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How to Handle Multiple Bosses

Seek to understand your bosses'
perspectives and communicate
your priorities

Juggling Responsibilities

As companies continue to flatten, organize work around specific projects, and use temporary teams to complete projects, many employees find themselves reporting to multiple bosses. While this is more likely to happen in bigger and more complex organizations, it is just as common in start-ups and family-owned businesses.

If confronted with this situation, it is important to ensure that each of your bosses understands that you have multiple reporting responsibilities. Make certain that you understand and communicate effectively with each boss on a routine basis.

It's important to remember that most top managers have multiple reporting situations as well, so they will more than likely be very receptive to any concerns that you may have.

Know Who Has the Most Power Over You

While you may have multiple managers, there’s usually one person who is responsible for making decisions about your compensation, promotions, and the like. If you are unsure who you ultimately report to, ask your managers. Have it resolved between them so that you do not make a mistake in assuming which boss makes these decisions.

Make Sure Your Bosses Are In Agreement

Your bosses should be aware of each other’s projects and what they are passing off to you. Creating a project list is a great way to ensure that everyone involved is aware of each task that has been assigned, which will allow them to more equally distribute work to you.

Stay Out of the Middle

If you’re being given conflicting information or instruction, don’t get in the middle. Avoid speaking on behalf of one boss to the other. You don’t need to play mediator. Rather, try to get them to talk to each other. Define the problem or conflict and enlist them in the problem-solving. Let the managers sort it out themselves. Their job as managers is to align around a decision and communicate it to you.

Prioritize Your Tasks

It’s critical that you have very clear communication lines with your bosses regarding how tasks get prioritized. Is there a specific type of task that takes priority? Or does one person’s work take precedence? Or is it a “first-come, first-served” environment? Avoid confusion by creating a physical list of all your upcoming tasks. Ask each of your bosses to indicate, in order of importance, which of their tasks are higher or lesser priority. Now combine all your priority lists into one master list and prioritize your duties according to this list. Make sure you have agreement across the board. This won’t prevent every conflict; but it will give you an established way of doing things. Plus a written list will help you to demonstrate the myriad demands on you should they become unrealistic.

Get to Know Who You Are Working For

The people you work for will all have different personalities, preferences and work styles, so you’ll need to adapt your strategy for each individual. Listen closely, carefully observe each boss's habits and ask questions about preferences early in the working relationship. Also pay attention to how they communicate. For instance, does he/she communicate with staff mainly through email and written communications or does he/she prefer face-to-face discussions? Adjust accordingly.

Keep Your Cool

If you do feel stretched, take a deep breath and maintain a sense of humor. By always striving to present yourself as a hardworking and disciplined employee with the best interests of the organization at heart, you will be able to maintain good relationships without burning out in the process.

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