at their employees for causing trouble and not understanding the situation.

  14. PJS*

    I’m not sure what country OP is in, but I’m in the US and I definitely do not consider a project manager an entry level position. All of the project managers I’ve ever worked with are much higher than bottom rung and while they may not have hiring/firing authority or be officially designated as someone’s manager, they absolutely can act as a person’s manager as it relates to whatever project they are managing. If anyone is off-base here, it seems like OP’s company, not the employee who may have thought he was being hired for a more senior-level role.

  15. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    It might just be the pot I’m being boiled in, but variations on “what are you working on?” are really mundane questions here. CSR’s ask it all the time, usually trying to figure out where this most recent request should fit into the queue and make sure it’s on my radar to be triaged and prioritized in a timely manner.

    The guy sounds annoying and his bedside manner sounds like a 0/10, but after that he sounds like a lot of new grads I’ve been around that knew everything when entering the workforce.

    1. Minerva*

      I’ve even had new grad interns ask what I’m working on, if they have time and want to learn about some areas.

      What are you working on?
      Oh, I’m getting started on the llama network protocol.
      Can you add me as a reviewer so I can take a look and maybe get some ideas for the alpaca localization?

  16. awesome3*

    I would definitely listen to Alison’s caveat! I was once hired into a role, but the person I was replacing was the boss, so everyone assumed I was the boss, though I was told I was not. None of the others were filled in about that change! So that could have happened to y’all in reverse

    1. HereKittyKitty*

      I just backfilled a role that had its scope changed significantly. With the former employee, much of the scope was “updating the website and proposing changes” my scope is significantly larger, more UX focused, and creating SOP for people in our own department and others. I imagine if someone didn’t know that, it may be alarming that this new person is storming in and telling you to start doing your work in a different way, but that was literally what I was hired to do. I would definitely advise OP to inquire about whether or not the role has changed.

    2. Gloucesterina*

      Whaa? So there was no new boss? Or the boss position was filled by a second person who was never announced to the team?

  17. Mike*

    To Alison’s point… if you go to the exec and complain, you better be damned sure about what your role is and what the new hire’s role is supposed to be, and you’d better be sure he’s truly acting inappropriately given his job description, because if you’re wrong, it’s a huge egg on your face. You do NOT want the exec’s response to be “… is that not how you perform your role? What else are you doing wrong”?

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      I wouldn’t go and complain, rather just ask clarifying question. With X manager gone is the new PM taking over their roll or part of the management? The staff are confused because there hasn’t been any communication yet PM does X

    2. Haus of Panda*

      I don’t think they have egg on their face. This should have been communicated to them. I’m not an exec but if somebody comes to me with wrong information and they are angry because it is causing issues, I’m not going to blame them. I am going to be asking around to figure out who didn’t do their job and tell them about the change and I don’t care how senior I have to go to figure out how this miscommunication happened.

      I had to do something similar today only on a much smaller scale. A new employee (internal hire) started teaching other staff (my staff) how to use a system they are not authorized to use in our area. In other areas they are allowed to use it, and she came from one of those areas. It caused a lot of confusion and chaos. I was not mad at her for trying to teach them because her supervisor (I am not her direct supervisor) did not tell her. It became my problem when it confused my staff and you’d better believe it got sorted.

  18. HereKittyKitty*

    Obviously, OP is an expert about how their company functions, but I really agree with the caveat at the end. To me this just sounds like… normal project manager behavior? “Constant messages” really depends on what you’re used to, but when I had project managers in the past they would check in at least daily (like in a standup) in the morning and sometimes more often if there was a very large project entering end stages. I also don’t see messages checking in on what you’re working on as an attempt to manage you… unless he’s responding to your messages with specific directions like telling you to stop working on one thing in favor of another. It might be presumptuous to tell a higher-up to try and make a meeting next time, but it doesn’t seem like he’s “ordering them around” as described and for all we know, the higher-ups may have requested he hold them accountable when necessary.

    Based on the letter, I’m not really seeing this new guy acting as if he was your boss and ordering people around. It just seems like he’s on top of his work and is doing more frequent check-ins than you’re used to. But based on my experience, it doesn’t seem particularly different than any other project manager I’ve worked with. (I have also been an unofficial project manager for projects and have behaved similarly and even gave instructions and deadlines to higher-ups!)

    HOWEVER regardless of what I’m used to, if it’s outside the company norm, it can be worth addressing. You may inquire about whether or not the role has changed recently. You may also kindly inform the new project manager that the amount of check-ins is distracting and request maybe a once-a-week check-in instead.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      This is what I was thinking too though I’m wondering if OP and her colleagues work on multiple projects that all have different project managers or if they are solely working on this project. If it’s the former, then I think saying something like “Oh, I’m not working on the Teapot project today. My understanding is that I need to turn in the designs by Friday. Is that correct?”

      If it’s the latter, then… it sounds like this dude’s job relies on the OP and others doing their jobs to be successful so, yeah, he has every right to ask about their progress.

    2. Maybe I'm project-ing*

      It’s wild to me that most people don’t think they have to go to meetings about projects they are working on if they don’t feel like it.

      As someone who works very hard not to be pushed into project management: this is why projects don’t get done, y’all. If everyone plays hot potato with tasks, ignores deadlines, and decides the person organizing things is beneath them, of course stuff is in eternal limbo.

  19. AnotherSarah*

    You don’t say who hired this person–maybe it was your boss who left–but it does seem like getting clarification from them, or HR, would be important. Or looking at the job description or job ad?

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      It would definitely help to know who did the hiring and see what the job description was. There’s no other way to know what the new guy was told. Is he doing what he was told he was supposed to do, or is he just doing what he *thinks* he should be doing to prove himself?

  20. Phil*

    I think a firm, “You’re not my boss!” will suffice. Unless, of course, he is actually your boss.

    1. Pumpkin215*

      I came here to say that. Or, yelling out “You’re not the boss of ME!” may work as well.

    1. onco fonco*

      Different industries do this differently. I used to work for a translation agency and they used the term project manager where I’d otherwise say project coordinator. All the other agencies I dealt with used the term PM for my role as well – it was the norm. So, not necessarily incorrect.

      1. So they all rolled over*

        A lot of people are in here saying “PM has a very specific meaning” but that is far from universally true.

        1. cubone*

          yeah at my last job I got asked to “take over project management” of a specific government contract. I was a volunteer manager with no formal PM training (I quit because of that and other issues).

          A LOT of places just use “project management” to mean “you’re the person who tracks status in a spreadsheet and schedules the meetings”.

        2. Sometimes supervisor*

          THANK YOU!

          Sorry to everybody on this thread who has expressed this view (and sorry to pile on a bit because I know Alison has pointed this out too) but, without knowing what industry OP is in, it’s really unfair to quip “Well, that’s your company’s fault for not using the term ‘project manager’ properly” and “Well, that’s what a project manager does OP so you must be wrong”.

          I’ve career changed and, for the sake of anonymity, let’s say I started working in llama grooming and now work in teapot making. In llama grooming, job titles are really consistent. A junior llama groomer is the entry level role no matter where you go, llama groomer is always the next step up. Nobody is expected to have line management duties until at least assistant llama manager position. Of course, the llama director at ‘Multinational Llamas Inc’ is going to be managing more staff and working on bigger projects than the llama director at ‘Mom and Pop’s Little Llamas’, but you always know they’re the rung down from c-suite.

          Teapot making is the complete opposite. The entry level role is either teapot assistant or teapot maker, and sometimes the teapot assistant role is purely admin and has nothing to do with actual teapot making. Teapot manager may be people or project management or a mixture of both Teapot director role is usually the top role, but sometimes you get teapot chiefs above them and it’s anybody’s guess if their job will be hands on running of the teapot assembly line or really more of a consultant position.

          So, like I said, I really don’t think it’s fair to point the finger at either the company or the OP because the new hire “is doing what a project manager does”. I agree SOMETHING has gone wrong (either new hire doesn’t clearly understand job duties or OP hasn’t been clued in to a change in new hire’s duties – an option somewhere between those two is also a possibility) but I don’t think it’s just that the company is using a job title “incorrectly”.

      2. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

        I agree, not necessarily incorrect. I’ve heard it used different ways in different departments of the same company. But it’s very easy to see where he would be confused if project management is his background. It sounds like they hired a PMP for an admin role and don’t understand why he’s acting like a PMP.

        1. onco fonco*

          Yeah, it seems like a big misunderstanding to me and the company definitely bears some responsibility for that. We were certainly all aware as translation PMs that other industries used the title differently, and we were clear on hiring what the job entailed.

          Mind you, I’d expect the interview process to have given both parties a clue as to these mismatched expectations, to be honest.

          1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

            Yeah, that’s what’s perplexing to me – if he’s overqualified, that should have been clear to the company in the interview process; if they were looking for an admin, that should have been clear to him in the interview process. Something went sideways there.

            As it stands, OP’s company hired someone they know is more seasoned, he’s acting like someone more seasoned, and it’s causing tension because of misaligned expectations of the role. The only way to align expectations is to address it directly with him and/or the big boss. Like, no need to try to smack the guy down, but no need to put up with management-y questions from a peer if it’s neither expected nor helpful, either.

            1. Haus of Panda*

              My partner keeps applying to intelligence analyst roles which end up really being admin assistant roles. He has the experience and they know that, but they hire him anyway.

              1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

                And that’s poor hiring practice. Not sure what point you think I made.

                1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

                  To be clear, hiring someone overqualified isn’t necessarily poor practice in and of itself as long as the hire knows what they’re walking into – it’s when they expect to be doing X and find that they’re asked to do Y that there are issues.

      3. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        Agreed, there are Project Managers (PMP-certified) and then there…project managers. There’s no rule that only one group is allowed to exist or use that title, because there are very few cross-company rules dictating what titles are allowed.

        Adding to the list of examples: At my previous company, pretty much everyone was given the title “Project Manager.” It was confusing, because “Project Manager” at OldCompany could be any combination of:

        *Subject matter expert
        *Support staff/coordinator
        *Project lead

        My manager and I even had a discussion about this, since he came from a world populated with Project Managers (PMP-certified).

