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The short version: My boss / CTO / company founder double checking everything I do and gives me little technical decision-making authority. It's driving me nuts. To what extent is that normal / okay? How to best approach discussing it?

More context:

I'm the sole employee in a startup founded by two people. I've got a couple years experience working in industry and a couple years experience pursuing practical research in a PhD program. I was brought in to help with the technical aspects of developing our product, which so far had been delivered by external contractors (so I do bits of dev, a bunch of miscellaneous research, and a bunch of liaising with various partners). I work closely and am managed by the CTO - the more technical of the founders. He's a systems engineer, has worked with teams of engineers prior to him founding the company, and is a hobbyist-level technical person. Let's call him Bob.

Over time I have found myself extremely irritated by Bob's inability to delegate seemingly any technical authority to me. I'm being asked to look into something, spec a part of a system out etc etc. but then find that he's doing research over those things in parallel. Other times, when interacting with our contractors, he'll ask them about things that we've already either discussed internally, or I could clearly answer if he asked. This makes me feel like he has no trust in my technical judgment. This applies to non-technical things as well (just earlier today I told him that a part we waned is out of stock everywhere and the first thing he does is obviously jump into a double-checking spree to find this out himself).

Feelings aside, it also leads to a lot of inefficiencies - having to justify my every choice to someone who has a lower understanding of its technical basis takes time and introduces blockers (I can't just go and get on with prototyping stuff, if I have to wait on him to approve everything). Besides a lot of decisions at this stage is a matter of opinion and preferences, which makes me trying to convince him that we should use this platform rather than another, that he heard good things about feels... silly.

A big part of me wants to tell him "Look, you hired me to handle the technical parts of your business, can't you just let me do it instead of being a glorified assistant?". That being said, he is one of the owners of the business so, theoretically, it is his right to be the sole decision-making power on anything he pleases.

I was thinking of asking him for a chat about this particular problem but I'm not sure if I'm not being unnecessarily fussy about how much autonomy I should have. On top of that, there's the fact that it's pretty much impossible to bring this up without saying (or implying) that perhaps I'm more qualified to make those decisions, which might not go down well because of his seniority etc.

  • When you were recruited for this position did you have any discussion with the co-founders about their expectations for your role (like in the interview)? I agree it's annoying that 'Bob' seemingly delegates tasks to you and then does a shadow copy of them himself alongside. It seems like a lack of trust and letting go. I'm sure it's no reflection on you personally but more of a trait of Bob (especially as he's an experienced tech guy but not an experienced boss). What would happen if you went off and prototyped something and came back with it to Bob, do you think? – seventyeightist Nov 25 '19 at 20:16
  • If the facts are that you know the job better than he does, and he only wastes his and your time doing it, then he needs to be told so. – gnasher729 Nov 26 '19 at 10:53
  • @JoeStrazzere I've not said anything yet apart from requests for clarification of my job responsibilities which are almost always met with some variation of _"We're in early stages so there's no point in defining concrete responsibilities, let's just do things as they come". _ – BobsYerUncle Nov 26 '19 at 11:59
  • @seventyeightist Thanks! Well, right now I can't just go off and prototype something because I'm an embedded dev so to prototype anything I need to be cleared to purchase hardware, and I have no budget I command. – BobsYerUncle Nov 26 '19 at 12:00
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This can be summed up pretty quickly in this statement: Talk to your manager.

Discuss your concerns, area of responsibilities, etc. and ask them exactly what you have asked us here. Only they know.

I will further advise you to be polite during this conversation, have a list of questions and concerns ready, and be prepared to hear what they say -- which may not be what you expect.

Also note, if they are a newer manager, delegating tasks is one of the more difficult concepts to grasp -- you may have to be patient in this regard.

After that conversation, if some changes aren't agreed to and abided by, perhaps you should consider employment elsewhere.

  • I have asked for clarification of my area of responsibilities but so far I've only been getting lots of "We're in early stages so there's no point in defining concrete responsibilities, let's just do things as they come". Would it be appropriate to mention how his behaviour is making me feel or is that unnecessary and unprofessional? – BobsYerUncle Nov 25 '19 at 18:37
  • @BobsYerUncle That is a very situational question. IMO, I would let my manager know my feelings on the subject, and if they disagree I either deal with that or I have to move on. ( I may try multiple times to get it addressed, but in the end you cannot make them do anything ) – Mister Positive Nov 25 '19 at 18:44

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