Need a Script to Use to Get Boss to Shift My Responsibilities
December 3, 2020 5:12 PM   Subscribe

My boss keeps shifting some of his project/people management responsibilities to me and has been for months. I was not hired to do this. I have been crying about it all week. I need help coming up with a script to use tomorrow morning so I can ask him to let me focus on what I was hired for.

I am a senior designer at a very large company. I love my job and the people I work with. Previously I was an art director/product manager for almost 8 years and while I was very good at it, it made me so miserable that I never thought I'd see the light of day again. I do NOT want to manage projects/people anymore. I just want to be the best designer I can be.

Unfortunately, my boss keeps delegating project management tasks to me that are really his to take care of, including being a supervisor of junior members of my team. This is causing me a huge deal of grief and confusion because some of the things he keeps asking me to communicate to others on his behalf are things that should not come from me. People around me are now looking to me for leadership and assume I am in charge because I am confident and capable. But I am not in charge! I don't want to be!

Today I asked him to clarify what his expectations are and whether I am now officially responsible for all of these things. He waffled about it as he often does on big decisions, but before he could answer I did something that has been written into my fucking DNA because I cannot stand when men waffle on stuff like this. I said, "I am ready and willing to take point on these projects." 

This was a lie and I am angry as fuck at myself for having said it. I said it because I am used to having to be in charge of things when others aren't willing.

Tomorrow I have another call scheduled with him to revisit the conversation. I need to impress upon him in the most professional way possible that I am an excellent designer and want/need to stick to that in order to be a stellar employee. I also want to find a way to make it clear that I should not do the managerial tasks. It's taking up most of my time and making it difficult for me to move essential design tasks forward. I am 100% good on being the lead designer for the projects I am responsible for. I am not ok with being the messenger to the various heads of state when a huge wrench in a project has come up and it's my boss initiating it. It's not right. I have been crying for two weeks because of this conflict.

What can I say to my boss so I can be relieved of the duties he is delegating to me even though they are not my job and causing me, other people, and projects strife? 
posted by Kitchen Witch to Human Relations (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Clarification / better summary: my boss is having me do emotional labor that is his responsibility to manage. I cannot do it anymore nor am I willing to do it in the future. How do I fix this?
posted by Kitchen Witch at 5:25 PM on December 3, 2020

“Look, yesterday I misspoke when I said I was willing to take in those material tasks. They’ve been taking up most of my time and making it difficult for me to move essential design tasks forward. The design tasks are what I was hired to do and what I specialize in. Is this really what you want me to prioritize? Because no one else on the team can do $task and $othertask so if you want me to do $managerialtask those other things aren’t going to get done.”

Also when he asks you to do something in the moment (because I doubt this is going to get resolved in one conversation) you have to push back. “Ok, I can do $managerialtask but I’m going to have to drop $coretask.” Or even “Ok but I won’t be able to get to it until I’m done with $coretask.”

Your boss sounds weaselly, but ultimately delegating labor to subordinates is what bosses do. I think in an ideal world you would make him clearly assess his priorities and recognize that you should be doing the design stuff, not the managerial stuff. But in real life it might end up just being easier to do the managerial stuff badly and reluctantly or not at all (you learned it by watching him!). Firing you sounds like exactly the kind of task he tries to avoid, so there might not even be any serious consequences!

Also start looking for a new job or a transfer to another team, your boss sucks in a way that is a bad mismatch for you.
posted by mskyle at 5:36 PM on December 3, 2020 [8 favorites]

I don’t know about a script, per se, but if they are truly offloading their responsibilities onto you, it seems to me that should trigger a serious discussion about due compensation (i.e. more pay) for the new responsibilities before any further work is done.

I have a feeling they are not going to go down that road, which establishes a bright line re: doing their work without compensation.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:43 PM on December 3, 2020 [4 favorites]

I'm assuming that you had a discussion when you were hired about why you were taking a step down the traditional career ladder, so your disinterest in this type of role shouldn't be news to your boss.

A lot of people will say that your job is whatever maximizes your utility to the company, but I think that only applies if your only career goal is to maximize the amount of money you earn. Once you're optimizing on other axes (like it sounds you are) it's OK to make the discussion partly about what *you* want. You have the ability to walk away, so it's in your boss's and the company's interest to keep you happy, assuming that replacements aren't a dime-a-dozen.

I (a woman) have had similar conversations with (aggressive, male) bosses. I don't find scripts useful, but I'll often have a list of talking points for a meeting that I re-mix as needed and check off when I've made them. Here's an annotated draft for you:

* My career goals are to be an excellent designer
==> I love phrasing stuff this way, because nobody can argue with me about what my goals are. It's a statement of fact! (Also, it's useful to make it clear what you care about, otherwise people will assume that you want what they want!)

