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How To Manage Your Manager

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Randy Banna

I am a Mechanical engineer by study; Subsea engineer by practice, I started in the Oil & Gas sector in 2004. I worked for 8 years with BP in Egypt and the UK then for 2 years with Wood Group Kenny in the US. I am currently working on my MBA at Edinburgh Business School, Scotland and started my own consultancy firm in Egypt. I am a strong believer that collective effort and team work can build wonders, just like what our amazing Ancient Egyptian ancestors once did, you can reach out to me for Oil and Gas, Project Management or career development advice, please contact me on Facebook or Linkedin and I will be more than happy to help you out.
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January 2015 marked my 10th year working in the Oil and Gas industry, a milestone I am proud of even if it is difficult to imagine that 10 years have gone so quick with all the amazing events I experienced in my subsea engineering career.

I took the time to recap on what I have learned in the field from all the people I worked for and with. Corporate life is all about interacting with people, people will always have their own mentalities, culture and priorities what makes management of people a critical task that has the potential of dramatically affecting any project deliveries.

For this I thought it may be a nice idea to sum up my experience about the types of managers I have come across, this article in no way meant to downgrade or overly praise anyone but purely representing my point of view about some of the categories of managers we meet on a daily basis and what I believe is a decent way of managing them.

1. The suspicious one:
Best defined by the Theory X which was developed by Douglas McGregor of MIT. The theory basically states that employees are lazy and always need a push to perform their jobs. A suspicious manager will look over your shoulder, will check what time you arrive to the office and when do you leave. This type of manager will be pushy, will doubt your capabilities and may even get to a point of downgrading your achievements and work in the hopes of squeezing more out of you.
My advice is do your homework well, if you are an engineer, keep good attention to details, if you are a logistics coordinator, make sure you know where all your inventory is. It may seem like hard work to be on top of things all the time but once you get used to it work will be a lot easier. Remember, you are the one benefiting from developing your competencies.

2. The moody/volatile one:
Affected by their own mood day by day. On a good sunny day, the manager will be a pleasant person to deal with and so you receive the feedback that allows you to perform your work. After a fight with the wife, a loss of an important game or a financial issue, it can all turn this manager into a different beast rendering higher the tonality of the voice as well as the not so rational criticism of your work.
My advice is learn to weather the storm, remember your goals, you are meeting them for a very specific reason, be that a signature of approval on a document or an important contract meeting with a moody client that may get you the increase in sales you are after. Seek the counter psychological effect that helps you attain your goal.

3. The micro-manager:
Has to have an input to every single task on the project and has to follow up on it personally every day wasting your time and project time. This type of manager is not comfortable with delegating work and this can be due to inexperience or the desire to succeed alone, both are fundamental issues for a project manager position.
My advice is that you need to set limits, at the end of the day you want to feel ownership of the packages you are delivering, you want to be responsible for delivering them and you want to be a team contributor to the project while the manager’s job is to overlook the progress on an overall scale while it is your job to look into the fine details.

4. The inexperienced:
Not all inexperienced managers are incompetent, however there is a type who got promoted when they still did not acquire the competencies to act as effective project managers, they just got blinded by the opportunity and were not honest to themselves and to their companies about their abilities.
My advice is make sure you cover your part of the project to the best of your capability and if any red flags appear that you feel the manager missed out, raise them, discuss with team and get others involved to reach a collective solution.

5. The stubborn/dictator one:
The single minded opinionated manager that believes past experience allows the dictation of the do’s and don’ts on the project which may be right or wrong depending on the experiences.
My advice is avoid any clashes, if the matter is very critical and will result in significant cost increases or schedule delay then raise it in a meeting to seek a collective resolution by getting team support.

6. The career obsessed one:
This one is scary, for the majority of those I witnessed, their current position only represented a step to their next position. For me this is a very bad trait, you do not need to spend 5 years in a single position to earn your next pay raise or promotion, however a single year won’t cut it either. It is a fact of life that some people are more capable than others, they may be faster learners and better achievers, yet an average of 2-3 years per position is a healthy duration to promote stability in the hierarchy of a company and that is why such career obsessed managers are bad for the business.
My advice is make sure you cover your part to the best of your capability as I am sure they overlook details and ensure process checklists are complete so their next progress report looks impeccable and ensure the interfaces you have with other colleagues are covered so that the project is successful.

7. The knowledgeable one:
One of my favourites. These guys are usually heavy on the technical side, they are the technical authorities, engineering consultants or senior advisers on a project. They typically have a wealth of information acquired through long years of work and they have reached a level where they are no longer intimidated by anyone so they share their knowledge openly and tend to enjoy teaching younger folks how the bits and pieces of a puzzle come together.
My advice is learn as much as you can from them, no question is a dumb question, spend time with them and listen and record their knowledge in a log book so you can get back to it later.

8. The competent one (not necessarily knowledgeable):
The type I admire and respect the most, young or old these guys are smart, they have great observation skills, they are composed and they are capable of managing effectively. By managing effectively I mean balancing between the different aspects of the project (cost, schedule and performance) as well as maintaining a fair level of motivation and enthusiasm within their teams. They are capable of reading through their team member’s personalities and they are able to inspire others to perform.
My advice is shadow them, learn from them how they communicate with stakeholders, how they manage their subordinates, how they resolve conflicts between team members, how they organize and manage their meetings, if they are good there is so much to learn from them and it is a fact that work with them is more fun.

In conclusion, there are so many other types of managers that I have not mentioned and probably will still experience with every new job I commit to through my career. The important thought is I have learned something from every single person I worked for and it takes you a decent amount of time to develop the soft skills you need to manage your manager while doing your job and keeping all your stakeholders satisfied.

It is important to realize that no one is 100% correct all the time, we all make mistakes, so listen to your manager, evaluate what you are asked to do, cross match it with your job objectives, with the goals of your company and your personal aspirations, there will be moments when not all three will check but if it is good for the business and you are responsible for it, the chances are you will learn something useful from every task you are assigned.

Respect earns you respect.

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