Getting to Know Your Manager

Portrait of a confident mature businessman standing in a modern office with his colleagues in the background

The relationship with your supervisor or manager is probably your most important work relationship. Managing your manager can lead to an improved working life, more job satisfaction, and a more manageable workload. The first step – get to know your manager!

Observe and understand your manager’s style

Look for clues that tell you how she likes work done or how she prefers to get information. If you’re not sure what your manager expects from you, in terms of results, work habits, communication style, or anything else, don’t try to guess – ask! Any reasonable manager will gladly answer these questions and be pleased by your interest.

Decision-making styles vary. Some managers are highly involved. Touch base with them often. Others prefer less information. Inform them about important decisions you’ve already made.

Promote communication and information flow

Don’t underestimate what your manager needs to know— or what he does know. Keep him informed through processes that fit his style. Be forthright about both good and bad news.

Communicate your expectations and make sure you know your manager’s expectations. Give updates with the appropriate level of detail. Don’t passively assume you know what your manager expects. Find out.

Be mindful of time and resources

Don’t waste your manager’s time with trivial issues. Selectively draw on his time and resources to meet the most important goals—yours, his, and the university’s.

Provide solutions, not problems

There are going to be problems. But when you let your manager know about those problems, give her your proposed solution(s). That shows you have thought through the situations and have the good of the organization in mind. Covering up problems or failures and trying to sweep things under the rug will only hurt you and erode the trust you need in your relationship.

Conversation starters to build a relationship with your manager

  • From your perspective, what is the general perception of this unit or department and my team? How did we get to this point? What is the history behind our department/team?
  • What specific services do the department and team provide to others?
  • What are our deliverables – what things are measured, tracked and reported?
  • What is the strategy? What are the goals? What are the key priorities, challenges and opportunities, both short and long term?
  • How do the department and team support the vision and strategic initiatives for our unit? the university?
  • What is the best way to communicate with you…formal/informal, email/voicemail? How often do you like updates?
  • Who else do you recommend I speak with as I learn my role?