    2. Retro*

      Some companies like to use nonsensical titles for reasons unknown to me. Is it to make it harder for employees to gauge what their equivalent role would be in other companies and make it harder for them to leave? Or do they think “Process Owner” is just fun to use as company lingo instead of “Marketing Associate”? Either way, I feel like there is some level of being out of touch because in the end, it’ll confuse somebody.

      1. Rach*

        As a Process Engineer, this makes me laugh. I don’t have a materials science degree so didn’t really understand what the job entailed when I applied, it sounded so generic. In this case it isn’t but I suspect you’re correct, it makes it more difficult to figure out your pay scale but also, I think it is a misguided attempt to make support staff feel like they have a more important title, which support staff are vital and I never understood why we look down on them to begin with.

        1. Retro*

          In my area of the industry, process engineers have nothing to do with material science. That’s usually material science expert or corrosion expert or materials specialist. Usually process engineers are those responsible for day-to-day troubleshooting of manufacturing plants. The confusion continues!

  21. Pennilyn Lot*

    LW knows their workplace best but it does seem weird that a project manager would have so little authority that checking in on projects and telling clients that they are the project manager would be overstepping. I don’t think it’s the fact that the person is from another country that they are misunderstanding the term ‘project manager’, I think your workplace is using a title for a position that doesn’t really match up with what it widely accepted to be.

    1. HereKittyKitty*

      I think this is correct- they’ve titled the position incorrectly. If they want an admin-type worker then “project coordinator” would be more appropriate. But if they really have flipped the role into an actual “project manager” role, then this is normal behavior.

      I would also feel bad for the employee if I was told to function as a typical project manager, nobody in the interview said differently, and then they came back and told me the role was entirely different than what it typically is.

      1. Pennilyn Lot*

        Yeah your last paragraph is what I was thinking too, especially since the LW describes it as an entry-level, bottom-of-the-rung role for college grads but also acknowledges that they hired someone who is a “seasoned” project manager. There’s a mismatch in expectations or a misunderstanding of some kind here, and I don’t think it’s all on the project manager.

  22. Goose*

    I was at an org similar to OP—project manager was a term for managing a “project.” It was one step up from project coordinator. Project manager was the title you got after being there for two years and they couldn’t actually promote you past a title bump.

    That said, I would check in with the exec to clarify what this guys role is and who should actually be managing all of you

  23. Teapot Repair Technician*

    Five minutes ago I thought I knew what a “project manager” was. Now I’m so confused.

    1. OyHiOh*

      Me too!

      On of my colleagues is absolutely not my boss. However, our boss put my colleague in charge of a huge every-five-years project and for the purposes of that project, he is my defacto boss. At this point in meeting our deadlines, I’m fielding calls from him every hour or so. Even our actual, head-of-the-organization defers to project manager colleague within the context of getting this thing done correctly.

    2. cubone*

      I’ve always thought project management is a really weird area, in that it is both a general type of skill that many jobs require but also a highly specialized role with specific training. At my last job, we have probably 10 people with PM titles and none of them did anything like what I’m seeing described in these comments. Which is not to say they’re wrong at all, just that it’s a term that is used for so many different things (and I can’t imagine how frustrating that is for PMPs!)

      1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        I can see why it could be frustrating for PMPs, but also…isn’t that a big part why the PMP certification exists?

        And a job description would list the PMP certification if it was a PMP-type job, like it might list required degrees and experience.

  24. Anonymous Educator*

    We have a project manager who works with my team, and this project manager is not my manager, but if our PM had said to me any of the things mentioned in the OP’s letter… I’d be fine with it. I can give the PM updates on the project and kind of owe the PM showing up to meetings relating to various projects. The PM isn’t in charge of me or in charge of approving my time-off requests or promotions/raises.

    As others have mentioned, though, there’s clearly some kind of miscommunication. Either the job description or the hiring manager told this new PM the PM title means what a PM title usuall means, or no one ever told this new hire PM means some special “entry level” assistant thing. If it’s the latter, you all may seriously want to consider renaming that position.

  25. Andy*

    To me it sounds like that guy acts like a project manager.

    What is the point of setting deadline if you don’t follow up? How are project managers in your company supposed to know when people won’t make deadlines and communicate? How are they supposed to be promising things to customers if they can’t ensure it happens and can’t follow up work?

    Are your project managers actually support/sales teams, promising things that never get delivered?

    1. Name Required*

      This! Some other folks have suggested that this person is more of a project coordinator than a project manager, but even project coordinators get to ask their coworkers about progress towards the project plan, even if they don’t own the project plan or promise deliverables. Is the role more like an admin assistance for the boss who is no longer there, where the delivery resources are expected to report on a specific schedule, and the admin only compiles it and the boss would normally follow up if status was unclear?

  26. A project manager*

    Perhaps OP could have the project manager write up procedures on how he is managing projects, as though someone new to the company were taking over for him, including project status reporting. OP could review the procedures to understand where he’s going off track, and discuss them with him, explaining where there is opportunity to “enhance” his role/responsibilities, and what will not change because it’s an entry role.

    I produce reports weekly for managers on the status of all my projects. In order to produce those reports, I reach out to task delegates weekly. I was taught in project management classes to check in weekly to make sure the projects stay on track.

    1. TechWorker*

      Whilst the PM here is not OP manager, OP is absolutely not the PMs manager either! The conversation you suggest sounds way out of line tbh.

    2. gyrfalcon17*

      OP is not the PM’s manager. Having him write up procedures and then pointing out oversteps seems like a big overstep in itself. I think OP needs to clarify with acting manager what this PM’s role is meant to be, which may be different from previous PM’s role.

  27. onco fonco*

    I commented in reply to someone above, but to say this here as well: different industries use the term project manager differently. I’ve worked with and for a number of translation agencies in the UK, and in all of those a PM coordinates a project, deals with client and suppliers and gets everything together for delivery, but has no oversight or responsibility for what their colleagues in the office are doing. It’s nothing like what the project managers at my spouse’s company do.

    1. onco fonco*

      (I’d sort of expect the job description and frankly the salary to have been a clue as to what kind of PM the company was after – but if he’s coming from a different country, he may not have a strong sense of salary norms for senior vs. entry level staff.)

  28. Forrest*

    Go to the exec! You are framing this is “new coworker being annoying by stepping outside the bounds of his clearly defined role”. However, it’s equally likely to be “new hire has a mistaken idea of his role because the way your company used that job title is out-of-step” (for what it’s worth, I’m in the UK and I’d expect Project Manager to be a senior role), or even “company decided to take the role in a new direction but because of the missing manager, nobody told you”.

    Both you AND the project manager need more clarity here.

    1. kiki*

      Yes! I think framing is really important here– this (hopefully) isn’t a new coworker making power grabs, it’s confusion about roles and the reporting structure of your organizations. That is very much something the exec should be clued-in on!

  29. EventPlannerGal*

    I’m kind of curious about what OP and her colleague’s job titles are. If they’re all project managers (which I don’t think is the case given how OP describes the role) then it’s kind of weird for him to assume that he’s the manager of the managers. But if he’s the only one with “manager” in his job title and he’s working with a bunch of people with different job titles who appear to have no manager then like… yeah, he’s gonna think he’s your manager. This really sounds like a screw-up on the part of whoever hired him if they didn’t properly explain the parameters of the role.

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      On reflection, make that “it’s not unreasonable for him to think he’s really a manager” – I would have thought there would have been other context clues about what his actual role is meant to be but who knows.

      Unrelated, but I am very curious why the OP specifically takes issue with him saying “I’m managing the project” when her description of his actual intended job role is “they manage the projects”. That doesn’t sound like he’s claiming to manage OP or anything, he’s just explaining to a client who he is. Is there something else about this guy that particularly annoys everyone or something? Because this really sounds kind of BEC to me. How else is he supposed to describe his role of project manager other than “I am managing this project”???

      1. Forrest*

        It kind of makes sense to me— this person doesn’t manage the project, they manage the project management of the project. They’re not personally responsible for the success of the project, they’re responsible for the tracking, administration, Gant charts, reporting milestones, meeting organisation etc.

        If the project goes tits-up, they won’t be on anyone’s floor explaining what went wrong. If the project is fine, but the Excel spreadsheet hasn’t been filled in for months and a non-critical part of the budget is all over place and the chief exec isn’t at the launch ceremony because nobody invited her, THEN they’re in trouble.

        1. Salsa Verde*

          I think this is a really important point – in some companies, maybe the one that this guy came from, the project manager IS the one that will be called on the floor to explain what went wrong. That was certainly the case in my last company. Didn’t matter that I have no idea how to configure the software, it was my fault as the PM that the project did not finish on time or on budget.

          I do think this problem will be solved easily, as it’s not really about the personalities at all, it’s about job descriptions. Meaning, there’s really no fault here, it’s more of a misunderstanding.

        2. Sparkles McFadden*

          I think this sums up the disconnect between what the new guy thinks he’s supposed to be doing and what LW thinks new guy should be doing.

      2. LC*

        I am very curious why the OP specifically takes issue with him saying “I’m managing the project” when her description of his actual intended job role is “they manage the projects”. That doesn’t sound like he’s claiming to manage OP or anything, he’s just explaining to a client who he is.

        Once I got over the “but… isn’t that what a project manager does?” (Thank you Alison for your top level comment, and it’s been interesting reading how varied this one title can be!), this was my biggest question. To me, saying that you manage a project doesn’t imply that you manage the people at all. Just that you manage the project. Which, as a project manager, seems completely reasonable to say.

        My thought was that I was just missing something that showed why OP thought that the new guy saying that meant he thought he managed people, but Forrest’s thought (They’re not personally responsible for the success of the project, they’re responsible for the tracking, administration, Gant charts, reporting milestones, meeting organisation etc.) might make more sense.

        Overall, I’m still a little confused, but I whole heartedly agree with some of the other advice I’m seeing. Go to Big Boss with it, but frame it more as “there is some confusion, can you help clarify?” rather than “this guy is driving me bonkers tell him to knock it off he’s not the boss of me.”

  30. AnonaLlama*

    Joining in the chorus of people saying that the behavior described is pretty well within bounds for what I’d expect a PM to do in my industry/location. I totally understand that we are taking the OP at her word that that’s not the culture of her company but I believe her company is an outlier here and since the new employee came from outside that company and has experience in a different company/location he is likely doing what he thinks he was hired to do.

