Bad Leaders: How Project Team Members Survived

Find out how seven project practitioners dealt with an unbearable manager — and how you can, too.

3 May 2011

Project professionals who work for someone who is incompetent, micromanaging or just plain mean shouldn’t suffer in silence. In fact, the best career move may be to take action.

“The most important thing an employee can do when dealing with a mean boss is to speak up. Document the boss’ behavior and how it is affecting morale and productivity,” says Treivor Branch, author of “The Drama-Free Workweek.”

“Then meet with the boss in private to address the issue. Remain calm and even-toned. Let the person know your main objective is to effectively support him or her and you are seeking feedback on how this can best be achieved,” adds Ms. Branch, also the CEO of The Branch Solution LLC, a workplace issues consultancy in Milford, Connecticut, USA.

We asked members of the Career Central LinkedIn Group to share lessons learned on surviving a difficult project manager or leader. While there's no one right way to deal with them, here are some things to consider for your own situation:

Focus on the project — not your supervisor

“Focus on the greater good of the project. It is tempting to go head-to-head with the bad manager. Avoid this. You must ask yourself: ‘Do I want to be right or do I want to solve the problem?’ Working with a bad manager takes a lot of maturity, patience and political savvy. How you communicate your recognition of a bad manager very much depends on the political and organizational dynamics. Tread very carefully should you decide to break ranks and escalate to a higher level.”

— Jason Wilmot, PMP, Hamilton, Bermuda

“I think that the best thing is to try to define roles, responsibilities and rules at the very beginning. Do the right thing every time, and show your supervisor you are doing the best for the project.” Rocio Arellano, PMP, Mexico City, Mexico

Control what you can

“Keep an eye on the goal and focus on reinforcing positive behavior. A team agreement is also a useful tool for aligning the team’s interactions. Seldom can we control another’s behavior, but we can certainly positively influence their interactions.” Sandra Harris, Montreal, Canada

“Diagnosis is important because problems can range from inexperience to corruption. I try to diagnose what is wrong with the boss’s project management and try to compensate for it.” John Roberts, PMP, The Woodlands, Texas, USA

Be assertive

“Think that we work for the company and not for the supervisor. We should always concentrate to do our best for the company. Also, do not let the opportunity go when you get a chance to expose a bad supervisor.” Abhinaw Sharma, PMP, Fort Worth, Texas, USA

“A project member should not forget his or her responsibility to protect the project and make an argument with higher positions, if necessary. A project can never be pushed if the member always says ‘yes.’” Mohammad Reza Faraj Tabrizi, Malaysia

Seek a mentor

“Always look for two people in a project: a mentor to discreetly discuss the obstacles and environmental politics and ask for advice; and a sponsor, someone powerful with great interest in the project. He or she will be your hammer if needed. Control communications with hard bosses — either involve them too much, if this assures them, or involve them on a high level if they don’t understand details.” Hussein Bahgat, Cairo, Egypt

At the end of the day, working for an unruly supervisor is frustrating. But armed with the right information, you can survive any bad manager who crosses your career path.