Managing up: What to do if you think your boss is incompetent

24 January 2018 -

Skill Level

Your targets have been changed; you’re not getting the promotion you deserve; your boss is slow. Here are our expert’s tips on managing up

Guest expert Lesley Cowley OBE CCMI


My manager left her post six months ago and my new line manager disagrees with the targets that were set by her predecessor, which could affect my promotion prospects. What can I do?                                                                   

Lesley Cowley: Surely you’ll need to do more than just reach your targets to achieve promotion? If you play things right, your new manager could become your promotion champion. I suggest you renegotiate your targets pronto and then get on with becoming their best team member and the ‘one to watch’.                                             


My company promotes the longest-serving staff before newer employees, irrespective of performance. I’ve been told off the record that I don’t have the length of experience to manage a team of my peers. I think this is discriminatory. What can I do?        

Lesley Cowley: Unfortunately, there is often a lag between when you think you are promotion-ready and when your organisation agrees. I’ve been in this situation myself. With the benefit of hindsight, time was needed to develop my skills. Promoting someone when they are not ready causes more harm than good to the individual, the people they manage and also the business.                                                              

Your informant may be trying to help, but beware: they could be trying to provoke you into a grievance for their own reasons. A solution would be to find someone senior who can mentor you and help develop your career.                                                                            


My manager works across numerous projects and they are slow to feed back on work that needs to be signed off. As a result, we are often making changes to a project after the deadline, and this is not the most productive way to work. I have raised this previously but the situation has not changed. How do I approach this?

Lesley Cowley: Is your manager incompetent or are they overloaded?

If they are incompetent, then their manager is probably taking action; people don’t realise that this sort of thing cannot be publicly announced and takes time to do properly. If their manager is unaware, think carefully about whether and how you can deal with this. Appraisals often provide the easiest opportunity to pass the message upwards.

Lesley CowleyThis “Your dilemmas fixed” article was originally published in the autumn 2017 edition of Professional Manager, CMI’s official magazine. Lesley Cowley OBE CCMI is chair of the DVLA and Companies House, and former CEO of Nominet

Powered by Professional Manager