* As you know, I took this job because I thought the role would be a better fit for my career goals.
==> this is a subtle threat; I personally don't ever make anything more threat-y than this, because I think the subtle threat is both way more powerful than a dramatic one and doesn't require backing down from.

* (Say something nice about the team / projects / etc.)
==> the goal here is be to make it very clear that you WANT to keep working for the company, just in an adjusted role

* Recently, the majority of my time has been spent on managerial tasks, which doesn't leave me with enough space to excel at what I really care about.
==> be ready with examples, but don't get into that yet.

* What do we need to do to get me back to being a full-time designer?
==> Be ready to explain what tasks you do and don't want. What level of mentoring newer team members? What level of project management? Your prepared list should include your *ideal* scenario, and what (if any) compromises you're willing to make. You may also want to think about the optimal distribution of the tasks that you're trying to offload, even though that is exactly the type of thing you're trying to not do.

All of this can be said in a very friendly, collaborative tone.

Also, remember that silence is a tool! It's great to STOP TALKING after you've made your point. This forces your boss to respond. I find that if I keep talking as a response to uncomfortable silences the content is usually a concession I didn't mean to make or a softening/weakening of my point. You might even try to enjoy how uncomfortable a silence makes your boss.
posted by Metasyntactic at 6:01 PM on December 3, 2020 [56 favorites]

Also -- I totally agree with mskyle's last point. In order to shed the managerial responsibilities, you have to be willing to let your boss fail at them. And it can be hard to do excellent work under a boss who's failing at the bigger-picture stuff.
posted by Metasyntactic at 6:06 PM on December 3, 2020 [4 favorites]

Another tack:
I have successfully taken on these tasks outside of my job description. We need to talk about how I am to be compensated for this work as I have demonstrated competence. If reasonable renumeration isn't available at this time I am willing to give these up to reshape my role to one close to the one I was hired (and am already being paid) for.
And then, as noted above, stop talking.
posted by mce at 6:16 PM on December 3, 2020

Please keep in mind: I don't want to do these tasks. I don't want a raise. I want to just do the job I signed up for.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 6:19 PM on December 3, 2020 [7 favorites]

"Hey, after some reflection, I've realized I really don't want to do these type of tasks anymore. Let's figure out a way to transition me out of doing them."

I would be really confused if one of my reports explicitly asked for a type of work and then resented doing it. I would be happy for them to explicitly change their mind about something they previously expressed interest in, and asking me to help figure out how to get them out of that type of work.
posted by so fucking future at 7:02 PM on December 3, 2020 [7 favorites]

Next time he tries to delegate or make you run messages, practice saying "I don't have time to do that, I'm sorry. Let me know if there's something else I can do to help." This means "fuck off" but is difficult to fault.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 7:51 PM on December 3, 2020

If you have a formal job description that does not include the managerial tasks, refer to that in your meeting. "My job description says X [design work], but I sense that I'm increasingly being asked to do Y [managerial work]. I took this job to focus on X, and Y is not part of my job. I think I'm most valuable to the company if I can concentrate on X. If you need someone to do more Y, there might be other team members who would be better suited to it."

Depending on how valuable you are to the firm, you can also mention that if the job responsibilities are shifting, you might look for other opportunities that are more suited to your skill set. That's risky, especially right now, but if you think you could find another job without much trouble, it's worth keeping in mind as a last resort.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:51 PM on December 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Is there someone else in the company who you think would be suited for these roles? It's a great time to say, I think x is looking to learn more managerial tasks, I think you should talk to them to assist you in these areas.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:18 PM on December 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

To him: "I misspoke yesterday when I said I could do those tasks. I really need to focus on the design work."

To people who ask you for managerial help: "I'm not sure how Bob wants you to do it."
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:35 PM on December 3, 2020 [6 favorites]

As already been mentioned, he wants you to do his job for him while he takes credit and compensation for it. The answer to how you handle it is that every time someone comes to you with a management question, send them to Bob. If Bob tries to handball his work to you, tell him you’re busy doing *whatever you’re actually hired to do*.

If he keeps it up, send him an email and cc his boss and HR saying that Bob seems snowed under with work and as much as you’d like to help him, you have too much on and you’re not a project manager but it seems like Bob needs additional help from someone more senior than you (in role you don’t want) to get things done. If this is the case, his bosses are now aware that the workload is too much, if it’s not the case and Bob is lazy, whoops, I guess they’ll find that out too!
posted by Jubey at 10:05 PM on December 3, 2020

So, just asked your boss "to clarify what his expectations are and whether I am now officially responsible for all of these things" and then you said, "I am ready and willing to take point on these projects."

