An absentee supervisor creates havoc

Question:

My immediate supervisor works in Anchorage and I work in rural Alaska. Although I’m the lead program coordinator for our work group, I have no real power. Everything has to be signed off on by my supervisor.

Although my main job is providing direct care to our clients, because I’ve been here the longest, I’m also the individual charged with ordering supplies, processing travel requests, and placing ads when we need new employees. This leads to confusion. My teammates assume that when they need something, I’m the one they go to and I can make it happen. I can’t; I don’t have that authority.

This week, one of the team members needs an OK to travel. I processed the request two months ago. The OK hasn’t come through yet and she’s supposed to fly out on Sunday for a once-a-year conference. We also need to place an ad for an employee who left suddenly. We’ve not been given the authorization and so the position is vacant.

The way it’s supposed to work is that when any of us need something, we email, text or call our supervisor. That worked with the prior supervisor. A year ago, however, he retired and was replaced with a supervisor who couldn’t care less. She is, however, the sister of our agency’s executive director.

Our supervisor came out to visit our location once and hasn’t been back since. She’s rarely accessible, and makes it clear she’s not here for the long haul. When I talk with her, she says things like, “If I’m here next year.” I’ve emailed her multiple times in the last two weeks, left urgent messages on her office phone, and even texted her but have not heard anything back.

I am taking the heat. The employee who needs to travel screamed at me when she left work Friday and said, “OK, the trip is canceled.” I’m not looking forward to seeing her glum face all next week. The employee who’s now holding down two jobs snapped at me this morning saying, “So where’s the ad?” When I said again that I couldn’t place an ad without authorization, he threw a box of work down on my desk and said, “Well, you take care of this.”

What do I do? There’s no one to go to.

Answer:

You have three options.

You can document the entire situation and provide the information to your executive director. When you do so, follow five guidelines.

Approach your executive director as your agency’s ED and not as your supervisor’s sibling.
Make sure your documentation isn’t anecdotal, such as “I’ve called her.” Use the texts and emails you’ve sent with no response.

Make sure the documentation comes from multiple sources. For example, the individual who couldn’t travel can provide the details on the impact of the missed conference. The employee holding down two jobs can detail the need for the new hire and what is falling through the gaps given the hiring delay.

When you present the documentation, make sure you do so without blame and without finger-pointing.
In addition to clearly outlining the situation, offer your ED a solution, such as giving you more authority or the ability to act in the absence of a veto.

Alternatively, you can meet with each of your teammates and remind them that you lack authority and ask that they direct their angst toward someone who can resolve the situation.

Finally, if you feel you’ll risk your job by stepping forward, you can take a step further. Does your ED report to a board? Enlist their support, and ask that you be protected against retaliation.

© Dr. Lynne Curry is author of ”Beating the Workplace Bully” and ”Solutions” as well as owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm The Growth Company Inc. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at www.bullywhisperer.com.

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