Some background - although our company is large, it has a fairly informal culture.

We sit in an open-plan office, there is lots of open, back-and-forth discussion, and the company prides itself on this informality.

Now, our team:

  • provides a service which is valuable to much of the business
  • has, for reasons mostly outside our control, often had problems delivering that service satisfactorily
  • very senior managers became involved at one point, due to the points above

I am senior "grunt", I sit next to my super-boss, but some distance from my boss.

Also, I regularly "bump into" my super-super-boss.

Both the super-boss and super-super-boss regularly ask me for updates on how things are going, what are our challenges and what are we doing to improve. As far as possible, I try to stick to the agreed "team line", but of course my boss is often on holiday, in meetings, etc, etc, and particularly during crises it is not always possible to align with him.

I have been reading through this site, and the advice is constantly given not to "go around your manager" and "make your manager look good". Although I don't want him to look bad, and I am not trying to reflect badly on him, I do sometimes worry that an open and honest style from me might give that impression.

Also, sometimes my super- bosses sometimes ask me for small things directly, although these are usually needed urgently, and again it often isn't practical to go through my manager.

From some one-to-ones, I do get the feeling that he occasionally feels undermined, although he has not said this directly to me in a way in which I can address it.

So the question - should I basically close down any discussion with my senior bosses, and refer them to my manager? This feels, to me, like it would be a career-limiting move, but I'm interested in the feedback of others.

  • If your boss is on holiday or is unavailable so frequently, are you the one that officially fills in for him? How would the super-bosses react if you were to say to them "that's best answered by my boss" or "it's best to wait on my boss becoming available to address this issue"?
    – user34587
    Feb 4, 2019 at 8:56
  • Can you clarify what are the (type of) things you consider as crossing the "team line" that you don't want to direct talk to your super-bosses without your boss' appearance?
    – tweray
    Feb 4, 2019 at 19:05

3 Answers 3


Closing down conversation with those senior to you isn't really a good plan, and over time could indeed be a CLM. Instead, I'd take two approaches:

  • Make sure your direct manager is copied in on any changes. If you bump into super-super-super boss or whoever is above your manager, and your manager isn't available, then make sure you keep them in the loop by firing off a quick email with any changes you've made based on that impromptu meeting.
  • If this is becoming an issue, raise it with your manager in your 1 to 1. Point out that you don't really feel you can turn these requests from senior management down, but at the same time you don't want to undermine the decisions made by your manager. If your manager agrees that's an issue, he'll raise it with his superiors directly.

For an alternative approach: suggest switching places with your boss so it is your boss and not you sitting next to the super boss.

If your boss's boss wants that level of awareness and control over the team, it's best that the super boss and boss sit next to each other to facilitate this. This should be a win all around. The boss can better distribute the urgent items amongst the team to minimize disruption, the super boss has better insight into the whole team, and you won't be as immediately in the firing line if something goes wrong.


Say your ultra-boss is Elizabeth and your boss is Jack.

A four-part formula is:

  1. Do anything and everything Elizabeth says

  2. In all dealings with Elizabeth, add the language: "... and I'll let Jack know that."

  3. If Liz directs you to do X, whereas Jack had said Y: do X and point 2.

  4. And the trick is: send all communications in fact to Jack and just cc'ing Elizabeth. Use the language "Jack, I have done blah blah like Liz described to me, and here's the latest file."

You should not have to explicitly have the conversation with Jack "no man should have two masters etc." as everything will be evident from your communications.

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