I work for a small company, and unexpected circumstances have left us with no contactable management, possibly for up to a week.

Currently, I work on two separate projects, A and B, under two project managers, Alice and Bob. Meanwhile, my line manager, who is responsible for allocating my time, has had to take leave unexpectedly. More senior management are also unavailable.

Both Alice and Bob want me to devote my time to their own projects, but neither of them has direct authority over me. To further complicate matters, Bob is based in my office, while Alice is based in our parent company in another country. In the circumstances, Bob is the most senior person in the building, but is no more senior than Alice.

I know that project A is more important and that my line manager would tell me to work on that one. However, I have no written confirmation of this and Bob is adamant that I should spend all my time on project B.

With no direct superior to contact, how do I allocate my time (with priority on project A) without appearing insubordinate to Bob?

Edit: I should clarify that Alice and Bob are completely unwilling to yield to one another, so the situation is an impasse with me stuck in the middle. Normally my line manager would handle this for me, but he's unavailable.

The most senior person in the building (Bob) wants me to do work that I know I shouldn't be doing. In practical terms, I have to do some work this week, so how do I proceed?

  • By "contactable" you mean in person, or can you reach via email or IM, or none at all?
    – DarkCygnus
    Oct 15, 2017 at 21:59
  • @GrayCygnus Probably none at all, except in real emergencies.
    – Tempest16
    Oct 16, 2017 at 8:18
  • Do you have any standing orders that you continue to use? You've been working on this for a while, right?
    – Erik
    Oct 16, 2017 at 8:31
  • "The most senior person in the building" just do what he says
    – Fattie
    Oct 16, 2017 at 10:11
  • It appears that it is a senior which clearly the OP does not report to...I find it overall strange the OP has not lined work for a week, we are not taking about months here. On the other end, on the political side it makes more sense working with the persorn in the building. Oct 17, 2017 at 15:57

1 Answer 1


Short answer: You communicate with both managers together, either by email or teleconference and get agreement from them on your time allocation.

The onus is not on you to work this out. It is on the managers, that is the very definition of their roles. In the absence of someone higher up the food chain, then Alice and Bob need to talk to each other and agree how your time should be allocated. This way you also get buy in from both managers as they have agreed together and are both aware of the arrangement.

Note that I would strongly recommend getting the outcomes of said agreement in writing in an email in case either Bob or Alice decide that they don't want to abide by it. CC in the absent managers.

I would also recommend ensuring that Bob and Alice's superiors are also included in any communications such that everyone is on the same page. The chances are that the superiors are still occasionally monitoring email and can perhaps clarify the relative priorities of the projects.

  • Sadly I've done everything I can to get them to agree, but they won't. It seems that ultimately I have to decide which project to work on (I have to do something, after all), but I have no authority to do that. With no consensus from either side, I seem to be stuck.
    – Tempest16
    Oct 16, 2017 at 8:19
  • 5
    @Tempest16 That's Jane's point. If it comes to it, you should refuse to work for either of them until they can come to an agreement on how your time should be spent. You have to make it clear to them that they can either agree on how much of your time they each get, or not get any of your time at all.
    – Cronax
    Oct 16, 2017 at 8:45
  • @Cronax Simply not working in this case makes no sense. I would follow the last directions I got from the line manager. Oct 16, 2017 at 23:53
  • @LorenPechtel if there were directions from the line manager, the OP wouldn't have asked this question the way they have, they would have asked "should I follow either of these managers' orders over the last standing orders". Since nobody can agree what should be done, all the OP can do is force the issue.
    – Cronax
    Oct 17, 2017 at 18:59
  • 3
    @LorenPechtel What Cronax means is that in the absence of any other information, then the OP should continue to work on exactly what they were working as per the instruction of their direct manager. Until Alice and Bob can agree, then there is little choice beyond this. As in my answer, it's not up to the OP to work this out, it's up to Alice and Bob to act like professionals. So the OP must just follow the last indisputable instruction until there is another indisputable instruction given.
    – Jane S
    Oct 18, 2017 at 4:03

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