Work situation: do I have a point or am I overreacting?

So there’s this senior manager I work with, let’s call him Bob. Bob’s a decent guy, and he’s recently been promoted from manager to senior manager, so the organization likes him too. He’s not my most favorite person to work with, but he’s decent and I’ve worked with far worse. He and I have a very good working relationship.

Hierarchy-wise, we both report to the same director, so at least on paper, we’re at the same level. That said, he’s a Sr. Manager, he has a bunch of direct reports, who in turn have direct reports. I’m just me, the most-senior tech geek in the department, but no direct reports.

I’ll add in that before both of us moved into our current position I worked for Bob, for about 6 months. Then I was promoted, then he was promoted.

My problem is that nowadays, he STILL sometimes acts like I work for him. Most of the time it’s fine - by definition, my job is to help the developers on the teams he oversees, so it’s not at all odd for him to call me up and say “Hey, can you give Joe a hand? There’s the code issue he needs some help with.” No big deal.

Where I start to get stabby is when he starts treating me like I work for him in public. Especially now - a couple teams just got reorganized, there’s a lot of new folks on the teams in question who don’t really get the organization at all because they’re new, and there’s generally a bit of instability going on. Not being clear around roles and leadership is shitty for everyone; folks need to know who does what and who is responsible for what.

Nothing he’s done is rude, or bad, or even anything more than being slightly more boss-ish than is warranted when he talks to me. A good example happened the other day - he and I and a couple of guys who report to Bob were working on a deploy issue at night, and it took us until about 11pm to fix it. Once it was trending towards done, Bob sends me and his two direct reports a message saying “Hey guys, once this last issue is fixed, feel free to head out and also take off early tomorrow!”

Which is fine and good, if you report to him. I don’t; it’s not up to him when I sign off or if I work all day or take off early. He’s not my manager.

I worry that this kind of thing 1) undermines my own authority; we’re peers and I’d like to be portrayed as such when he talks with others on the team and 2) it creates uncertainty among the team members in a time where we should be striving to be clear about roles. And OK, I’ll admit it, #3: it’s annoying as hell.

I replied to that message much the same as I have in previous situations: with humor, and gently pushing back. So for this one, I said “You, too, Bob! Take off early tomorrow!”

Seeing as this kind of thing keeps happening, should I say something? If so, what should I say? Am I overreacting? I’ll add in that this guy is obviously a management favorite, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if I do indeed end up working for him again at some point in the future, and annoying-tendencies aside, that wouldn’t be all that bad. I really don’t hate the guy or mind working with him at all, I just wish he’d stop treating me like I’m one of his direct reports.

Believe it or not, I’m in a similar situation at my place.

I just let it slide.

I figure it’s not worth the effort to say or do anything about it.

But then again, I’ve been told (and I agree) that I do not like confrontations.

Maybe something along the lines of:

Enjoy sleeping in, [direct report 1] and [direct report 2]. You earned it.
Bob — Good work tonight; I wish I were one of your direct reports so I could sleep in, too.

IOW, make it look as though the first part of his message was aimed at all three of you, but the second part only at the two guys who report to him. Which it should have been. It also makes it look as though you assume he knows you don’t work for him. Which he should.

(I know this is a response to a specific incident that’s now done and gone, and it may be a while before something similar enough to implement this strategy comes up. But it’s all I got.)
ETA: Just noticed that Bob’s message said to leave early, not to come in late. My bad.

The first thing you need to do is decide if this is an issue you want to address. Be aware there might be consequences. If you don’t want to risk them, just let this go.

If you do want to address it, I think the first person you should talk to is Bob in a one-on-one situation. Remind him that you don’t report to him and explain how his acting as if you do undermines your authority and confuses other employees. Present this as a business issue not a personal one.

If that doesn’t resolve the problem, go to the person you do report to and raise the issue with them. Your director should step in and clear this up.

The possible downsides are that you might end up in a hostile working relationship with Bob. Or your director might decide to clear the problem up by officially placing you under Bob. Or worst; both of the above.

That’s pretty passive aggressive. If somebody pointed out a shortcoming to me in this way I’d resent it.

This all boils down to Bob’s motivations. Is it just cluelessness from a Type A personality (I’ve had to work with those sorts before) or is he genuinely trying to establish himself as a “first among equals” sort of deal?

From the OP, it seems more like the former. Sit down and talk with him. If he’s a decent guy like you say, he’ll understand where you’re coming from and will back down. Anything less direct is just asking for trouble.

Little Nemo nailed it.

Especially since you say you MIGHT end up under him, and since you suggest he has SOME issues that make him “not your favorite”, I’d be leery of him holding a grudge which would manifest later.