    I’m feeling really badly if this experienced PM just got a new job where he has less authority than is standard for the job and where everyone is already annoyed with him for trying to do the job the way most other PM’s do. OP- I think you really do need to bring this up with your interim boss, if only from the perspective of “hey, this might not really be fair to Wakeen, he seems to think this role is closer to a traditional PM role than the coordinator-type function we usually expect. I don’t want him to get too far along before someone tells him that isn’t this job.”

  31. Dr. Rebecca*

    This is legit why I’ve avoided applying for project manager positions: I have no freakin’ clue what it is I would be *doing* in one, because there seems to be no consensus from place to place.

      1. Dr. Rebecca*

        It really reminds me of a snippet from the West Wing where CJ is offered a job in ‘project development.’

        Applied to this situation, it would go something like:

        So you’d be the project manager.
        And what would I be doing?
        You’d be managing the projects.
        What does that entail?
        Taking the projects and…managing them.
        Okayyyyyy…

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          CJ <3

          Sometimes that's what it feels like when I try to explain my job to my husband, honestly. "I'm an operations manager, I manage the operations. I take the operations and make sure they operate."

          He's a teacher. It doesn't translate.

          1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

            “I’m an operations manager, I manage the operations. I take the operations and make sure they operate.”

            …I think I’ve been immersed in too much corporate culture, because that sentence ACTUALLY MADE SENSE TO ME.

            Oh dear…

        2. WellRed*

          This kind of sums up my suspicions of what project management is. Though to be fair, I have only ever worked at places without one.

      2. Pushy Project Manager*

        I’m a PM, and I would run away from a job where I wasn’t allowed to 1) check on project progress, 2) chat with my coworkers about the rest of their workload to better understand the company’s operations and their capacities, 3) work with stakeholders to set expectations for meeting attendance, or 4) identify my role to clients. Those are all basic functions and none of them imply that I’m the boss of anybody else! If the guy has a rude demeanor that’s a problem, but actions as worded in the letter don’t seem bad to me.

        1. Dr. Rebecca*

          I’m not any closer to understanding the job, but I do understand those functions. Thank you.

        2. HereKittyKitty*

          I do keep on seeing people imply that this new guy is “bossing people around” but I don’t see any signs of that in the letter! Even the examples in the letter don’t read to me that he’s trying to be anyone’s boss. Collaboration has been really important in my work roles and we routinely ask each other such questions and I’ve never thought someone was trying to be my boss for doing so.

          1. Pushy Project Manager*

            Yeah, the question “what are you working on” means something different and possibly more serious when coming from my boss than anyone else, but it doesn’t follow that no one else is allowed to ask me that! In any workplace I’ve been it’s considered a polite and useful type of conversation to share these things.

          2. LC*

            “It’s okay you missed the meeting, but try to be there next time”

            This is the only thing that I felt might be bossy, but it would be entirely dependant on the actual wording and tone and context (actually I feel like a lot of this could read in twenty different ways not knowing those things).

            Stopping the president in the hall to patronizingly tell her she needs to be somewhere she’s not – yeah that seems like very much the wrong move. But if it was more of a “oh hi, we missed you in that meeting, I’d love make sure you can attend the next one so I’ll make sure to work around your calendar,” then that seems thoroughly appropriate for pretty much anyone with any authority to call a meeting.

            1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

              Tone and context are key.

              I could see a bright, cheerful, “What are you working on?” translating to: “Hey, it’s been a while, whatcha been up to?” Or, since OP’s NewColleague, “Hey, I’m new here, could you tell me what you do?”

              If the tone is more level, matter-of-fact “What are you working on?” could translate to more of a “I am expecting you to keep me in the loop about what you’re doing and how it affects the timeline.” Which, would probably be fine for a PMP role, but not the administrative/support role OP’s NewColleague is in.

    1. Salsa Verde*

      It is hard to know what the expectations are!
      Salary is one clue, and then beyond that you just have to ask very specific questions of the interviewer.

  32. learnedthehardway*

    I would bet money that the new employee was led to believe he was the project manager – either because nobody defined what that is to him in your company’s context, or because your company’s understanding of “project manager” is really odd (it is), or both. That, or he was actually brought in on purpose as a real project manager, with actual authority/oversight, and nobody communicated this to you and your coworkers.

    Under the circumstances – given that there’s going to be SOMEBODY who is going to be very upset when they find out the real situation – it makes sense to loop in your oversight executive or at least your HR business partner. Just put it in terms of “While this isn’t an emergency yet, it has the potential to become a problem if the situation is not clarified. There seems to be a significant difference between our usual project managers’ typical roles and what NewGuy believes his role is. We need to have a clear understanding of what his scope of responsibility and authority is, because it is out of step with our understanding that his role is effectively a project coordinator position. Would you please define for all of us what his role entails in terms of authority to assign and direct work, hold people accountable, require follow ups, etc.”

    Reality is that if you’re right, the new PM is quite likely to quit because the role is NOT what he signed on for. But if he was brought in to be a “real” project manager, then that needs to be communicated to the team so you don’t resent his efforts to project manage.

    1. Junior Assistant Peon*

      I was in a situation like this, where my new job was a bait-and-switch and much more junior than I was told. I knew that there was no way for my boss to clarify my role without admitting that he lied, and I took full advantage of this by essentially doing the job I interviewed for and daring him to call me out on it.

      If your coworker is in the same boat, this could get interesting if the only way to get him to cut it out is to admit that they lied to him in the interview. Your manager may be too limp to do this. My manager was too limp to have a difficult conversation, and the guy frankly had no business managing a hotdog stand.

  33. BlueBelle*

    He is a project coordinator not a project manager. I would address this head on, “I think there has been a misunderstanding about your role. Your role is to coordinate the logistics of this project, not to manage the project as a whole or the people who are working on the project.”

  34. iglwif*

    Although buddy could perhaps be more polite, all of that sounds like bog-standard project manager behaviour to me. So there’s clearly been some miscommunication *somewhere*.

  35. RJ*

    Adding my voice to the chorus to state that project manager, a certifiable job/position, has always been a senior tier position in engineering and design. As I understand it, he’s functioning more as a project coordinator, but changing his job title and reiterating what the job tasks are for the position you filled is going to be difficult, OP. In his mindset, it’s easy to see it as a step backwards (regardless of what he was told prehiring/onboarding) which might just be enough to push him out the door. This is going to be delicate AND tricky.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      This is going to be delicate AND tricky.

      My hunch is that OP would consider the PM quitting to be a feature, not a bug.

      1. RJ*

        Honestly, that might be the best thing for them both. I saw someone removed from a PM position and made a coordinator and it did not end well. She was extremely bitter and vindictive.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Honestly I would be too. That’s a huge step down, if you’re expecting PM to be a senior position.

          1. RJ*

            Oh, I agree, but in her case there were extenuating circumstances. She’d previously been a project lead on some smaller fit-outs, but the PM for one small job that turned into a huge job got sick and recommended her to the Principal (Director of her department). The team leaders (this was a multidisciplinary project) cut her a lot of slack, but she kept including services that were outside of the approved scope. She approved consultants, when the client specifically wanted the work done in house with security clearances and NDAs. Project costs zoomed. Accounts receivable went 60 days plus, because project engineers were working on the extras she approved instead of the deliverables noted on our contract that were mandatory prior to payment. It was a nightmare for my old company to fix and they never did fully repair the relationship with the client.

  36. Smuckers*

    A lot of people use Project Coordinator/Project Manager to delineate between entry-level “I’m just here to book your plane tickets for you” jobs and ones with more decision making power and authority/responsibility.

    A lot of people use “Project Manager” to describe both jobs interchangeably.

    I feel like this lends itself to a lot of misunderstandings about roles and responsibilities. You really can’t go by the title alone, which is why it’s probably time to involve someone at a higher level to get clarification on what your new PM’s role really entails.

    1. Raine*

      Yeah, and I’ve been in places where the project coordinator role functioned as the project manager because the project manager was overloaded and had to delegate entire projects to their coordinator to run/manage. It really depends on the organization, structure, and company. It makes it confusing to people on the outside when they realize “this person is actually in charge of this project and making sure it meets deadlines, etc.” regardless of the job title.

      I’m a senior project coordinator for a small firm. I tell people who don’t understand what a project coordinator does that I herd virtual cats for a living.

  37. Andy*

    > It seems clear that in this office, “project manager” has traditionally been an entry-level “traffic cop” type role — more of a project coordinator.

    Imo, then the guy deserves apology as he was basically lied to during interview.

    This sort of thing happens to tech people with some regularity – management lying about the position or technologies or scope of work to attract people who would refuse such position otherwise. It is enraging and fundamentally unfair – and I can only imagine OT is much worst in PM role where you are thrown into absurd social situation as result.

    > My biggest worry is that your new manager, once hired, will assume this is what the role is supposed to be, since this guy is (a) more experienced and (b) acting like this is his job.

    Maybe that would not be a bad thing. It would align position name with reality. The way it works now sounds like a mess even outside of that.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      We don’t know that he was lied to. Presumably, there was a job description that would show what his tasks were, and a conversation at some point. Unless it was so very broad that it could be for either the coordinator or an actual PM

  38. kevcat*

    OP: I have a problem.

    AAM Chorus: Sure do, but it’s not what you explicitly state it is — please excuse our entitlement whilst we dismiss your understanding of the dynamics of your own workplace, as we’d much prefer to argue the toss about it, the hell with actually taking you at your word and offering some genuine advice.

    Oh, and by the way, we all assume that you’re American, with our norms and practices, and there’s absolutely no way that ‘project manager’ could have a different connotation. In an unspecified industry. In a different culture. In a different country, perhaps.

    OP: …

    1. Forrest*

      I mean, don’t write into public advice columns if you don’t want an outside perspective!

      1. onco fonco*

        Yeah, but there’s an outside perspective and then there’s the flat-out assertion that all industries have the same norms and any company thinking otherwise is lying to its prospective employees.

        1. Forrest*

          Sorry, I hadn’t seen this when I posted. Thank you for making the distinction between “there may be some confusion because project manager as a job title often means…” and “what the PM is doing IS project management, you’re wrong”– the former did seem like useful contextual information for OP so I was surprised to see someone attacking it!

