Career Strategies: Managing Your Manager

Numerous studies on job satisfaction among nurses tell us that high quality leadership from an experienced nurse manager is a crucial factor in reducing staff turnover. It seems like a no-brainer – the relationship you have with your boss is not only critical to your satisfaction, but to your career success as well. You need support, information, and guidance from your boss in order to advance. And while it’s true that managers come in all different levels of skills and leadership styles, it’s ultimately up to you to create a positive relationship with your boss.

Embracing the Concept of Managing Up

The term “managing up” refers to the process of actively working with your manager to obtain the best results possible for you, your boss, your patients, and the entire organization. If you can master the process of consciously tending to your manager’s needs, you can enhance your value within the organization and increase your own satisfaction. Managing up is about creating a supportive relationship that serves both you and your manager well.

Managers have different leadership styles, and identifying the predominant style used by your boss is the first step in learning to manage up. Most nurse managers will use some version of the following styles, or switch between them as the situation dictates:

  • Autocratic. This type of manager creates a system of centralized authority; making most decisions herself and directing all tasks performed the nurses she manages (sometimes this leads to a “micromanager” who is constantly looking over shoulders and obsessing over details). Often an autocratic manager is not open to input or suggestions from other employees. In nursing, this management style can create problems if a floor nurse isn’t allowed to make independent decisions or must wait for approval before taking action on behalf of a patient.
  • Democratic. This manager values participation from nursing staff and is open to input and suggestions when making decisions that affect the group as a whole. A democratic manager allows nurses to work independently, while remaining available as a resource person. This leadership style is arguably the most effective for nursing situations, and it works best when all floor nurses are equally skilled and willing to work toward the same goals.
  • Bureaucratic. Rather than making independent decisions or shaping existing policy, this type of manager relies heavily on hospital policies and procedures. However, a rigid approach can prove problematic in a hospital setting, where patients must sometimes be considered on an individual basis and rules don’t always precisely apply to every situation.

Knowing What’s Important to Your Manager

If you feel like you clash with your manager at times, it may be that you’re not adapting to that person’s communication style. Try to convey information in the way your manager likes to receive it – for example, an autocratic manager may want a daily email report, while a democratic boss prefers a weekly summary. Try to tailor your level of detail to what your manager prefers – whether it’s providing exact numbers, or just the overall big picture. A good way to figure this out is by observing how your manager communicates with others.

It’s usually safe to assume that all nurse managers appreciate employees who make their life easier, so watch for opportunities to do just that. Here are few suggestions:

  • When you present a problem to your manager, try to offer potential solutions as well.
  • Be credible, by always telling the whole truth when you have information of interest to your manager. Accept responsibility for your own actions, and don’t fall into the bad habit of playing the “blame game.”
  • When there’s an opportunity to fill in for someone or volunteer for an extra task, be willing to step up to the plate.

Handling a Micromanager

A micromanager takes a hands-on leadership style to the extreme, by constantly checking up on you as you work or insisting you perform every task exactly the way she would do it. In some cases the tendency to micromanage is deeply rooted in a manager’s personality; other times, it’s more of a bad habit that can be unlearned with management training or more experience. In either case, you either have to find a coping strategy that works for you, or you’ll eventually have to change jobs. Consider the following options:

  • Decide not to take it personally. Your manager probably has a hard time delegating to or trusting anyone, so don’t feel like it’s about you being untrustworthy.
  • Practice assertive communication. You can calmly ask for the opportunity to complete a task independently or perhaps to receive additional training if that would bolster your manager’s faith in you. Again, you may have to realize that the manager is not capable of changing bad habits.
  • Stay positive. Focus on the good parts of your job, and strive to meet or exceed all of your manager’s expectations.
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