If you have good enough relations with him, and if it really bothers you, I’d mention it privately. But if your job is like mine, there are so many insults and indignities that occur on an ongoing basis, you really have to pick out which ones you are unable to ignore.

He doesn’t sound like an ogre and preserving a good working relationship is always to be preferred so as others have said, you might not want to say anything at all. (and only you know how he’d take a direct approach)

Myself, If I’ve learned anything about managing people it is that nipping things in the bud is pretty much always the best course of action.

I would enter into this with the expectation that it is all a silly misunderstanding through no-one’s fault. I’d mention it to Bob along the lines of…

“Bob, I was talking to one of the team and it was clear that they assumed I was a direct report of yours, no harm done, not a big deal as I explained it all to them and they were a bit embarrassed but thought you should know as it may be that we need them to be clear on that.”

Now if Bob was doing to it in order to assert authority then speaking up is the right thing to do, If it is an innocent mistake and an oversight then he’ll be as eager to set things right as you are, and speaking up was still the right thing to do.

Really? I thought it sounded breezy and innocent.

Maybe that’s why I never got anywhere in corporate America.

If he’s favored by the Brass, I strongly suggest you just deal with it.

I learned this the hard way.

I basically had to teach myself: “Yeah, he’s not my boss on paper. But in reality, he’s my damn boss. He just can’t approve my vacation time or fire me. That’s the only thing that separates him from my actual boss.”

I’m thinking let it slide. Showing resentment at something that may have been nothing but well intentioned could bring more trouble than it’s worth.

If he starts giving you actual assignments instead of asking for help with this and that, you might have a case. But questioning the motives behind an offhand compliment seems nitpicky.

I might have done something along the line of, “I’m glad you appreciate the effort. I’m passing your comment along to Sheila. She always likes to know when things are going well.” (Sheila standing in for fictional boss.) Then I would have forwarded. We actually were supposed to forward compliments for use in review time, so it wouldn’t have been that strange. Gentle reminder to Bob, Sheila is made aware, and that you are a hard worker, there you go.

I think you should let it slide. If you do find specific situations where lack of perceived authority is a problem (e.g., you need someone to do something and they are hesitant), you can address it with them directly by explaining the org structure. Offhand comments like “you too, Bob!” will confuse people who think you work for Bob, and make you look insecure to people who know your relative roles.

This will probably come out worse than intended, but I suspect a part of your complaint is ego. It’s very understandable because recognition of our value is a major factor is job satisfaction, and being treated like a subordinate is a blow to your ego and perceived value. But I think it’s better to set aside the ego and let it go. From the example you gave, it sounds to me like Bob is acting more as a project lead than your boss.

I’m retired (THANK GOD!), but this comment has my vote for how to handle this. Saying something to Bob is good. BUT you must not make it personal between you and him. And you must approach the sitch as if you are clearing up a problem he doesn’t even know he has and generally making life easier for HIM. It has to be about HIM and how (implied without being directly stated) “it’s no big deal to me and I don’t even care, but a couple of YOUR people seem a little confused and I’m telling you now so it doesn’t bite you in the ass later.”

There can’t be even the tiniest whiff of confrontation or complaining on your part. And to address what someone said, sure it’s partly ego, and what’s wrong with that? What’s the point of having a hierarchy at all if your pride in your competence and in having been promoted isn’t something you wear proudly? Ego = good. Until you turn into Attila the Hun, of course, but I don’t see any danger of that here.

My 2 cents.

*Back to watching daytime TV and eating bon-bons. *

Going on the assumption that Athena indicates a person of the female persuasion, I can’t go along with “Let it slide.” I’m not saying turn this into a feminist cause, but I’d have to mention something to Bob to let him know “You’re not the boss of me!!” in as professional way as possible. Maybe I’m overly sensitive, but I spent too many years in Engineering being treated as if I were a secretary or receptionist rather than an engineer. (And I’m not trashing secretaries or receptionists, so don’t anyone get all wound up about that.)

And even if Athena is a guy who likes Greek goddesses, I still don’t think this should slide by. There’s no reason to be snarky or obnoxious about it, but it should be addressed. And I thought Cayuga’s email idea was a reasonable way to handle it. Then again, what do I know - I’m just an engineer…

That’s not necessarily true, unless your “most-senior tech geek” role is considered equivalent to a Sr Manager. Your director could certainly have people of different levels reporting to him or her.


Is what he asking you to do unreasonable or do you simply resent being asked to do stuff by someone who isn’t officially “your boss”?

What would your interactions be if you were all the same title?
I find that not doing stuff because “it’s not my job” or you feel like getting into a pissing contest over titles is not a great career move. Your “job” is to help the company be successful. That includes helping senior managers with stuff.

