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?

The Lazy Project Manager's Blog

The Home of Productive Laziness Thoughts

Thoughts, experience, tips and tricks on issues affecting managers and project management

A Girl's Guide to Project Management

Project Management musings for one and all

LeadingAnswers: Leadership and Agile Project Management Blog

Thoughts, experience, tips and tricks on issues affecting managers and project management

Project Management Hut

Thoughts, experience, tips and tricks on issues affecting managers and project management

Herding Cats

Thoughts, experience, tips and tricks on issues affecting managers and project management


Pushing the Edges Out ...


Just another site