Dear New Shrink,
I need your advice. I work in a medium-size office and collaborate with a number of staff members to complete regular projects and events. While the majority of team members are easy to work with and they complete their projects on time, there is one person in particular who is consistently late to submit materials and often does not respond quickly to questions that need his immediate response. To make matters worse, this particular person happens to be the head of our unit and my supervisor. He tends to jump from one idea to the next and is much more focused on the bigger picture than the finer details needed to move projects forward.
However, despite his focus on the big picture, he likes to provide an opinion on every piece of the project and insists on approving all design and event materials before publication. In some cases his late response has cost the company more money because we have had to rush order supplies or print jobs. What suggestions do you have for dealing with a supervisor who has difficulty sticking to deadlines when collaborating on projects?
Dear Task Master,
Working with a team can be a great experience and a unique opportunity to learn from others, but it can also be a difficult feat when members of the group do not pull their own weight. This can be even more difficult to deal with when this person is a supervisor. I hope that the tips below will help you explore various ways to help keep your supervisor on track while also determining ways to ensure that your projects are completed on time.
Start by thinking about your supervisor’s communication and work style. Whenever possible, consider delegating tasks that best fit the personality and work style of that individual. Given that your manager tends to be focused more on the “big picture,” he may have difficulty focusing on the finer details of a project and therefore it may take longer for him to provide his feedback on detail-focused materials. Consider paraphrasing the project or asking for broad advice about how to move the project forward rather than counting on this person for suggestions on each detail. You may find that communicating in outline format or with bullet-points is better received than longer paragraphs of text or information.
When you do receive advice about specific details, ask if those standards can apply to other pending projects so that you can avoid asking for approval for each individual assignment.
It is also important for you to examine your primary communication method. Given the amount of messages the average professional receives in a given day, it is easy to lose track of an e-mail. If you rely mostly on e-mail to communicate project tasks and deadlines, you may consider asking your supervisor about an alternative way to engage him in the various projects you manage. Perhaps you could schedule a weekly status meeting where you can quickly run through items that need a simple yes/no or brief comment to move things forward. An in-person meeting may also be a good opportunity to receive approval for your event materials and print publications. Be sure to let your supervisor know what steps have been taken to create the document so that he knows that it has been proofread and reviewed before his approval is requested.
When you need to rely on the input of your boss to move a project forward, consider setting the timeline as far in advance as possible and creating check-in points to assess where each person stands on the project. It may be helpful to take a large task that requires your supervisor’s involvement, and break that responsibility down into a few parts. Given that your supervisor is also the head of your unit, it is likely that he has a number of priorities on his plate. Many managers will tackle the quick tasks first to eliminate items from their to-do list. If your requests are broken down into smaller pieces that can be completed quickly, you may find that your manager can prioritize more of your requests.
KATRINA DAVY, M.A., Ed.M, is a professional career counselor who has worked in university and private settings. She holds degrees from Cornell and Columbia universities. Visit her online at www.kdcareer.com. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions are kept anonymous; let us help you with your life matters!