Your success is not just defined by executing for your direct manager to the letter of instructions and corporate policy. It is also developing a reputation among senior management that you are a helpful and valuable contributor.

I mean, unless you work someplace where you are treated like a cog that isn’t expected to deviate from instructions from their direct boss.

No, it sound childish and jerky.

A much better thing to say (such that you should respond at all) is
"Thanks Bob!

Unfortunately I actually have to come in early tomorrow to help on this other project I’m working on for our Director."

I’d be passive aggressive about it myself - but just in front of his team

“I’ll need to ask Jim, since I work for him too.” “I’d love to do that, but Jim has made it clear that this is my priority.” “I’d love to take off, but Jim needs this thing by three.” Where at all possible, actually respond with coordinated work, or with work done for Jim’s boss. “Jim and I need to get that presentation done for Phil.” Bring in other in line peers as well…“I’m not going to get to that today, I have to support Sandy’s team as well and they are in a crunch.”

Wow, thanks for all the replies!

I don’t see this as a real possibility. Bob is one of those golden-retriever type personalities; I truly believe he’s just trying to support everyone, including me, and doesn’t realize how it comes through. I can’t imagine him having a hostile working relationship with anyone, he’s just not wired that way.

It’s not even a “first among equals” thing. We’re on different career tracks; I’m technical, Bob is in management. He can’t do my job any more than I could do his.

I’m actually not all that concerned about Sheila knowing or not knowing what I do; she sees me enough, and Bob is very much the kind of person who lets folks know who is doing a great job.

If it makes any difference, I’m fairly confident that I, too, am favored by the Brass.

I am a woman of the female persuasion, and sure, some of this is ego. But there’s another twist to this as well; me and a handful of other technical folks were promoted into the position we’re in over the past year. Our jobs are to be the technical right hand to the various department directors, and also to be the lead architect/technical talent for the department. Also, the woman-thing is part of it too; I have reluctantly realized that as one of the top technical leads in our organization, it’s somewhat in my sphere of influence to watch out for gender issues. I’m lucky that I work in a good organization and we have very few incidents, but I’m also very aware that if I let stuff slide that it might cause a negative effect to other women, so I try to be cognizant of any public behavior that could be construed as discriminatory. (and indeed, our company as a whole has a huge push for this kind of thing; we want to be a good place to work for all folks and very much are working to stay away from the high-tech “bro” culture that we see in the news lately.)

This is unfortunately, because I’m a very bad feminist. I hate “women’s groups” and I don’t identify as a “woman in tech”, I’m just a “person in tech.” But given all the crap news lately, I’m being forced to at least give lip service to all of it. (not at all saying stuff doesn’t happy, just saying I prefer to live in my blissful little world where I can ignore it all.)

Anyway, back to my and my peer’s jobs: What none of us have are any actual direct reports or official authority. Our charter flat-out says we are to provide technical leadership over our respective departments. It’s an ongoing discussion between all of us as far as how, exactly, we lead when we really can’t say to a developer or team “Hey, you guys really need to be doing <x>, not <y>.” The best we can do is convince our directors or various middle management to support our ideas (which is usually fine, but occasionally we’ll get a team who is determined to go off on their own, much to our chagrin, because it’s US who are called in the middle of the night when things go sideways.)

Anyway, I am somewhat sensitive to this kind of stuff because I’m trying to establish that I’m a leader. And it’s working; I have the respect of my department and things are working out. I just want to keep it that way. :smiley:

I’m not sure I agree with you. He’s a senior manager; you are not even a junior manager. To me, he’s way more senior than you.

Thing is, though, that other’s perceptions of our value have a real impact on our careers as well.

This is true, but I don’t think the other staff’s perception of Athena’s value is what she fears. As she notes, she has the respect of her department and is considered a leader in technology. That isn’t going to be impacted by their perception of her as a manager, which isn’t her job.

My last job had a similar org structure, with management and technical track people. Even though the technical people were my peers, I frequently assigned them tasks for projects I was leading. And they frequently assigned me tasks to support their work - “get this equipment requisitioned by Friday.” It was perfectly appropriate for me to tell them to come in late tomorrow because they worked late on my project. And it would have been equally appropriate for them to tell me they couldn’t because they had other tasks, and in fact they were going to need me in early as well to help them.

Every request you make of a coworker does not mean they are in a subservient position. Athena is in a much better position than I to judge if Bob’s treatment of her is about him managing his projects or him managing her. My suggestion is to consider what he’s doing and address it if it’s the latter. If it’s the former, I think the other staff recognize this and it risks making her look insecure if she brings it up.