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How to manage your boss

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Nowadays there is more emphasis than ever on management and leadership skills in nursing but these are usually implemented to guide more junior colleagues. However, what about managing your boss?

Depending on your specialty and seniority, your boss could be the team leader, ward sister or charge nurse, head of nursing or service manager - but she or he is usually defined as the person who you report to and who has the most influence over your everyday work and your prospects for promotion.

Although most of the time it is your boss's job to manage you, there are distinct advantages in reversing that equation in order to get what you want - sometimes referred to as 'managing up'.

The first thing to do is to get to know your boss. Take time to find out about your boss by observing, discussing, and talking to her or him and your boss's colleagues. Do not worry about doing this, it is legitimate and necessary. Are they ambitious or laid back? What makes them angry or happy? Get as much information as possible about her or his goals, skills, weaknesses, workstyles, and values.

It is important to consider what your boss may have to offer. It is possible your boss will have certain attributes like greater status, easier access to power and influence, more experience, more command of resources, and a broader vision. You can make use of this in various aspects of your daily work and also in meeting your patients' needs.

It is also important to remember what you have to offer. You will probably have a greater and more detailed understanding of the day-to-day issues relating to your team and its work, more up-to-date information of relevant issues and easier access to your team.

This is where you provide the link between the team and your boss. Your boss will definitely value any offer that makes her or his task easier. So always ask if you can help in any way. Be realistic in your offer and avoid making promises you cannot keep. If your boss is remote from your team then invite her or him to meet your team.

The next step is to consider what you can expect from your boss. You can legitimately expect another view on issues, perhaps more information - because she or he may know more about the overall picture - advice on tricky issues, guidance on appropriate politics, support, and protection.

It goes without saying that you need to aim to do your job well. Do the job your boss wants you to do - not the job you think you should be doing. Listen to your boss and clarify expectations. Meet all the agreed deadlines. Make her or his life easier and become a trusted ally. Be proactive in meeting her or his needs. Always keep your word when you give it.

Building rapport and communicating with your boss is vital. There is nothing like forging a bond with your boss. Once both of you build an understanding, you will be able to work better and communicate more effectively. This will require an effort on your part.

Bosses do not like hearing things from other people that should have come from you. Always keep her or him informed of developments in your current work. Suggest regular formal meetings if these are not already in place. Make use of informal (corridor) contacts.

If you have regular formal meetings with your boss be prepared for these. Make a list of relevant issues you want to discuss with her or him. This will usually be a combination of updating your boss on current issues and asking for guidance. Make sure you have all the facts to hand and show that you are thorough.

It goes without saying that you should never criticise your boss behind her or his back. Things have a way of getting around and even people with the best intentions can accidentally let things slip.

In a professional environment it is best to never complain about your boss. You may have said things in the heat of the moment because of a bad experience with your boss but when your boss hears them, her or his attitude towards you might just change for the worse.

Are you having a problem with your boss and thinking of going over her or his head? Your instincts should tell you that this is a bad idea. By not respecting the chain of command, you will alienate your boss and potentially her or his colleagues. In the working world there is a certain protocol in which communication flows up and down.

Manager and employee relationships are based on trust. So by circumventing your boss you are hurting that relationship. If you have an issue with you boss, be direct and honest with her or him. Schedule time for your discussion and bring the issues out in the open along with your suggestions for a resolution.

In circumstances where you may have a serious concern about what your boss is doing - perhaps she or he is bullying you - most organisations have procedures for dealing with this and you should seek appropriate advice from the human resources department of your professional organisation.

And remember, flattery works. Most human beings like to be complimented and appreciated. A person who receives positive comments from you will generally feel positive about you. But make sure your flattery is sincere. Focus on your boss's positive aspects but avoid flattering just for the sake of it.

Being able to manage your boss will help you further your career and improve your professional practice. It is very important to have a healthy relationship with your boss. If you spend a large part of your time at work, it is extremely important to try to foster a pleasant working environment that allows you to do your job effectively.

Your career prospects are considerably enhanced if, through your relationship with your boss, you build up trust and respect.

You will be allowed to grow and develop as a professional in your work environment and will be recognised when the time comes for your boss to recommend and influence your next career move.

Five ways to managing your boss:

Try and get to know your boss and recognise her or his strengths and weaknesses and what she or he may have to offer
Do the job your boss wants you to do not what you want to do
Build rapport with your boss and communicate well formally and informally. Prepare for meetings
Never criticise your boss behind her or his back, or go over her or his head except in very serious circumstances such as harassment or a breach of duty of care
It is worth remembering that flattery works. Do not be afraid to tell your boss when you think that she or he has done something well

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