How to cope with an unsupportive boss

You're ready to advance, but your manager is asleep at the switch. Here's how to get ahead without a boost from your boss.


IT managers are often skilled computer experts, a trait any techie can respect. But when it comes to managing people and advancing their employees' career goals, many fall flat.

Is it possible to get ahead when your boss is unwilling or unable to support your ambitions? Sure, says Eric P. Bloom, if you're willing to take some initiative.

Bloom, who has held senior executive positions at companies such as Monster Worldwide, Independence Investments and Fidelity Investments, tells the story of a quality assurance worker at one of his former companies who wanted to move into programming.

Her manager wasn't strong on team development, so the QA staffer took matters into her own hands. She learned .Net, and then when her team found bugs in new programs, she could help coordinate fixes with the programmers.

In the process, she became a valuable asset in the eyes of both her own manager and the person who managed the programming team. By successfully bridging the two departments, Bloom says, the QA staffer was able to move into the programming job she had wanted.

Bloom, now the president and founder of Manager Mechanics LLC, a management training firm
in Ashland, Mass., says many bosses in IT aren't strong on mentoring and team-building. They often received promotions themselves because they were technically strong, and not necessarily because they had strong people skills or instinctive leadership qualities.

Many bosses in IT aren't strong on mentoring and team-building.

Eric P. Bloom, president, Manager Mechanics LLC

All of which means you might find yourself with a boss who's a nice person but isn't well equipped to help you advocate for career advancement.

The good news: Unless you're truly in a dead-end job, it is possible to get in on those big projects, get yourself noticed and ultimately get a promotion without ticking off your manager in the process. Here are five strategies to help you get ahead when your boss isn't on board.

Be clear on what you offer

Most people aren't very good at articulating what value they bring to the workplace, says Michael Ehling, a Toronto-based executive coach with The McNeill Group of Plantation, Fla. They're too vague on what they offer and what talents they have, often underestimating their value in the process.

So before you begin your campaign for advancement, take some time to think about your passions and motivations as well as your needs at work, he says. You might find you're passionate about solving problems, but you also want to work with cutting-edge technology.

"When you define those [strengths], then you can look out to your peers and boss and ask, 'What are your needs and how can I apply my value to help you?'" Ehling says. "Being seen as helpful is going to get you projects and promotions. And in no way will you be seen as going around, over or behind your boss, because all you're doing is serving needs."

Ask for what you want

Even if your manager hasn't been supportive so far, you should still sit down for a face-to-face chat, says Thuy Sindell, vice president of client services at Mariposa Leadership Inc., a San Francisco-based leadership coaching service, and co-author of The End of Work As You Know It: 8 Strategies to Redefine Work On Your Own Terms.

"Let him know that you need him to be more of an advocate," says Sindell. But -- and this is a big but -- don't start and end the conversation there. "It's got to be framed in the positive, in the form of a request," she explains. "Then you have to ask, 'Is there anything I've been doing that has prevented you from being an advocate for me?' because there could be a whole laundry list."

Be ready to listen to what your boss needs from you, and be ready to articulate what you can do for him and how your skills can help the organization. Your boss is more likely to be your advocate if you can consistently deliver what's needed.

Commit to your boss's success

It may sound counter-intuitive if you're saddled with a sad-sack manager, but if you want to succeed, first make sure your boss does, says Ehling.

He says that workers should set their minds on being "100% committed to the boss's success," which he acknowledges can be a difficult task if you believe your boss makes mistakes. If you're committed to her success, however, then it becomes part of your job to point out land mines to her - be they political ramifications or vendor problems or a technical glitch - and offer possible ways around them.

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