    2. OP*

      Haha! Thank you for defending me. But really, knowing that at other companies’ project managers work differently helps me to see this guy with a fresh perspective. It makes me less incredulous and more understanding.

      1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

        That’s what I was hoping would happen. If you can get your mentality away from “the new guy is annoying” and into “this is a culture clash”, everyone will be much better off.

        Also, you say earlier that you never miss deadlines. That’s great, but how is the new guy expected to know that? Cut him some slack until he sees how you operate, or has a chance to dig into old metrics (assuming those exist).

    3. Just a Thought*

      I work in the US. I work at a good company. Our marketing project managers do not manage anyone. They don’t have authority over their projects. They track and route the project through lots of hoops and hurdles to ensure it is done on time. But the scope and direction of the project is not determined by them. So kevcat …. you are just wrong. And wow, nice tone!

      1. kevcat*

        You seem to have missed my point by a country mile, as I expressed no opinion whatsoever on the Great Project Manager Kerfuffle of 2021, instead disputing the collective judgment of a question that the OP literally didn’t ask, but — just for the record — if the OP and Alison don’t have an issue with my ‘tone’, then I’m good with that.

        1. lol*

          would it be aam without a hostile content from someone with bad reading comprehension wildly misunderstanding what you’ve said? I’d argue no!

    4. Teapot Repair Technician*

      I think the people questioning the definition of “project manager” in this case are underlining Alison’s caveat:

      Are you very sure that this guy’s idea of his job isn’t actually the correct one?

      That really is an important thing that OP needs to clarify with their boss before doing anything else.

      1. kevcat*

        I don’t disagree, but a large number of replies here focus on whether or not the OP is capable of correctly describing her own workplace, which I find somewhat dismissive. Usually, I find the comments in AAM to be pretty interesting, with some unique perspectives, but not today. There’s a whole lot of assuming and whatabouting, which is flat-out unproductive and unhelpful.

        1. WellRed*

          I personally think the assuming and what abouting ( which have gotten out of hand lately) is also a sign of why project manager is such a bs title in so many companies. Thx Kevlar!
          * not crapping on project mgrs here in general but the letter and thread highlight what happens when project mgt goes wrong.

        2. fhqwhgads*

          I think there’s a difference between “you don’t understand your own workplace” (which I haven’t seen a ton of, though maybe Alison zapped it since the note was already at the top when I started reading) and “your workplace is using this term in a way that does not line up with what a ton of professionals would expect it to mean, so NewGuy may be coming into this with that other definition in mind, not yours, and it’s not surprising he’d be thinking that way, because of abcde reasons.” Which I am seeing a lot of.

          1. Professional Nag*

            Yeah I’m seeing a lot of folks saying that people are unfairly saying the OP is wrong, but I’m not actually seeing many people saying that the OP is wrong. It seems like people are interpreting people saying “I am also confused by this situation, I do this kind of work and here’s my experience” as an attack on the LW’s credibility when it’s… Definitely not?

            People are pointing out that this new hire’s behavior perfectly fits into the expectations for this role in many, many places, which is really useful information for the letter writer because the whole thing is that they are confused about why this guy is not behaving in the ways they expect. Explaining where he is coming from and encouraging the LW to check with their higher ups about what he was actually hired to do is very directly advising how they can resolve their problem. If the LW already knows for a fact that this is not what he was hired to do, then knowing his methods are typical in other contexts gives the LW a good starting point for sorting it out with them on just an interpersonal level.

      2. JB*

        Certainly not. Did you actually read the other comments?

        There’s a substantial number that either 1. Assert it’s literally impossible for a job like LW describes to exist and LW just doesn’t want to do their work, or 2. State flat-out ‘your company is using the term Project Manager incorrectly’ which – to me, at least – is a laughable idea.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          And honestly – how many times have we also heard of title inflation to get outside entity to cooperate with the person who is interfacing with them (because they want to deal with someone of the seniority level they “deserve because of their importance”). I didn’t know about others, but I deal with far more of that (people not wanting to deal with me because I am not the Manager/senior person) now in the midst of Covid than I ever dreamed possible before Covid.

    5. HereKittyKitty*

      Since the caveat is in the answer, it made it seem like a topic that was within the scope of discussion. I absolutely take their word of what the role typically is, but the caveat seemed like the most likely scenario, in my opinion, because I did not see any convincing evidence of “He literally thinks he’s in charge” in the letter. Even if we removed the verbiage of the job title, it just seems like a guy doing work. He may be presumptuous, or even needy, but I wouldn’t say “he literally thinks he’s in charge” based on the examples given.

      1. Myrin*

        Thing is, OP gave but a few examples of his behaviour – I doubt they’re the full sum of everything he’s ever done that’s rubbed her the wrong way. But we see time and time again on AAM – almost every day, I daresay – that letter writers provide examples which are clear and obvious and without ambiguity to them because they’re actually in the situation and are entrenched in it on a daily basis but which aren’t actually the best examples to provide to outsiders – like the commentariat on AAM – because without fail, they get the “Oh, that doesn’t sound so bad/sounds like it’s actually X/etc.” rolling.
        So I think that when OP – who seems reasonable and level-headed – says “He literally thinks he’s in charge” we should trust her instincts and general impression even if we don’t find her three specific examples convincing.

        1. HereKittyKitty*

          Except, we’re also in an odd situation where the OP has commented that hearing everyone’s replies on their experiences with project managers and the fact that his behavior doesn’t raise any red flags with many, many people has made them realize 1) their workplace’s perception of project managers may be quite different than other places, causing miscommunication 2) their irritation at their coworker has lessened due to a better understanding on where they may be coming from.

          I read this letter as very irritated at a project manager doing what is considered normal duties for many. I think that is essential information for OP to know in order to resolve this situation. If I wrote a letter that I was irritated that an editorial assistant was editing my work, I absolutely would want the feedback that editorial assistants often DO edit work, even if that wasn’t my experience in my office. That would give me a point of reference when talking to the person editing my work, “I know it’s fairly common that editorial assistants edit written copy, but in the past this role hasn’t functioned this way. Can you clarify for me if this will be a part of your duties going forward?” With this additional information the OP can convey something similar: “In the past we hadn’t done daily check-ins when it comes to our work, it’s something I managed on my own. I know this is common in other PM roles, can you clarify for me if this is a new duty they’ve added to the role?”

    6. Mynona*

      Yeah, this is the worst pile-on I’ve seen on this board for a while. I had no idea people felt so strongly about project management. Whew!

    7. Ray Gillette*

      Hah, this is hilarious. The charitable interpretation I have is that a non-zero number of replies on any letter here (or to any advice column), aren’t actually for the LW, they’re just the commenter’s feelings about the letter. When I wrote to Alison a while back about a problem coworker in another department, some comments were just straight up saying he needed to be fired. Which he did (and later was), but that wasn’t my question because I had no authority over him.

      1. JB*

        This is very true. A lot of the more hostile answers on this letter in particular seem to be from Project Managers who want us all to know that they’re Project Managers and even that they’ve taken Project Manager classes.

        Makes me glad I don’t work in an industry that typically has Project Managers. I know they’re not all assholes (my dad’s a PM, actually) but based on this comment section, a large number of them are.

  39. D.C. Paralegal*

    This is the part that stuck out to me:

    “…because he’s ordered higher-ups around (‘It’s okay you missed the meeting, but try to be there next time’)…”

    Just using my own professional context, I’m trying to picture a scenario where a junior/entry level employee would say this to a partner or an associate, or me for that matter, and not immediately get smacked down, with varying degrees of gentleness. And I can’t. So I’m a little curious why this didn’t seem to happen here.

    Anyway, is this particular higher-up a possible source OP could go to? Even just to say “I’m not crazy here, right? This is weird?” And best case scenario, rope them into a conversation with the temporary manager? Or, if Alison’s final caveat is correct and this guy actually IS her manager and it’s simply that no one bothered to tell her, the higher up might be in a position to confirm that before she goes to either her temporary boss or her eventual permanent one.

    1. OP*

      He’s definitely not my manager. We have org charts. But yeah; I am surprised no one has slapped his snout yet.

      1. NotMyRealName*

        That is information that we didn’t have. And that changes how I am viewing the situation. Time to talk with the interim person and make sure those lines are clear.

      2. ecnaseener*

        Have you tried leaving a copy of the org chart on his desk, with his name highlighted?
        Kidding…mostly.

      3. Uh huh*

        Yeah, you need to go to your interim boss and get this sorted out so that job roles and lines of reporting are completely and entirely clear to everyone, including this new Project Manager.

    2. Parcae*

      I think it really depends on your workplace! On my team, any person (up to and including the most junior) would have the authority to say this regarding a meeting they were responsible for. That’s a reflection of our work; no one has the title of project manager, but we all have particular projects and program areas we’re responsible for. We wouldn’t be able to get our work done if we couldn’t call meetings and generally expect people to show up.

      The only thing that sounds off is it’s awfully passive and indirect– if my senior coworker or manager missed an important meeting, I wouldn’t say “try to be there next time.” I’d say “we need you there next time. Is next Thursday going to work for you?”

      None of that explains why there was no pushback in this particular case, since OP is clear that it shouldn’t fly in their workplace. Just pointing out that if the new employee is coming from a job like mine, he might assume he has the authority to say it.

      1. doreen*

        It really does depend on your workplace. My job doesn’t have an official title of “project manager” , but there are often projects ( such as piloting a new program or a risk assessment tool) that involve people in different titles and different locations – and a person is put in charge of that project. That person is in charge of that project , not the people on the team/workgroup. He or she is certainly not the manager of everyone involved in the project and may be outranked by some of the people involved in the project , but he or she assigns tasks, sets deadlines and schedules meetings regarding that project. That person has nothing to do with approving time off, evaluating my overall performance or any part of my job other than that one specific project – those issues all belong to the manager I report to on the org chart. However, if I’m missing meetings and not meeting deadlines, the person in charge of the project can absolutely speak to either my manager or the higher-level manager who “owns” the project – and really, I’d prefer that the person speak to me directly about a missed meeting rather than going straight to my manager ( or higher).

