Working with Your Manager

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All assistants work to make life easier for their employers. This requires assistants to be adaptable. While you should never work in an unsafe environment, it is imperative that you adapt your communication and work style to the style, needs, and responsibilities of your boss. This will help ensure that you have a productive and amiable work relationship.

Adapting to Their Style

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You do not always get to choose your manager. While there is every possibility that you will find your manager’s style amiable, you must prepare yourself for a manager who presents more of a challenge. You will have to work with people you find difficult. However, you may be able to turn a negative into a positive if you take the time to understand your manager. This understanding will allow you to adjust your responses appropriately. 

Common Difficult Management Styles:

  • Authoritative Commander: This management style does not respond well to criticism and expects things done a certain way. Additionally, outcomes matter more than the task itself.
  • Approach: Phrase concerns as questions; do not say no directly. Do not volunteer information about projects unless asked.
  • Pessimistic: This type of manager can never see the bright side of life. Time is wasted second-guessing, and it is easy to become a free counselor.
  • Approach: Actively listen to determine if the negativity is justified. Offer suitable solutions, but remain professional. Provide positive updates whenever possible.
  • Control Freak: Also known as the micro-manager, this type of person has trust issues. Every action you make is questioned and double-checked. 
  • Approach: The best way to gain trust is to deliver projects that are complete and on time. Additionally, you should provide updates on work without being asked.

Anticipate Their Needs

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Your job is to reduce the number of distractions or minor tasks that your manager has to handle. You should not expect every need to be clearly outlined for you. For example, your employer should not have to explain that they should not be interrupted during a meeting with the CEO. You should anticipate this need. Anticipating managerial needs is an essential skill that every assistant should learn. Anticipating needs requires using common sense with each task. For example, if you schedule a flight and book a hotel, the need for printed boarding passes and a map with directions should be anticipated. By paying attention to the demands placed on your manager and anticipating needs before they arise, you will make yourself an invaluable employee and respected assistant.  

Getting Your Responsibilities Defined

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While your job description will provide most of you job responsibilities, it is necessary to clarify certain aspects of your job with your employer. Much of this is based on their personal preferences. You should initiate a discussion to clarify information if your manager does not. Your responsibilities will change with each manager, so you should have a conversation whenever you work for a new manager. 

Responsibilities to define:

  • Is phone, email, or face-to-face communication preferable?
  • Do you have a reminder system?
  • Do you schedule meetings with or without consulting your employer?
  • Is any training necessary?

Once you have your responsibilities outlined, you need to write them down. This will ensure that you do not forget anything. 

When to Take the Initiative

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Managers expect assistants to take initiative. However, it is important that you do not overstep your bounds. The key is deciding when it is appropriate to take the initiative. The answer will be different in every situation. Understanding when to take initiative requires you to know your employer’s needs and expectations. Some managers are more comfortable with employees taking initiative than others, so you should act slowly. 

Regardless of who your manager is, you need to begin with smaller tasks until you earn a sufficient level of trust. For example, you could conduct research for a project your manager needs to complete. Later, you could create a PowerPoint presentation or volunteer to draft correspondence and weed out emails. Remember only to take initiative when it is appropriate and based on your manager’s wants or needs. It will be easier to discern when it is appropriate to take initiative the longer that you and your manager work together. However, if you believe your manager would be uncomfortable with you taking on a project, you should discuss it before taking action.

Case Study

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This is Karen’s second position as a personal assistant. She is sure that her new manager will be pleased with her and does not feel that she needs to discuss her responsibilities with him. Karen chooses to communicate with her boss using email, which her last employer preferred. She also takes over scheduling meetings because it had always been her role. Her manager soon called her into a meeting and expressed unhappiness with her performance. He only checked email at the end of the day, and he considered several scheduled appointments to be a waste of time. Karen took this opportunity to clarify her manager’s expectations.