Module 04: On the Job Success

Working with Your Manager

The person who has the most influence in your career and growth satisfaction on the job is your manager.  Your manager plays a significant role, providing you with opportunities for skill development- including approval for training(s). Your manager’s recommendations can impact decisions about raises, promotions, and job references. This will influence upper management’s opinion of you. Their managerial approach will likely set the tone for the way you approach and complete your work.  Managers play an incredibly powerful role over those whom they manage.

Given that a manager’s power, authority and their ability to strongly influence your job satisfaction, it’s essential that you prioritize your relationship with your boss. To do so you’ll need to have a positive and mutually productive relationship. Of course, there may be situations where, try as you might, you may find it impossible to develop a positive working relationship.  It’s important to know when it’s best for your mental health to leave a job before a negative situation spirals further.

The traditional hierarchy of the manager/employee relationship has been shifting in recent years to one which acknowledges the benefits of an equal partnership.  There is increasing recognition that this relationship can be more of a two- way street with the employee contributing value to the organization and team and the supervisor contributing resources to support the employee in meeting job and career growth goals. Both are working cooperatively to meet the organization’s broader goals.  However, this is a trend and may not be the reality you encounter in your workplace.

The “ideal” boss

Most of us have a mental picture (or experience) of a bad boss.  But what is your vision of the “perfect” manager? A good boss might be someone who inspires the team, has confidence in their team members’ abilities, and is concerned about the job growth and career development of each employee.  A good manager is knowledgeable, competent, fair, appreciative, responsive, caring, trustworthy and approachable. They provide clear instructions, are open to feedback, accepting of different perspectives, provide constructive feedback, demonstrate integrity, maintain confidentiality and provide helpful advice.

  • Your supervisor can open doors for you or make sure they stay firmly closed. Your relationship is too important to be left to chance.
  • If you think of your manager as your most important internal customer, you’ll want to offer exceptional customer service whenever you can. Being professional and resourceful not only gains you positive feedback from your supervisor, it can also open up opportunities and increase your job satisfaction.

Understanding your Manager 

Your relationship with your manager is too important to be mismanaged. A cooperative relationship will lead to greater job satisfaction and the possibility of more growth opportunities.  Take the time to observe and note your manager both as a person (their qualities, characteristics) and also in their role (their priorities, pressures).  You can achieve this through observing their interactions with you and others.

Your Manager’s Personality and Approach:

Consider your manager’s strengths and weaknesses.

  • How would you describe your manager overall? (e.g. easygoing, detail-oriented, creative, dis/organized, consultative, overwhelmed, bureaucratic)
  • What is your manager’s work style (e.g. collaborative, meeting oriented, hands-on, independent, flexible, deadline-driven, detail oriented, big-picture oriented, creative)?
  • How do you and the team feel about your manager?
  • Where is your manager most efficient? What is his/her weakest point?
  • How transparent is your manager with forwarding relevant information to you and the team?

Your Manager’s Role and Responsibilities

Just as you have stresses and pressures in your role, so too does your manager. Having empathy and understanding can go a long way to better understanding your manager’s goals. Take time to step back and consider the scope and demands of their role:

  • What does your boss do? What are his/her responsibilities?
  • What are his/her stresses and pressures?
  • Who does your supervisor report to? What pressures might they face as a result?
  • How does your work contribute to your supervisor’s objectives and success?
  • What are some wider objectives or concerns they may have in their role?

You might feel frustrated to hear that proactively taking responsibility for meeting your manager’s needs is something you should pay attention to above and beyond your day-to-day  job responsibilities.  However, even though it is not expressly written in your job description, learning how to maintain a collegial working relationship with your manager is one of the most important skills you can learn. This will go a long way towards creating a harmonious and positive working environment. It’s well worth the investment!

Taking into account the larger context of your manager’s personality, responsibilities and concerns-how should you approach your work and communication with your manager so that the relationship is a collaborative and successful working relationship?

Consider creating a confidential running list of observations as you learn and discover more about your manager. You might document what frustrates them, motivates them and impresses them.  Brainstorm how you might work differently to impress them or prioritize certain projects to help them do their job more efficiently.

Some common ways to enhance your relationship with your manager:

  • Remain willing to go above and beyond when possible
  • Be flexible in the face of changing priorities and assignments
  • Convey your interest in the organization’s mission
  • Respond professionally to feedback, as opposed to defensively
  • If you encounter a problem, try to offer a feasible solution
  • Try to solve problems independently before reaching out for support
  • Respect your manager’s authority
  • Stay accountable and own up to mistakes or errors in judgement
  • Participate actively e.g. speak up in meetings, embrace new projects
  • Minimize the need for supervision by e.g. proactively providing updates
  • Seek out ways to contribute to areas that are a priority for your manager
  • Be resourceful: reach out to team members for support or feedback

Conflict Resolution

When people are working together closely, conflicts are inevitable. Conflicts can occur as a result of differences in beliefs, values, opinions, and actions.  They can occur for a wide variety of reasons including hiring decisions, rumors, new policies, a change in a management style or company priorities.

It’s important to bear in mind that conflicts are not always a bad thing. They can offer a team the chance to learn others’ points of view, grow and innovate. So, it’s not always the conflict itself that’s the problem.  It’s how the co-workers involved handle the situation.

When conflicts remain unresolved they can lead to stress, diminished team morale, staff departures and lost productivity. Emotions may continue to run high until the nature and impact of the conflict is dealt with in a  way where all involved feel heard and supported. Some larger workplaces  and unionized environments have an in-house dispute resolution process to handle conflicts. This can be extremely beneficial especially in cases where an informal approach hasn’t worked. Where no internal mechanism is available, a neutral third-party may be brought in.

Bridge-building Conversations

A productive and bridge-building conversation following a conflict can repair wounded feelings and lead to greater mutual understanding. Bear in mind that the words you use and the questions you ask are important to consider carefully (For example asking “Why would you say that in the meeting?” is very different from “ Can you explain to me what motivated you to say that in the meeting?”)  You have an opportunity to take an emotional situation and turn it into an opportunity to learn from a colleague or supervisor.


Jane is standing in a lobby speaking to a man. There is a bank of elevators behind them.

Remember that bridge-building conversations require both parties to take turns speaking and listening. Expressing how a situation made you feel and what you were thinking is as important as taking in what the other person is saying by gently questioning, rephrasing and affirming what you’re hearing.

Below are some tips to help you manage a conversation about a conflict in a way that maintains a positive working relationship:

  • Listen carefully without judgement; you do not need to agree
  • Choose your words carefully so as not to inflame the situation
  • Stay as calm as possible and listen to the other side of the story
  • Avoid suggesting that you’re right and the other person is wrong, remain open and respectful
  • Try asking open-ended questions to learn more about the other person’s position, rather than stating your case
  • Restate what you heard the person say, to let them know you were listening and to avoid misunderstandings. This can have a very affirming effect
  • Focus on solving the problem, not blaming the other person
  • If you’re not able to resolve the conflict you may choose to speak with your supervisor or HR department

This information on conflict resolution is just a starting point. Learning how to resolve conflicts effectively is a skill that takes time, commitment and experience. It has been researched and written about extensively. We encourage you to continue to learn and practice your conflict resolution skills by accessing professional development courses/workshops, reading books on the subject, and consulting online resources.

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