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How to Survive a New Boss

Many of us will find ourselves assigned to a new manager over the next 12 months, if we haven’t already. For many project managers, used to working with different teams under different team leaders, some of the advice offered here might be familiar. However, times, bosses and team leaders change, and there may well be some new and helpful pointers here.

Restructuring a business leads to a re-organization of its people and resources. Unfortunately, getting a boss is like getting a parent – you don’t get to choose. Managers, on the other hand, do get to choose who will be on their team and the role each person will play. Surviving the downturn could mean surviving the transition to a new leader. Here are six key questions you can ask yourself, along with strategies to help you keep your job when you get a new boss.

Who is Evaluating Whom?

One thing many people forget is that they will be tested. Of course you are evaluating and testing your new boss. But that person is also evaluating you, and their opinion of you is going to have more significant consequences than your opinion of them. The first three months are a critical time; pretending you are on probation in a new job is not a bad strategy. One thing you don’t want to do is to act as if nothing has changed. Most managers make people changes within the first three to six months. How you handle yourself during this time is critical.

What Isn’t Working?

Step back from the situation and look at things objectively. If you just stepped into your new boss’s shoes, what changes would you want to make? What is not working? Which of these fall into your area of responsibility? Someone who is new to the situation will quickly see gaps and want to do something about them. Get a head start by identifying the root cause of problems and generating solutions. Take these to your boss so he or she can see you are on top of things.

How Am I Doing?

This is a time to be brutally honest with yourself. Even if you aren’t, other people will be frank in their discussions about you. How was your last performance review? Was your previous boss too hard or soft on you? How critical are you and your role to achieving key organizational objectives? What would your peers say about you? Your customers? Others in the organization? Your boss will be collecting this information while making an assessment of how you measure up. If there are opportunities for you to make improvements, be the first to raise them.

How Can I Work With You Effectively?

Every boss is different. Take time to study your manager, how she works and what she expects from you. This will help you understand her style and preferences so you can adapt to what she wants and needs. Situational leadership is a two-way street. Your boss needs to try to understand what motivates you and how you are best managed. You need to understand what your boss needs and adapt as required.

Am I On This Bus?

When a new manager arrives on the scene, some people choose to sit back and take a ‘wait and see’ approach. It can become a battle of wills. This is a dangerous game to play in the current economy. A leader looks for signals to see who is ‘on the bus’ and will make judgments about whom they can work with. If you are seen as someone who could be slow to follow, you may be seen as more of an obstacle than an asset.

How Can I Help?

While this is a stressful time for you, remember your boss is also under a lot of pressure. He is trying to learn a new area, new people, understand the goals and expectations his boss has of him. He is feeling a lot of pressure to appear credible and competent as quickly as possible. And he wants to chalk up some wins, early. What can you do to help? You might be a solid source of information and expertise and be able to help him get up to speed more quickly. You might be someone who has the ability to exert influence over your peers – how can you be a positive force? How can you help accelerate your manager’s ability to demonstrate results?

A new boss is a new day, and a new opportunity. If you treat it like getting a new job you increase the probability of surviving the inevitable review and evaluation going on around you. It might even be a chance for you to re-invent yourself.

Dr. Rebecca Schalm, who has a Ph.D in Industrial/Organizational Psychology is Human Resources columnist with Troy Media Corporation and a practice leader with RHR International Company, a company that offers psychology related services for organizations worldwide.

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