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Career tip: How to deal better with managers June 27, 2009

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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Unless you become the CEO of your company, everyone has to deal with someone who is higher on the organizational chart. Dealing with these people in management roles is quite different than dealing with your peers. Managers do a totally different type of work than a scientist.

The world of a manager is defined by plans; meetings; reading, editing, and writing reports; phone conversations; creating and maintaining budgets and schedules, and a multitude of non-technical tasks. What does this translate into, as far as your interactions? You have to first look from the manager’s perspective in order to understand how you can better deal with her or him.

With the manager’s job being defined by “office work” and not science, the value system is not the same. Something that is creative and innovative science will not touch a manager in a way it does with a scientist. The “Wow” involved in discovery is not there. A manager looks, instead, at what impacts this work will have on the organization’s operation and image. Will it raise the chances of a bigger budget next year (or the corollary of making it easier to justify) or how will it make the organization appear to even higher managers?

Part of the importance these things have is image. This means that a report not only describes the work in terms of business importance, but also in itself must create an image of quality and proficiency. A report or presentation aimed at a manager must be well put together and readable. Proofreading is a must!

Misspelling, to a manager, means carelessness to details. This means either you are sloppy in your work (including the technical!) or do not understand the message’s importance. Both are image killers that you have to avoid.  Most scientists divide their work into science and the “busy work” of reports, budgets, and so on. A manager does not see it this way, so sloppiness in one means sloppiness in the other – rather than the possibility of interest in one and lack of it in the other.

The same is true of budgets and schedules. Cost overruns are bad, even if justifiable due to circumstances or unforeseen events. Missing schedules are also bad. The importance of these might be used to your advantage sometimes because you can involve the manager in setting important priorities (however, many managers default on this role, leaving all responsibility on the scientist).

A manager often looks upon herself and himself as the owner and operator of the organization. So, turning an accomplishment from “Wow” science into good public-relations that make the organization and its manager look good is going to accomplish more. This may even result in the manager taking credit for your accomplishments or always trying to share the limelight.

For some managers, the local personification of them and their organization can be extreme, whether by personal insecurities and competitiveness or by the operational mechanics. A dollar saved in another organization may be less valuable that the dime spend in your own organization to gain it. Accolades from the other organization for doing this are only valuable to the manager if they make the organization or its leadership look better. 

Since reports, presentations, budgets, and schedules are core things in a manager’s world, they are real and important things, not just paper-pushing or onerous things that have to be taken care of. Your manager sees them as your most important output because they tell her or him and all higher managers how well your work fits into your organizations plans and how important that work is to the output of the organization or company, be it in profit gained, money saved, or benefits to society if you are in government service.

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