Dealing with a micromanaging boss or client

OK – How many of you have had to deal with a boss or client who is what we call a “micromanager”?  There are successful techniques that you can apply to help deal with a boss/client that micromanages your project. First though, it helps to understand where the micromanager is coming from and what problems he or she is trying to avoid.

Behaviors of a micromanager

Micromanagers are into control. Micromanagers are afraid to delegate authority or responsibility. They want to be apprised of even the smallest details about the project. And, they need that information updated constantly (Many would prefer telepathic real time updates!). Micromanagers often want to make ALL project decisions — from the important ones, such as staffing, to the minor ones, like the placement of the white board. Their constant need for data and their tendency to require “all decisions go through them for approval” slows the team’s progress — not to mention driving you, the PM, a bit batty.

During the execution of a project, the micromanager may not limit their interaction to requests for information. They may also try to tell team members how to do their jobs (even if they have never done the job). Be aware that on the rare occassion when the micromanager appears to be delegating authority and responsibility, they are likely to take back control at the first sign of trouble.

Motivations of a micromanager

I am not saying that I agree with micromanagers, but understanding what can motivate or drive them to this behavior is the first step in dealing effectively with them. Here are some of the common motivations:

  • Micromanagement may be the only kind of management they know how to do
  • They may be insecure in their position or in their knowledge
  • They genuinely believe that the project will not succeed without their direct and constant involvement
  • Because they do not feel competent to deal with complex issues, they choose to deal with small, trivial ones where they do feel competent
  • Maybe his or her boss is micromanaging them, and you know the saying about stuff rolling downhill….

Consequences of micromanagement practices

If you have a micromanager then you will have probably experienced or observed the following:

  • Team members stop trying to improve processes and results
  • Project do not succeed as well as they might have if everyone applied more of their knowledge and experience
  • Project managers (and other project members) fail to learn lessons that help them mature as PM professionals
  • Leadership is not developed (see Project Leadership Requires Sharing Responsibility)
  • High rate of employee loss — especially the bright, talented and potential future managers
  • Increase in stress, anxiety and anger for everyone involved

Working effectively with a micromanager

Well I don’t have any magic bullets, but here are some tips you can try.

As justified as your frustration and anger may be when you have to work under a micromanager, you need to take a deep breath and make the best of the situation. Then, you need to take some actions to try to counter the effects of this behavior on the project and the team.

Anticipation of the needs of the micromanager for authority and information should be dealt with preemptively. For example, when given a task, find out as many details as possible about the micromanager’s expectations. Listen carefully and feedback your understanding of the task. Asking detailed questions may limit the number of “bring me a rock” exercises you have to go through.

Keep the lines of communication open with the micromanager – yes I know how painful this can be. You may be able to build a trusting relationship over time that allows you to provide feedback on the deleterious effect of his or her management style. At worst, you will at least be able to talk with them about how it negatively impacts the project.

Provide the level of detail and frequency of project information they ask for, but add information on why and how. You may be helping to train the micromanager at the same time increasing their trust in you. Take the initiative to set up meetings and phone calls before they ask.

Give credit to the micromanager when it is due and reward them verbally when they stop micromanaging for a minute.

Don’t let them “push your buttons”.  Keep your cool and remember that you are doing the job and keep reminding them that you can handle the tasks.

So have you had encounters like this?  What tricks and techniques have you used?

7 Responses to “Dealing with a micromanaging boss or client”

  1. Bruce Fieggen Says:

    Great post!

    I especially like seeing their motivation; something I had never bothered with before. Knowing their motivation allows to fulfill their needs without going crazy.

    How have I dealt with micromanaging bosses in the past? One successful strategy was to find out their communication needs and overdo it. If they want daily reports on progress, I overload them with twice or thrice-daily reports.

    When decisions need to be made, I frame the problem with alternatives and a recommendation and make it graphic so that they draw the same conclusion as the team and I did. That way, they feel in control but are not interfering with the project.

  2. My Management Guide (@mymg_social) Says:

    I really can’t work under pressure, and especially with micromanagers.
    I like to work hard and like to do my job, but I hate situations when somebody tries either intentionally or accidentally to control my every step or action…

    Micromanagement is great when there is a strong need for it. For example, during the new employee orientation stage, or during a crisis…

    I like the ways of dealing with micro-managers you mentioned here. I would add one more strategy – try to use the same approach against a micromanager. I mean, applying the principles of micromanagement towards the micromanager… But this way may cause a conflict with the manager, so should be used very carefully.

    Regards, Dmirty

  3. Bruce McGraw Says:

    Great Post Bruce (and good name too)
    I like your tips – I have used those also. I can really tell you are a successful PM who has had to deal with Micromanagement and still be successful!

  4. Jim Finch Says:

    Great topic. I agree with you (and Bruce-the-Other) that the key to working with a micro-manager is understanding motivation.

    There have been times when I’ve been forced into applying micro-management techniques by a direct report who just-didn’t-get-it. While I prefer to allow my direct reports to employ their own delivery style, the successful delivery of a project does take precedence over that flexibility.

    Early in a project, I clearly state my management style, but caution that as the level of “my discomfort” over their ability to successfully deliver increases, so will the level of detailed focus that I give their specific work tasks.

    When confronted with a micro-manager above me, I try to remember that same caution that I give my direct reports, and start with a closer look at my own work delivery. I ask myself, “What is it that I am doing to make this manager feel so uncomfortable about my ability to deliver?” That simple step has often led me to communications styles that better complement those of my particular managers. (Sometimes the problem isn’t the boss…)

    After doing that, I agree that the methods highlighted in your blog are important. At least for a while, making your manager’s “comfort”, your role-in-life can be huge. The pre-emptive responses … delivering information before it’s asked for … are extremely effective, but, as you note, building a relationship with that manager, also, can help tremendously in relieving the stress behind micro-management. It allows a better communication pathway on which frank discussions might be possible.

    I especially liked the suggested positive approach, behavior modification techniques, “reward them verbally when they stop micromanaging for a minute”. There are many paths to a positive end.

    Thanks again for highlighting this PM topic. It’s too often overlooked.

  5. How to Deal With a Micro-Manager | Dice Blog Network Says:

    […] and if you’ve done what he’s asked and earned his trust, then there’s nothing wrong with asking to take the reigns of the project when the time is right. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  6. Kris Says:

    My problem is that the micromanager was my boss. Another manager and him both wanted me to work on their projects, he lost me and the other manager got me (which is what I wanted). Since then he has been promoted above my manager and has made my life horrible, I went from being this amazing worker to being difficult in a day. As time goes on he tries to micromanage me behind my boss’s back. It has created so much stress and insecurity. He undermines everyone, but only has it out for me. Any advice would help. Thanks

  7. How to Keep Your Sanity When Dealing with a Micromanaging Client - The Sourcing Pen Says:

    […] Related reading: Dealing with a Micromanaging Boss or Client […]


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