    3. Mollymauk Tealeaf*

      This is just a reminder that while that may be something that’s out of culture for your company or OP not all companies have the same cultural norms when it come to up/down hierarchy’s so the “I can’t imagine this not immediately imagine it get smacked down” is kinda a weird comment to make.

      That said, I do agree the easiest solution for OP is to just confirm with management that they have the right understanding and ask them to address it.

      1. D.C. Paralegal*

        That’s…why I made a point of saying that I was using my own personal context instead of making a broad general statement.

        But regardless of individual workplace cultures, there are few places where an employee in an entry level job chiding someone for missing a meeting will go over well. If you need to communicate to someone above you that it’s important they attend meetings, there are countless more diplomatic ways to phrase it.

        1. Stevie*

          I agree with you. The tone with which it was said might make a difference here, I suppose. However, it’s hard to imagine someone in the role (as OP described it) saying something like that. This really does lend support to the possibility that this person has confusion about their role, and the situation could do with higher-up intervention.

  40. J.B.*

    In my group project manager was held by some lower level employees, as it is still in the larger organization. When I started working part time a senior person handed an entire project over to me and said “J.B. is project manager”. I met several times with the big boss trying to determine what was going on with this project (guess who had managed it into the ground?) and made clear that I had the experience, and in order to deliver this project I needed more authority. And thus began my year of “theoretically part time” work.

    It’s a bit odd because the larger organization still has that junior perspective. I can see how this misunderstanding happened and think it’s on the executive to resolve.

  41. Tomalak*

    Hiring managers, please note – if you want Bob to get good work and results out of Zebedee, promote Bob above Zebedee and give them the formal authority. There is no other way, in my opinion.

    I don’t doubt the Letter Writer at all in her assessment of their respective roles. But I have only seen this kind of arrangement work badly. When I saw it first hand, I could see it was just a way to do management on the cheap, and it certainly didn’t work. She left quickly.

    As this new hire doesn’t actually have the power to discipline the LW for failing to complete her tasks satisfactorily, the new hire can’t really be expected to take responsibility for the project. If they can’t take responsibility for the project, then what are they actually there for? Sending Outlook calendar invitations and other secretarial work?

    1. Tomalak*

      I was on the other side of this dynamic in a different role, too. I was asked to coordinate the office move with a colleague above me, who was very against the whole idea of changing our office location.

      When I went to our boss saying “We need to do x to move to new office you want, but Andy refuses” I was simply told to “Just sort it out!” as if I had the power to discipline someone more senior than me.

      1. Raine*

        Oh, I feel you on the “just sort it out!” when you have zero authority, budget, or relational power to get anyone higher up to do anything. Spent half my career as an executive assistant and burnt out hard in part because of that.

    2. Wisteria*

      “what are they actually there for? Sending Outlook calendar invitations and other secretarial work?”

      Based on OP’s inputs, yeah, pretty much. Project manager means something very different at their company.

      “if you want Bob to get good work and results out of Zebedee, promote Bob above Zebedee and give them the formal authority. ”

      This is very odd to me. I’m sure it works that way at numerous companies and industries, but in my industry, it’s entirely possible to be a program lead of people who are senior to you, sometimes by a lot! My specific company is all about the “influence without authority,” and it’s something we are actually judged on performance wise. Different places are different!

      1. Tomalak*

        Thanks for the response. I guess what I don’t understand is how it works if they email someone and that person is terrible at getting back to them? Or they do reveal how things are going but it’s very misleading? Or they miss meetings constantly? How does that influence without authority person actually put it right?

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          I’m sharing my perspective in this dialog: This works in company cultures were collaboration and helping each other is expected (and possibly tied to your performance review). It sounds like the culture you’ve worked in (at least in the example you gave of the office move upthread) is one where people only worked on projects/tasks they agreed with or their managers directly forced them to work on.

          Another office culture (both teams/companies I worked for had this style) had the expectation that, if someone asks you for help on something, you either: Helped them or you told them “No, I can’t prioritize that.” In the latter case, you can try to negotiate for that help with them or the others who are asking for help. I’m not sure how to explain how it works. I guess it’s partly that we all agree on specific goals and are working on them together.

          Now, that’s a really pretty, rosy picture. It’s also partly a lie: I had several colleagues who didn’t fit in this culture (i.e., they weren’t responsive) and other colleagues suffered for it, so we had to lean on the non-responsive colleagues’ managers to sort it out. Maybe the difference is that going the “I’m the manager and you do what I tell you to do” wasn’t the first avenue?

  42. Red Swedish Fish*

    Is there something else he is doing to make you think he is managing you. Because everything you have listed are all about the project and they are managing the project. 90% of project management is following up. Depending on the tone for the higher ups, I think that was a bad move but not out of the ordinary. We have many levels of project managers and they all manage projects not people, this all seems normal.

    1. OP*

      I’ve worked there for decades and his method is just not the method other project mangers use. They never act managerial. They never tell higher-ups it’s OK they missed a meeting. It’s just not their job.

      1. RJ*

        OP, I’m so glad that the comments have helped you get a deeper dive into what your project manager’s definition of his role is. I hope you’re able to get some executive back-up to bring this guy back to how ‘your’ company is defining the role, which is what matters in the end. Good luck and let us know how it goes!!

      2. EventPlannerGal*

        Does this guy interact much with other project managers at your company, or is he mostly working with your team? I’m just thinking that these things probably do seem quite obvious and jarring to you because you’ve worked there for decades, but given that this is quite a confused situation and he’s new I imagine they’re probably not very obvious to him. Do you know if he’s seeing many examples of how the PM role is supposed to work?

      3. Red Swedish Fish*

        I agree about the telling the higher ups they missed a meeting, but that’s more on the higher ups coming down on him than you needing to get involved.

  43. Tuesday*

    I would go with Alison’s second script. It sounds like there might be some genuine misunderstanding about the role, so it would be weird to just give him evasive answers to his questions. Much better to get this straightened out before the relationships get too damaged.

  44. OP*

    These comments are enlightening because yes, our definition of “project manager” seems to differ from a lot of other people’s. So, he thinks what he’s doing is part of the job. It isn’t (I’m sure what his role is). So, it helps me see his perspective. Thank you!

    1. Witch*

      Yeah! For what it’s worth I’m in a really weird similar position.

      I’m an executive assistant for a small company, but I also am the marketing manager (what I have my degree in), and use PM skills for things like organizing around launching our new website, and coordinating public-facing events.

      I’m not “managing” anyone, but I do need to chase people down a lot and find out project status stuff. It’s a really flexible role with a lot of responsibility, which is what I like, but it’s a junior-ish one for sure.

      Someone with more marketing experience might fit here fine considering the marketing facet of this position, but they’d probably be way out of line with what the position actually requires–someone to print things for the president to sign.

    2. Pushy Project Manager*

      I’m glad this has been helpful and I hope you get things straightened out one way or another.

      I commented upthread but wanted to also say that the thing about him “reprimanding” a higher-up for not attending a meeting could be seen in another light. When I say something like that to senior leadership on one of my projects, what I mean is that they are important enough in that particular meeting that I’d rather reschedule everyone else for a time they or their delegated replacement can attend (as opposed to a meeting where we can get along fine and fill them in later). Phrasing varies with the preferences of each higher-up, and my relationship with them, but the sentiment still happens and an outside observer might think I was overstepping. It sounds like your new guy hasn’t built the relationships to be able to do this, but I think it might be the case that he’s making an error of tact rather than presuming to be anyone’s boss.

    3. Alli*

      Are you his manager, or were you in his interview panels or negotiations? I was once in a job where what they told me about my role was different than what they told my direct reports. It led to some friction that could’ve been headed off early on with a frank conversation. I’m sure you know your company, but I feel like your best approach here is elevating it so whover is managing you is aware that there’s a disconnect and can speak to his manager. Otherwise, I would be careful about being sure what his role is, because his role might be different than what you think!

    4. M*

      Commenting to say – it sounds like there’s no chance more senior staff in your organisation would share his viewpoint on what his role is, and that that’s clear at least in an org chart. Do you also have access to the position description for his role? It sounds like you probably have the authority to clarify his role to him (i.e. are clearly more senior in an org chart), but that’s much easier to do in the absence of a manager if you have something documented to point him to.

      And with that as a starting point, it’s a lot easier to do that kindly – i.e. with acknowledgement that you know the job title can mean something different elsewhere, that it’s awkward that you (or a colleague) needs to do this in the absence of a manager to do it, and that if that differs significantly from the role he thought he was accepting, the lot of you might *actually* need to take that to your break-glass-in-emergencies exec.

    5. it's just the frame of mind*

      The way you describe project managers is how we have them at my company too. And I’ve definitely had a feeling that some PMs feel like they are a manager of people just because their role happens to have “Manager” in the title. (“it’s *project* manager, folks, not *people* manager!)

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        In many cases, when the PM is more of a people manager, it’s managing people in the scope of, and insofar as their work impacts, the projects in question. So it’s not a huge leap.

    6. Myrin*

      I’m super intrigued by your letter so I was wondering if you have any insight into this:

      “So, he thinks what he’s doing is part of the job.”

      And by that I don’t mean the possible disconnect regarding the term “project manager” but rather how that might have happened in the first place.
      Is it really possible that the person who interviewed him was so unclear about the expectations of this role that New Guy came away with an idea which drastically differs from reality? I’m asking incredulously but also earnestly because I almost can’t imagine it but were there special circumstances surrounding NG’s hiring process that might’ve made this more likely (like your old manager doing the interview and already mentally checking out to such a degree that they wouldn’t realise the obvious discrepency in expectations)?

      I’m also asking because there’s another possibility that was my immediate thought but which as I’m writing this no one else has brought up yet:
      NG knows exactly what his role is supposed to be but doesn’t want that and, in a time of managerial vacancy and general confusion at your company, basically tries to strongarm his way into shaping the role to be like he imagines.
      Since apparently no one else had the same thought I’m now once again wondering if I’m simply too cynical but OP, from what you know of his personality and attitude so far, do you think that’s at all possible?

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        A few people have mentioned he might be stepping into the power vacuum, which I think only differs from what you’re asking in terms of blatant intention (not to say you don’t have a good point, just to say I don’t think you’re being cynical or thinking in extremes).

