Managing Multiple Managers: 3 Tips for Success

managing multiple managers

Let’s be honest: Having one boss is hard enough.

Yet some fortunate folks have multiple bosses to please. For example, perhaps you report directly to your manager as well as your manager’s manager. Or maybe you have one direct supervisor, but many people to whom you report regularly for different aspects of your job.

This kind of scattered management can mean you’re forced to navigate a wide array of competing demands, conflicting priorities, and challenging personalities. Without the right strategies at your disposal, dealing with multiple managers can leave you feeling schizophrenic! Even worse, it can have seriously detrimental effects on your ability to perform.

Also read: What Managing Up Really Means and 3 Helpful Techniques

If you’re struggling to manage more than one boss, the following three strategies will help you stay productive and maintain your sanity (or at least what’s left of it).

  • Clarify Priorities

One of the most common challenges for people in this situation is that of determining whose projects or tasks get priority. Often, different managers have very different ideas of what’s most important—and they all think their items should land at the top of your to-do list.

If you feel pulled in a dozen different directions at once, it’s time to get clear on your big picture priorities. The managers you work with need to understand that you’re not a dedicated resource. You have to divvy up your time and attention in a way that makes the most sense given your position.

Sit down with each person and help them understand the workload you’re juggling. Don’t be afraid to negotiate requirements (like deadlines) and push back on requests when needed. Help establish reasonable expectations based on your own sound judgment. Also, avoid playing favorites and prioritizing the work of one manager above others simply because you like him or her best.

The more transparent you can be, the better. Let each person know where their items land on the priority list and why and, if they take issue, facilitate a group discussion to get everyone on the same page. 

Also read: 3 Ways Leaders Can Win Company-Wide Support

  • Adapt Your Approach

Different managers are likely to have different work styles, communication preferences, and personalities. Therefore, you need to adapt your approach to suit the person you’re dealing with.

One manager, for example, may want to be deeply involved in all aspects of the work you do for him or her, while another may encourage greater autonomy. It’s your job to determine what each manager wants and customize your strategies accordingly.

To do this effectively, you’ll need to rely on your emotional intelligence—and hone these skills if they don’t come naturally to you. You may need to put your work style preferences on the backburner in order to create stronger relationships with your various managers. This is, indeed, challenging but ultimately well worth the effort.

Also read: How to Take a Stand While Maintaining Positive Relationships at Work

  • Let Them Duke It Out

If there’s one rule of thumb to follow, it’s this: When in doubt, let the managers duke it out. If you’re receiving conflicting information or instructions, call attention to it. Define the misalignment and ask the managers to come to consensus. If there is no single clear authority, do not simply allow the loudest or most forceful person to “win.”

Dealing with multiple managers can be a political minefield, but remember: You’re not there to stroke anyone’s ego. You have a job to do. You’re serving more than one master, and each has to respect that. Don’t allow yourself to get dragged into conflicts between them. Instead, allow your managers to do their jobs and manage the situation.

About the Author

Chrissy Scivicque is a career coach, corporate trainer and public speaker who believes work can be a nourishing part of the life experience. Her website, Eat Your Career, is devoted to this mission. Chrissy is currently a contributing career expert for U.S. News & World Report and the author of the book, The Proactive Professional: How to Stop Playing Catch Up and Start Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life!), available on Amazon.