That sounds to me like someone who is looking for management responsibility, not someone who wants to avoid it.

I would approach the next conversation as way of clarifying the difference between you can do and what you want to do - so far he probably thinks that you want his job, not that you are trying to run away from it.

I might start the conversation by saying you have worked in places where the team really needed you step into taking some of these responsibilities and, being a committed to the teams success you have done it. However, you really like being a designer and you really don't want to be accidentally pulled into a more management role. If your boss really needs you to that, of course, as you already said, you are willing and able but you took the job because you wanted to focus on design work so you are really hoping that you will be able to focus on what you love best.

Sounds like he's not likely to directly order you to do this work so once you have this preliminary conversation then you need to work hard at not volunteering to do the things that aren't part of your job and you don't want to do.

And then maybe come back and post a question about how to avoid volunteering to put your head in the noose just because someone is holding one up.... I know you know its a problem for you but it is something that can be SO hard to change so I encourage you to find the resources you need (other than just beating yourself up afterwards) to change those patterns.
posted by metahawk at 11:06 PM on December 3, 2020

This boss sucks. You will probably have to leave to escape his shitty offloading, but Making a stand now may at least free up time and mental energy so you can start looking for a new job.
posted by benzenedream at 1:40 AM on December 4, 2020

Plenty of useful scripts above, but I'd just add - with someone who is a bad listener (doesn't want to hear you/waffles on different topics to try and avoid letting you talk about the issue at hand), and with you knowing that you're inclined to say things you don't mean under pressure...

I'd be inclined to send a brief email before you talk, outlining the most important points. It gives you the chance to say clearly what you want to say, and gives him the chance to think about how to respond rather than feeling caught on the hop. For example...

Bob - before we speak, I thought it'd be useful for us both if I jot down a couple of key points for our discussion:

* I misspoke when I said I was ready and willing to take on these tasks. I am not ready or willing and I need to be able to concentrate on design only.
* I was hired for design but my responsibilities have been changed significantly recently. I'd like your help to create a plan to reverse these changes, so that I can once more concentrate on the design that I was hired to do.

Look forward to speaking to you later.
posted by penguin pie at 5:17 AM on December 4, 2020 [5 favorites]

Agree strongly to narrow the scope of discussion in writing before hand - you already know you have a tendency to agree to shit in the moment and just a super brief written "meeting agenda" sent before the meeting could help set boundaries to this conversation.
posted by latkes at 8:08 AM on December 4, 2020

He doesn't sound like a very good boss. What that means is that you're only going to get a result if you make him understand how having you do these things is bad for him. The fact that it's not what you were hired to do is bad for you - he knows that, and doesn't appear to care.

I would emphasize the design work that isn't going to get done because of the way that these other tasks are stealing your focus. You want to say some variation on "you've asked me to do [X] - which means that [Y] cannot be completed."
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:15 AM on December 4, 2020

Ok. Here's what I have so far. I do not want to put it in an email but will instead follow up with a summary of points discussed and decisions made afterward.

"I wanted to circle back on yesterday's conversation about my roles and responsibilities here at (company). After thinking it over a bit more, I realized that I misspoke when I said I was comfortable being Kira's manager and in taking on more PM-type tasks. 

My career goal is to be an excellent designer and to move away from PM/PMO. As you know, I took this job because it aligned perfectly with that goal, and because our team is so fantastic. I feel really at home here and my design skills are flourishing because of it.

The recent increase in PM/PMO type tasks has decreased my ability to get design work done and prompted others to view me as a PM when I'm not. It makes sense for me to give Sam assignments based on requests from Joe or Leanne when Kira is working on a project with me, for example, but it's counterproductive when she's working with a separate team that I am not on. It's also better when you are the one to deliver updates about new requests from leadership to other PMs since you can provide context and decisions in ways I cannot.

What do we need to do to get my workload back on track?"
posted by Kitchen Witch at 8:47 AM on December 4, 2020 [8 favorites]

It worked. :) I am just lead designer again.

Thank you all so, so much. My heart is no longer heavy.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 11:32 AM on December 4, 2020 [34 favorites]

Wow, victory!
posted by latkes at 11:49 AM on December 4, 2020

Good work! Still, keep your resume updated.
posted by benzenedream at 12:52 PM on December 4, 2020

Amazing! Well done.
posted by penguin pie at 6:11 AM on December 5, 2020

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