        1. LilyP*

          Yeah I could definitely see a combination of “I’m going to ~~gumption~~ myself into more responsibility/a big promotion down the road” and “someone needs to take the reins here and make sure everything stays on track until we get a new director” going on here.

    7. Lora*

      Yeah, add me to the chorus of “New Guy thinks he’s a project manager, because that was his previous experience and the job title, and management hasn’t told him otherwise.” In my field also, these are senior roles that have specific training and certification, not entry level at all, and you really do report to the PM matrix-management style for the duration of the project.

      Also, I have seen people who are coming from areas with significantly different cost of living enticed by what looks like a GREAT salary to them, only to find out when they get there that this is an entry-level salary. I strongly suspect your company may have done a bait-and-switch on him, hoping to get someone better in the role than they were willing to pay for. He may quit once this becomes clear, and while this may be better all around – next employee in the role may be more suited to it, he will find a real PM job elsewhere – management may not be happy about that event. Where I work now often tries to control salary costs by hiring people from low cost of living areas, offering them more money than they make but definitely not market rate for this area, gives them a sort of vague title with the excuse “oh they’re European titles, it’s a European company” and then they find out they are massively overqualified and underpaid, and quit within a month. The turnover is painful, but…play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

    8. LilyP*

      Fwiw I also think of project manager as commonly an entry-level role focused on keeping track of all the moving pieces and minutia of a project but without significant authority (working in software, in America). Although I am aware of the higher-level PMP certification and that some PM roles do come with more autonomy and authority.

  45. MassMatt*

    Maybe this is not a big deal for you and your coworkers that are accustomed to working independently, but it was dismaying that you don’t seem to have any actual management to talk to. IMO it’s understandable that someone try to step in to fill the gap, and after all this guy does have “manager” as part of his title.

    If you talk to this guy and tell him he’s not a manager and he asks “well, who is?” what will you say? “We kinda don’t have one right now”?

    I feel badly for the new hire, who has no manager to bring him on board.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yeah – if he has no formal onboarding it makes perfect sense he would default to how he’s done the role elsewhere. I’m kind of dealing with that now, directing a lot of my own onboarding because the office is remote and people are hard to pin down. I *think* mine is going better than this, but you do have to make a lot of judgment calls in that position and I can see how he would go astray.

  46. it's just the frame of mind*

    This has happened to me too! In my case it’s project managers who assume that they can instruct me to prioritize their project over my other projects. You can’t do that: I work with my manager to set my priorities, and if you have an issue with how much time I can give your project, you need to take it up with our staffing team.

  47. Khatul Madame*

    I’d like to add to Alison’s script a question from another advice columnist’s arsenal:
    “Why do you ask?”
    When he answers, ask the next “why” question.
    “I just thought I’d check on how you were doing.” – “Why do you need to check on me?”
    Rinse, repeat until the offender slinks away in bewilderment.
    It would be even more effective if more than one person responds this way.

    1. Gan Ainm*

      I’d be so tempted to refer to him as project assistant or coordinator to all third parties and delegate corresponding level tasks – “I’ve cc’d the project assistant John, he can make you those copies / do that data entry/ organize those emails…” but I’m also just really tired of very junior folks on another team at my company inappropriately bossing much more senior staff around so I think I’m just being petty. (Yes, we have a massive culture problem and a a huge divide between two teams, it’s pervasive and not good.)

    2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      This feels way too passive-aggressive and unproductive for this stage. First, have a direct conversation (loop in the Interim Manager) to clarify roles. At that point, if the attempted check-ins continue, then have another reminder conversation, e.g.,

      “It seems like you’re trying to manage us again, when the role is more just to help us calendar deadlines and coordinate with the clients. Is there some confusion happening?”

      After a few rounds of that, then start investigating with “Why” questions. To parphrase Hanlon’s Razor, assume incompetence before intentional malice.

  48. Kelly*

    I started my career in tech as a project manager, and I was definitely more an admin assistant and coordinator. I’ve seen this at other small tech companies too (but not at high growth startups or larger tech companies). I think it’s an unfortunate side effect of the stereotype that developers have poor social skills and are spacey, along with them being harder to hire and in high demand.

    In my experience it would be very easy for people to be confused about some of the PM roles I had and worked in, because the job posting would say “manage deadlines, delegate work, ensure the team stays on task” – reasonable stuff. But the expectation was that I do it without authority through soft skills, flattery, and organization. So I could bribe my team into showing up at a meeting with donuts. But I couldn’t bring any real pressure if they didn’t show. And if deadlines were missed I was the one who had to face clients and make apologies.

    It was…not a great job. But I’ve seen it play out a bunch of similar places in my industry.

  49. Sparkles McFadden*

    I agree with Alison that the two senior people need to sit down with New Guy and find out what, exactly, he was told about the job and explain how things actually work in their workplace.

    If I were the new person I would want to know as soon as possible if I were overstepping in a place where I don’t actually have a manager. I would talk to the other people there to find out what they found most helpful in a project manager. Since new New Guy hasn’t done this, you all have to take care of it before things get even more confusing and annoying. Then again I cannot imagine being the new person and saying “Well try not to kiss the meeting next time.” That’s a jerk move no matter who’s who.

    I am wondering who did the hiring. Maybe someone who wasn’t sure what the specifics were after the manager left? (Apologies if I missed that in the prior comments.)

  50. Prefer my pets*

    So interesting that there are places that consider this an entry level title. I’ve spent the past several decades working for 3 different federal agencies & it may explain some of the WILDLY underqualified applicants we regularly get for our Project Manager positions. In all 3 agencies I’ve been in, that title is for the super, super experienced people leading incredibly complex & frequently controversial programs/projects. They are usually some of the highest graded positions in a management unit. Our job descriptions are pretty standardized but I might see if some additional clarification can get put into the little space we’re allowed to customize when our current PM retires.

    1. No Sleep Till Hippo*

      See, this is super interesting to me – I’m a Project Manager at a small nonprofit, and my position is at the very bottom of the org chart, even after a promotion from Project Coordinator. In my org, ‘project management’ literally means “someone else gives you a project, you manage to get it done.” :)

      My position overlaps with HR/recruitment, so I’ve seen all kinds of PM applications – many wildly overqualified (can we just… trade? lol) and many more that clearly didn’t read the job description. As soon as I see the words SQL, Six Sigma, Agile, or Waterfall, I skip to the cover letter. 99 times of 100 there’s no indication there that this person would be interested in organizing our grant applications or creating Asana templates.

      I fully recognize that my org is probably stretching the definition of “project manager,” but I definitely read the question and was like “Yeah, this makes sense from where I stand.”

  51. BookLady*

    This definitely sounds like a confusion between the title and the expectations. It might be helpful to tell this PM that his role is seen by his new co-workers as a “project coordinator” or “project facilitator.” If he knows his stuff as a PM, he’ll know what that means.

    I do hope that this is just a matter of miscommunication instead of this guy being an overbearing jerk. Honestly, if he was given the wrong impression about his role and what his responsibilities would be, that really sucks for him.

    1. Save the Hellbender*

      I hope he’s being an overbearing jerk, and isn’t someone who just accepted a very different job than he wanted!

    2. can-relate*

      I do hope that this is just a matter of miscommunication instead of this guy being an overbearing jerk. Honestly, if he was given the wrong impression about his role and what his responsibilities would be, that really sucks for him.

      I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the problem is exactly this. Especially with a vacant manager’s position at the time of hiring and onboarding, and if the hiring was managed by someone who does not actually understand what the role truly involves.

      The New Guy sounds just sounds like the various Project Managers I’ve worked with, not with the more junior variants of the same role, like Project Coordinator. If he has previous experience in a Project Manager role, including something like Project Lead or Team Lead, he has quite possibly managed people (at least in relating to specific projects) as well as projects.

      OP needs to speak to the exec about this, and clarify once and for all what New Guy’s role actually is.

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Honestly I wonder if there could be some cultural and language barrier issues involved as well, as OP said the the project manager was originally from another country. Even if they all speak the same language dialect and regions can at times be different enough to change meanings (think the difference between jumper in American English versus jumper in British English).

  52. Haus of Panda*

    A lot of these comments are assuming that OP is on the project that the new PM is managing in the first place. In my branch we all manage different projects. But since we are all a branch, the projects we manage are our collective projects as a branch, so there is occasionally overlap and it makes sense that occasionally we would ask each other questions about our projects, but it makes zero sense to have a “status update” or “ check in” with a coworker in terms of accountability.

    For example, let’s say my branch grows plants. We are the plant growing branch! My coworker manages the tea project and I manage the lemon project. It makes no sense for my coworker to have “check ins” with me on the lemon project because it is not his project. Now, if he is checking in because he is wants to maybe do a presentation together on the benefits of tea and lemons, then we’ve got a deal. But it makes no sense to be micromanaging tea and lemons when his project is tea. We are in the same branch, and so we occasionally attend meetings together on plant growing in general within the organization. But it would be inappropriate for him to be demanding accountability for those meetings when it is not his place.

    Also, this was a pretty real thing that happened to me and I used to get comments similar to what OP is describing. But then I got promoted and tea guy changed his tone real quick.

  53. Phony Genius*

    This reminds me a bit of a previous letter where the writer sent an update in which they discovered that the person they thought was their boss was, in fact, not anybody’s boss at all. Except in this case, there may be a genuine misunderstanding.

    Would it be out of line to ask the exec for an updated organizational chart, one which includes the vacant positions? It may help clarify things.

  54. Ele4phant*

    I absolutely trust the LW’s recounting of how their company’s roles work, but put me down as someone else that is confused how this title is being used, and wouldn’t be surprised that this new coworker is as well.

    I’ve worked across a couple different industries and maintain friendships with people in all sorts of fields – and in my experience the terms usually associated with entry level, traffic control work are along the lines of coordinator, associate, analyst, administrator. In my experience across sectors project manager does indicate someone mid level and experienced. May be more internal facing or external depending, but it’s not a title I would assume to be given to entry level people.

    So no advice for your problem, but definitely could see how if your firm uses terminology that is inconsistent with much of the working world, situations like this will happen.

    1. Forrest*

      Ooh, both Analyst and Associate would be mid-level for me! Co-ordinator is junior, and administrator can be junior or practically COO.

