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Background:

I am involved in a project, which has four people:

  • Three people from my same team
    • Me
    • My manager
    • Another person who outranks me, and who reports to my manager's manager.
  • Another person from outside of my team

My problem:

My manager is not capable with anything. The other person (who outranks me and reports to my manager's manager) is also very political and we don't get along. None of us three get along with each other (in order to form an "alliance" for example).

I do get along with the fourth person (outside of my team) on the project, but unfortunately they don't have enough skills to get the job done. (But for all I know they could also be acting quiet knowing the dynamics and secretly acting against everyone.)

Now, there is a big integration project that we are all working on. I think as it stands I am probably the only one (if I say so myself) who has anywhere near the knowledge needed to know what to do.

The other two (of my team) historically use the knowledge I have - play tactics - and use this to impress everyone else. All the while, finding ways of having me put down at any given opportunity.

Question:

In this project that we are all in, am I right in thinking my ultimate responsibility is directly to the project manager as opposed to my actual manager in the team? In other words, any thing I have to say or any instructions given to me comes from a PM, who is in a different team as part of a portfolio team?

Thank you.

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    Can you clarify a bit more (I realise you touched on it) what kind of things you envisage as being in scope of "you have ultimate responsibility towards person X"? In my experience, and in most companies, PMs don't have "direct" authority over the people carrying out their project (which is part of why it's so important to have interpersonal and negotiation skills as a PM!) and usually don't "give instructions" as much as track, coordinate, report, facilitate, etc. – seventyeightist Jul 13 '20 at 19:29
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    Also, what do you want to happen? Do you want the PM to be the "authority" as you believe your manager ought not to have authority over you as they are "not capable with anything" as you put it, for example? – seventyeightist Jul 13 '20 at 19:29
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    Hi there, I definitely want the PM to have authority over me. In my mind, anyone is better than my manager. Also, all the projects I have worked I usually build a good relationship with PMs and they value my advise and even steer the project based on what I say to them. I definitely cannot have my manager or the second person to shine over my effort just and later to make to look like noone. – Tryingtosurvive Jul 13 '20 at 19:43
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    Alright, I've submitted an attempt at editing it. Is the PM the fourth person on the project or is there another person and the PM is the fifth? I went back and forth (!), but I think it's representing what you answered now. – seventyeightist Jul 13 '20 at 20:37
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    Hi the PM is another person – Tryingtosurvive Jul 13 '20 at 20:47
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OK so I've been in a situation like this. There is no solution. Your team is dysfunctional and it's become a dogfight. All you can do is keep your head down and do as you're told. If you start trying to go over people's heads, it'll just end badly because it will tend to unite the rest against you.

So play the game - if two people's instructions contradict send an email copying BOTH in asking for clarification.

But note:you'll NEVER progress here. Your future career REQUIRES you to leave and gain a better position elsewhere (this is actually how MOST techies progress). WHEN you should leave is hard to say - probably just before you think you are ready to.

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Who is the team leader on this project? (Note: the team leader does not need to be the person with the most seniority)

For personnel issues (e.g. coming into work late, taking days off, working from home, etc), you report to your manager. Your manager is responsible for personnel issues like these.

For project issues (e.g. timeline too short, scope too broad, tracking requirements) you report to the team lead, who reports to the PM. If you don't have a team lead, then you report to the PM.

That said, this is how a healthy team functions. Your team does not seem to be a healthy one, as it is likely that you are not the team lead, and you are not comfortable reporting to either your manager or to the team lead (your manager or the other developer with more seniority; the 2 people who are not you). In which case, all bets are more or less off, so I'll answer the question a different way:

The person with the most context about the project is the project manager. It's the PM's job to scope out the project, decide which features they need/don't need, plan out a timeline, and interface with nontechnical stakeholders in case things go belly-up. If you are given requirements from your manager, and from the PM, and those 2 sets of requirements conflict, you should clear up the confusion with the PM and then do whatever the PM says, and notify your manager that the PM disagreed with his interpretation, and if he has further concerns then he should take them up with the PM.

An unrelated but tangential concern is: how much does it affect you when other members of your team take credit for your work? If it affects you significantly enough, you may want to see if there's some way in your company to change teams (if the company is big enough) or find a new job. It's not healthy for coworkers to take credit for each others' work, and it's not healthy for coworkers to belittle each other. That is concerning, but not really relating to this particular project.

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I've seen this similar dynamic occur in government contract projects where you are working on projects which cross lines of business(LOB) and sometimes the senior stakeholder and manager are on another project or department. Quite often how a team should be vs how a team is in reality are often divergent. How a team should be is more of a goal to aim for.

How can you lead and help your team grow and morph into what it should be without coming across as overstepping or making others feel incompetent? Is there an area your manager struggles in that you can help support them in?

To answer your question, you report to both. You report to your manager on the more low level elements of your project deliverables such as items on a JIRA/Confluence sprint/Kanban board. When you are interacting with the more senior manager, you should likely be reporting to them the more over 30,000ft details like whether everything in on target for a product release or deployment.

The one piece of advice I can give is when you are working with multiple stakeholders of different leadership/management levels, don't try to go around your manager unless you absolutely have to. That can create a lot friction and contribute to a breakdown in communication. Aim to keep communication open and transparent. Consistent open communication can put some downward pressure on efforts of others to unnecessarily politicize.

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