I have difficulties communicating other people's mistakes/shortcomings.

The most common time this happens to me is when my department head assigns me with supervising a project to deadline, but my direct line manager is responsible for executing some of the most vital tasks of the project - and he postpones them significantly.

So for example, we have to finish Project X by Friday, and all the sub-tasks I and my assistants have to do are done long before that. But there's a final sub-task (a bit like a "big red button") which only my line manager can perform. And he can't because he has other priorities.

So when our department head asks me, I feel stuck firstly because I don't know what they have discussed among themselves already, and secondly also because I don't want to sound like I am accusing my line manager.

I am in part afraid to cause pressure on my direct line manager most importantly because he is, well, my day-to-day boss and influences my career growth, my workplace, my everything every day. It is also very difficult to get specific dates from him, as his schedule changes all the time. He never gives clear answers to me.

So I literally get stuck, am like "ahem... errm... I have to check... I am not sure..." whenever this happens.

Would it be possible to say something like "I have done my part way ahead of schedule. I am waiting for my boss to be free. He usually needs an entire day to focus on something like this."?

  • Leave en email trail so you can document that you have done what you needed to do and did on time. Jan 14, 2014 at 10:48
  • "and he postpones them significantly" - remind him when he postpones them that puts him on the critical path for this project. It's the kind of phrase that makes managers pay attention...
    – AakashM
    Jan 15, 2014 at 15:52

5 Answers 5


From my personal experience, the first point of contact for you being the line manager, you need to communicate to him first.

I would follow the following procedure:

  • Talk to your line manager and remind him about the project deadline.
  • Inform your line manager that you will have to give a status update to your department head well before you update your department head. At that point you can say something like, "Boss this is the only item left, can you get it done before the 10 o'clock project status meeting?"
  • Then, when your department head asks for the status, you can mention that the task is nearly done and the line manager will be looking into the remaining part of it.

Remember that what communication goes on between your line manager and department head is not your concern. If they have an understanding about the task being delayed, you will not be held responsible for it. And if there is no such communication between them, since you have already informed your line manager about the possible update you need to give to your department head, your line manager or even the department head cannot hold you responsible for the slip.

  • 1
    Yes this is managing upwards. He needs to know that if he does not get to the task by the deadline, his boss will be informed. Scheduling a meeting to do these sorts of tasks can work wonders with the guy who always puts them off. If the meeting is agreed to, he can't say he doesn't have the time to do it.
    – HLGEM
    Jan 15, 2014 at 16:52

Tell the truth. Don't lie, don't prevaricate, don't embellish.

You're working in a professional environment, where everyone has tasks and responsibilities. If you're unable to fulfill yours, you need to be open and honest as to why this is.

If a team member has not done something, which has left you unable to complete your work, be straightforward about it. When Management ask your colleague what has happened, they will repeat the process.

Of course, if you know that you're going to come under scrutiny, it makes sense to do everything you can to ensure that your job gets done. If you're waiting for someone to do something, you should speak to them before things become an issue.

In the majority of cases, people often have too much to do and are unable to do everything that's required in the timescale they've been given. There's no shame in this, as long as you've been working hard... and not posting on Stack Exchange when you should be working...


When someone above you in the hierarchy asks you a question, never lie. It is a lie to say you don't know. You know. At a bare minimum you should say "the X is all done" (not "my part", give it a name like the coding or the entering or whatever) and we are waiting on the Y (pushing the big red button) for it to be done (or live or whatever.) Do not include who needs to do Y or how long it takes in that first answer. There may be a second question, or there may not.

Don't worry about what else your boss knows or what your boss will do with the information. No good can come of pretending to be bad at your job to hide the fact that someone else may or may not be bad at theirs.


I like the leading answer from Usung, but I've found it won't work in every circumstance. If you, the department head and the line manager work together frequently in this pattern, than having a pattern based around regular, repeated status communication makes a great deal of sense. But in a more chaotic environment or situation, this isn't always possible.

So, general tips:

1 - Don't bring up to the department head anything you haven't raised to the direct manager. Day 1 of a project, you should be discussing the schedule with your direct manager, and having a quick communication from you of "I need you to do this action with this big red button by X date" should be no surprise.

2 - If your boss is weak at watching deadlines, it's fair to ask what you and he can do together to avoid this - for example, can you remind him more frequently? Or is there something you can do so that his job is easier? The word "streamline" comes to mind. You are not helping get his lazy rear end moving in the right direction, you are "streamlining this process"

3 - Be clear and coherent but blame free. "I have finished tasks A, B, C. The final step is X, and it requires management action." By keeping the words focused on the tasks and the facts and basically avoiding management pronouns you are pointing out the block in the process without blaming the person who caused it. It's also a great way to save face. For example, if there is another person on your team who could have done the big red button work, but you didn't know it, this is a great point for the department head to say "ah, but this other person can do it..." - and thus you really haven't thrown your manager under the bus.

I've done this a BUNCH when it came to that nagging final approval step for major work. It's important, it should be thoughtfully done, but managers become chokepoints - by working out alternate paths for the work we were able to get work done without blaming anyone.


Is this information solicited or unsolicited? For a detailed project, there are people who need to be informed about the status of tasks/subtasks. If a subtask is assigned to someone and it isn't done on time, that's just stating fact. If you're suppose to tell someone about it, you should do it.

If you just go running to different people stating someone did finish their work on time, you appear to be a tattle-telling gossip.

It's up to the person in charge on how the late task is treated and will either find out of themselves or ask you to find out what is happening. If there are other priorities, there's nothing you can do about it.

There are some people that will ask you to "cover" for them and not tell anyone the task is behind. You have to decide how to handle this. In some situations, this is riskier than others.

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