  55. Observer*

    “It’s annoying having to tell this dude what I’m working on.”

    In addition to what Alison says, consider an attitude reset. You do NOT “have” to tell him anything of the sort. Yes, he is asking you, but that doesn’t mean you actually have to answer. So, in addition to the conversation that Alison suggested, also STOP ANSWERING. Alison has some good scripts if here if you aren’t comfortable being so blunt.

    Also, if the conversant doesn’t work, loop the boss in. If there are any specific impacts, it’s especially important. But even if not, it’s worthwhile for management to realize that this is not working for you, if for no other reason that you don’t a new actual manager to think that this has been the norm and it’s been working fine. It’s not.

    Something like “NewGuy keeps on trying to manage our time and projects. It’s distracting and annoying.”

  56. Rodrigo*

    So wait… you have a job title called Project MANAGER and you hired someone for this role, who apparently has experience in management, WHILE YOU HAVE NO ACTUAL MANAGER.

    I’m not suggesting you’re wrong, OP. Maybe your company does call their some of their lowest-rung members “managers” for reasons. Your explanation sounds very plausible, in fact. But, like… this is so extremely confusing and I can’t really fault that guy. You have a need for a manager and you hired a manager, except it’s not the kind of manager you need, but it’s also someone you actually do need but not doing managerial stuff and… ah, this is giving me a headache.

    1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      Project Manager is a commonly used title (with various examples discussed upthread) which has nothing to do with managing people (i.e., hiring and firing authority).

      Please see some of the discussions upthread about what PMP-type Project Managers do. It’s also common that OP’s NewColleague would have a Project Manager title without any people management responsibilities.

      1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        Also, I meant to add: A parallel is an Office Manager. I hope most people would recognize that doesn’t mean that person manages the rest of the staff in the office.

        1. doreen*

          I wouldn’t expect an office manager to manage the entire rest of the staff , but I’ve had more than one job where the office manager managed some of the staff – receptionists, payroll and other clerks etc.

        2. Miss Betty*

          I’ve worked in the legal field for over 20 years and in all the firms I worked in, the office manager does indeed manage the staff in the office. Notice attorneys but certainly the support staff and in some of them even the paralegals. They were also in charge if hiring thst staff and often of firing. Even the title office manager can mean different things to different people.

        3. J.B.*

          And engineering consulting firms have a very different example in that situation. Generally “office manager” is the head of the office. Because most engineers are supposed to be billable or securing new work, and that person oversees the business aspects of the office. So that is a field specific variation that could trip people up.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        An old job offered me a PM career track once, and even put me on a project as a PM to see how I’d do. Two things happened after that. One, I checked with my online community (I was then active in a group that had several hundred IT professionals, mainly from the US) and everybody advised to make really sure that this is what I want to do. The phrase they used to describe a PM’s role was “all of the responsibility and none of the authority”. And two, what they told me tracked with what I was being mentored to do as a new PM – schedule meetings, get people’s status updates and report them upstream, have people come to me if they needed help/resources and network to get them the help or resources they needed, etc. Basically a project coordinator, like others said. I quietly noped out of that role and never asked to be put on a PM track since. That was 15+ years and two jobs ago, and the PMs I have worked with since then pretty much fit the description of their role that I was given back then. I can see where a really good PM can eventually work their way up to a management role, but, in my industry, a PM is not a manager. (Although, we now have scrum masters doing basically what the PMs of old used to do, but in a scrum. I don’t think we have anyone with a PM title at my current workplace at this point.)

        Also, to the comment above yours, just because OP’s team does not have a permanent manager at that point, does not mean that any new hire is welcome to volunteer for that job. They have an interim, and are looking for a replacement. If they wanted New PM to people-manage OP’s team, they would’ve told both him and them.

    2. Decidedly Me*

      There are a lot of job titles with manager in them that aren’t people managers. Customer Success Manager, Account Manager, etc.

  57. knitcrazybooknut*

    We had this problem in our HR department for a while, and we’re a state agency with those little quirks thrown in. The official job title was HR Consultant Assistant or something like that. Everybody saw “Consultant” and thought they’d be paid bank, when it was an entry level position. Whoops.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      My previous job was bought by a large corp, who did what they called “retitling”, changing our job titles to match theirs. Apparently, as a mid-level developer (level 2), my job title at Large Corp had the word Consultant in it. I was still an FTE, but my job title said consultant. Just more proof that large corporations aren’t most of the time making any sense, lol.

  58. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

    Your new coworker acting like your manager sounds really frustrating.
    I work in nonprofits so I’m not familiar with that title, but his the job sounds more like a project coordinator than a project manager. Maybe someone upstairs should think about changing the title.

  59. Sleeping Late Every Day*

    Is there a copy of your department’s/division’s organizational chart you could give or send to the pesky guy? That might be easier than trying to explain it.
    I’ve been annoyed by over-inflated job titles for years, but your place really has problems with them. One of the divisions where I worked did, too. You’re a manager! You’re a manager! Everybody is a manager!

    1. WellRed*

      At my company if of 12 people, we have several directors. Of themselves! They’d be laughed out of an interview for a real company.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        Yeah, when I first read the letter my knee jerk reaction was “oh this is like Former Company where HR was a department of one, and the job was really mostly benefits administration and not any other HR function, but since they are the ‘head’ of the department they get the title Director of HR”. It seems like that kind of mismatch between NewHireWhoHadThisTitleBeforeElsewhere and WhatThisCompanyUsesThatTitleFor.

  60. pleaset cheap rolls*

    “Is there anything I can say to subtly let this guy know he’s not my boss, nor is he in charge of our work? ”

    How about instead of subtly saying it, you clearly say it. You think this is important, so say so.

    1. Wisteria*

      “You’re not my boss, and you’re not in charge of my work,” probably won’t go over well. Subtle tends to go over better, and strategically, she probably will be working with the guy for a number of years and he won’t always be so junior. Something like, “What did you need these inputs for?” would get his answer for what he thinks he is doing, and she can then clarify, “Oh, I see. Well, I give regular updates to [the person who actually gets my regular updates]. If you need that info, they are probably the right person to get it from, since they really make that call.” or other fluffy way of saying, “I’m not accountable to you.”

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        “Hi, while you are managing the project, you’re not my manager. While I appreciate your keeping the project on track, I don’t have time in your general queries or supervision of my work. I’m sure you understand. Or course, please keep keeping us all on track on deadline and deliverables. Thanks.”

        Done. If that does not go over well, the PM is likely to have other problems.

        The following is a waste: ““What did you need these inputs for?”

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I like this script. I’d use it if I were OP! I’d also refer PM to Interim Boss if he still has problems after that.

  61. Anonosaurus*

    Some of this discussion sounds weird to me not because of the different definitions of PM, but because managing resources without direct authority is something a PM does routinely in my experience, even if they are effectively a coordinator rather than the decision maker. There’s clearly a disconnect in how this guy/OP see his role, but I also think he might just be poor at the softer skills involved in managing without authority/positional power. Ex-PM here who has seen this done well, with very adroit office political skills, and … less well. If this is an issue maybe a more experienced and emotionally intelligent PM could give this guy some coaching?

  62. Loredena Frisealach*

    My former consulting firm had both project managers *and* project coordinators, and it very much sounds like the role in OPs case is normally the latter (PC). Only our larger projects had full time PMs. The rest had a PC whose job was to: coordinate meetings with project team members and the client; report weekly financials to the client; let us know how many hours we had available to bill; and *maybe* track milestones. Typically they themselves only billed 4-8 hours per week on the project. On these projects the true PM level work – sprint planning, tracking and assigning of tasks and deadlines, risk management and escalation – was handled by the technical lead.

  63. Ursula*

    As far as whether or not it’s worth bringing up to the executive who is your actual manager, I would say it definitely is! Whether the guy is completely wrong about what is role is, which is messing up your workflow, or he’s trying to make himself your manager by force of will, both of those things qualify as a work ’emergency’ to me. It’s an issue that is causing significant problems that will only get worse the longer it goes on, and that might only be solvable by the executive.

  64. Elbereth Gilthoniel*

    OP, of you are still reading comments, please send in an update with what you decided to do and what happened! I’m hoping you do speak with him directly. I can easily see a scenario occurring where a new manager comes in and thinks that your PM is acting his he should act, and just let’s him continue. Please send in an update!

  65. Girasol*

    I watched the same story as OP’s except from the PM’s side. The PM was a qualified PMP hired by the boss to turn things around after the team had made poor progress in the last two years. The PM tried to put some structure around the effort but the team objected to all the fussiness. They wanted him to leave them to their work and go write project paperwork by himself. Both asked for role clarification: either a PM manages the project and leads the team, or he’s a paperwork admin and does what he’s asked: which is it? The boss sided with whoever was in his office complaining that day. After two more years the PM had been fired, the PMP replacing him had left, and the technical lead got a new job and hired the team away with him. The boss discovered that the team had not documented the effort because they’d left all the paperwork to the PMs, and the PMs had left no useful information because the team wasn’t speaking to them. No one could make out from the code what the team had been trying to do so there was nothing left from four years of effort. In this case it’s OP’s boss who has to decide exactly what the roles should be and referee the situation until his vision sticks. If the boss just stands back and hopes things work out, it’s liable to be a mess for everyone.

    1. can-relate*

      Oh, I’ve seen this happen before, too, including recently: an extremely qualified and experienced Project Manager quit TODAY over this exact type of mess. An extremely important and expensive project is now in shambles, all because some idiot in management hired the much-needed, senior-level Project Manager required for the role, and the team had their noses out of joint because they were all told the Project Manager was a junior-level position who was not, in fact, managing the project. Absolute nightmare.

  66. Debbie*

    Several years ago, I got a new boss and no one told me! It was very, very, very awkward when he corrected me on something and I directed him to my former boss.

  67. PMO wrangler*

    Yikes, I really feel for this project manager, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were already looking elsewhere and the problem will solve itself when they leave. They are clearly in the wrong role at the wrong organization, which is unfortunate for both them and you. I know all these comments say the same thing, but project manager is such a common role with similar job duties across industries, that it might make sense to really consider renaming this role and clarifying it’s an entry level if it opens up again. It will help weed out actual project managers and hopefully get you the right person your company has in mind for the role. In the meantime, I think the advice given makes sense. I would add that ideally you would be able to get your exec involved with this project manager and they can have a serious conversation about their expectations/needs for the role and if having that person in the role still makes sense for both sides. It might seem minor to the exec, but it’s really not doing anyone any good having a person with a strong but wrong skill set that isn’t impacting the company in a positive way.

  68. Uh huh*

    Good Lord, what a mess. I am sorry, OP!

    I wouldn’t be surprised if, in a management vacuum, the role has not been adequately explained, nor even understood, by whomever it was who hired New Guy.

    Depending on New Guy’s background, he is acting exactly like Project Managers do in many industries and companies, although with less bedside manner.

    He may have been told something completely different about his role, including if your company was hoping to get someone with mid-level or senior experience for an entry level role. But the role may have changed upon hiring New Guy, and it hasn’t been passed on to you, or even be showing up in the org chart. New Guy might also have been misled during hiring, either intentionally or accidentally.

    You need to loop in Interim Manager and get this sorted out. I’m sure you know your own company and team, but any changes may not have been communicated to you guys, either, especially when you are currently manager-less.

    Org charts are often also out of date or incorrect, especially during staff turnover and management vacuums, so definitely loop in the interim manager.

  69. TG*

    Taking you at your word this is the way the job is at your company I like the advice. I’d be friendly but firm and take it to the next level if you need to. He is not your manager but I have seen times when someone is held accountable for others work and delivery dates.

  70. Who Plays Backgammon?*

    Job titles can be total b.s., and Lama Manager may have one set of responsibilities in one place, and very different ones somewhere else.
    It’s also not uncommon for people to overstep their bounds, either out of misunderstanding or because they think they’ll single-handedly take Lama Manager to the next level of Lama Director, simply because they want to and feel they can/should.
    I’ve been in a situation like this for a long time. I was hampered in dealing with it from the beginning because my boss wanted someone else in my role and let that person get away with murder (such as deciding I should work unpaid overtime “for the team”). Follow Alison’s guidance quickly.

  71. RJ*

    I have an alternate suggestion, which is to not focus so much on putting people in a hierarchy and worrying about whether they’re acting above their station. Begin from the assumption that this is your peer and the two of you have different ideas about what his responsibilities on the project are. Tell him that what he’s doing is different from what the previous project managers have done, and explain how it’s creating a problem for you, if it is.

    I get not wanting him to act like your superior, but you shouldn’t treat him like an inferior, either. Just act like two people trying to figure out how to work together.

  72. pcake*

    Perhaps it might be helpful to let your company know that a project manager is, in most companies, not what they think it is. Their job listings will get people expecting a project manager to be a certain job.

    My father worked in aerospace as a project manager for decades, and he was in charge of the projects he managed. My husband works in a science-based company, and same thing. When I have worked as a project manager, I was in charge of everything in the project – the people, what is getting done and who should be doing it, what vendors to use, who needs help or clarification, putting everything all together. I’ve never heard the term “project manager” to mean anything else. Probably the new guy hasn’t, either.

    1. Raine*

      Where I’ve seen “project manager” to mean something else, it’s usually somewhere that has other systemic issues with organization, culture, and pay, where they hire people who don’t understand how stuff works in most industries and expect them to magically know how to do, say, llama grooming when they’ve only ever touched sheep.

      Some industries like to conflate titles, too, as mentioned upthread. I was once a Assistant Project Manager because the company wanted to hire me in at a specific pay rate and all the admin-type/coordinator-type pay bands were not open to them.

  73. duck*

    I would clarify if if he is or isn’t your boss, it sounds like the workplace doesn’t have clear lines right now.

    If he isn’t, stop being so subtle people! I have said to co workers more than once very directly ‘I don’t believe you are my manager, please do not direct me in that way. We are co workers.’ The passive aggressive ‘scripts’ go over most people’s heads. If your co workers gets in a twist about it, too bad.

  74. Foxgloves*

    Just to pitch in on the “he’s reprimanding higher ups about not attending meetings”- if he’s an experienced Project Manager in the traditional sense of the phrase, he’s probably seeing these folks as “project sponsors”- and in a typical PM role, it would be absolutely within your remit to give those people a bit of a talking to!

    Definitely sounds like there’s just be a disconnect about what this role is somewhere. I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault, but also, if the OP isn’t this guy’s line manager, I’m not convinced it’s her place to tell him what his job is? Although, the presence of org charts does make that easier…

  75. Ella*

    A friend’s younger sister is a Project Manager in the coordinator sense in her school leaver program, and she definitely thinks she is these people with 20, 30 years of experience’s actual manager. I don’t work with her and don’t plan on correcting her, but it’s pretty funny when she speaks as if she’s their boss (though now I’m seeing probably not so funny for those people!).

    1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

      It’s never funny when someone who is definitely NOT your boss speaks to you/acts as if they are. It causes all kinds of problems, not least of which is that it’s irritating as hell.

  76. agnes*

    I came to say that I think the job title is confusing for the work actually expected. The actual job sounds more like a traffic manager in an ad agency, or a project coordinator role in other organizations. You might also want to discuss that with someone for future hires.

  77. NinaBee*

    This is giving me ‘he used to work in London’ vibes ha ha. Project managers are always hovering asking ‘how are you going’ (on track, leave me alone) and ‘want to check in?’ (no you gave me work 2 hours ago). The more junior ones tend to do this more.

  78. Some person*

    I can’t imagine how “project manager” is NOT a senior position, but OK. Different industries, I suppose.
    Anyway, I had a coworker who was very much in a junior position, but he thought he could order the admin staff around. He said “if I walk into their office, they have to attend to me immediately.” And “there are many people out there who want their jobs.” He was actually serious. This was after he wanted the project admin to process an order, and she told him she would do it the next day, as she was swamped with other work.

    We calmly explained to him that they don’t work for him, they handle many projects. If he wanted the order to be processed sooner, he should have submitted the request sooner.

    He learned, became a bit less arrogant, and in the end he was great. Everybody liked working with him.

  79. Nom*

    I totally understand his confusion and why LW is annoyed. I think this could be cleared up with a discussion with him and reaching some middle ground. I can see how as a PM, even a junior one, it’s totally within his scope to check up on how you’re doing, if you need help with your tasks, and also to try to influence senior people to attend meetings, etc. Especially if he’s new, he may not trust yet that you’re on top of things and he sees it as within his scope to try to make sure things get done, even if he’s junior. I think problem here is not so much what he’s doing but how he’s doing it. It sounds like you’d like him to have an attitude adjustment, which is reasonable.

  80. Jones*

    Being subtle won’t work. You need to be the opposite. ‘You seem to think you have a management role and that is not the case. You are not our manager. Now you’ve been informed I expect you to stop x, y and z behaviour’. Be assertive, it is the only thing which works!

  81. A designer among other things*

    Just to chime in here from the world of software, I 100% have experienced this exact scenario. At least in my experience, PMs often are meant to manage the *project* but they occasionally can take that to mean they are managing the *execution* of everything – which is simply not true. For example, I’m a senior-level product designer and was working with a senior-level software architect on a development project, and our PM (who was much more junior than us and ended up getting let go for this and other things) would try to dictate to us how to do our jobs, like how we should share designs with clients, or how we should communicate technical issues or updates. The way I communicated to our management (and sorry you don’t have someone to talk to about this, OP, but maybe this metaphor will help) is, a good PM is an air traffic controller, not an airplane mechanic, a pilot, an airplane designer, etc etc. This PM we were working with seemed to see her role as designing the plane, flying the plane and repairing the engines – not simply ensuring the plane landed on time and on the right runway (a super important job in and of itself!!). As such, she would have limited the quality of our work to her scope of knowledge only, as opposed to letting the subject-matter experts make those decisions while she managed timelines, client expectations, etc.

    All this to say I totally understand what you are going through, OP!!

  82. Lily*

    I think one thing that might help reset the tone of the relationship is for you to utilize your project manager in the junior capacity, as the role actually is meant to be.

    For example:
    Him: It’s okay you missed the meeting, but try to be there next time.
    You: I probably can’t, so can you please start summarizing these meetings for the team?
    Him: What are you working on?
    You: X,Y and Z. Please confirm that the orders I placed for X,Y and Z are delivered to me on time.

    That will send him a signal that his job is to manage the project, not manage you, and that managing the project means taking care of the administrative details so that your energies are freed to do the substantive work.

  83. Greg*

    Anyone ever read Max Barry’s workplace satire “Company”? The whole book is great and I don’t want to spoil any of it, but there’s a part where a guy just walks into a team meeting and acts as if he’s the boss. The actual boss, who is in the meeting, calls him out, but he proceeds as if she’s the crazy one, and the rest of the team eventually just accepts him as the new boss, and she ultimately does, too. It’s simultaneously very funny and also an unsettling commentary on workplace sexism.

  84. Betsy S*

    in my last 12 years of work in tech, I have worked with Project Managers who manage projects but NOT people. I might be on several projects that have different project managers.

    A project manager will set the schedule, verify that tasks have owners, hold check-ins to make sure everyone feels on track, ask if there are any roadblocks, track the budget, communicate with stakeholders, untangle issues, etc:
    . https://www.glassdoor.com/Job-Descriptions/Project-Manager.htm

    I would expect the project manager to handle general updates about status during check-in meetngs , even hold daily standups if things look tight, but absolutely NOT to go around trying to supervise individual team members, unless they’ve heard that there’s an issue. I will hear from a PM , for example, if someone says they’re waiting for my deliverable and I’m the holdup, or if I missed a meeting and there was a question that I should have been there to answer.

    If you aren’t needed in a meeting, it’s up to you to negotiate with the PM and the project team, but don’t just be a no-show. That looks terrible (and management often gets a meeting report which includes who was absent). If you’re optional ,get listed as such. I’ll sometimes keep a meeting as ‘tentative’ and tell the leader to IM me if needed and I’ll jump in right away.

  85. Working*

    Ooh this is interesting to me, because my last employer was structured this way, the project manager was the most junior and was basically an administrative position. But at my jobs before that, the project manager was the head of the project. I was very confused when I started at my last job! Honestly I think calling these junior positions Project Administrator or Project Assistant would make a lot more sense.

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