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What is the best strategy to move forward when addressing a workspace environment where my role is unclear, I am not given any authority for decision making although being in current job 5 years and having a total of 10 years experience in field (besides degree in computing science).

I am only writing about one thing here, there are actually more things that are amiss.

What I would like to achieve is given more authority for decision making (strengthening my role) or at least agreeing on common, minimal standards for source code.

I have already done a lot of groundwork and this has been going on for months. Trying to clarify things and making changes seems to make matters worse for me because it becomes more clear to me that I apparently have no decision making authority whatsoever.

  • talked with boss several times about responsibilities and roles. Even to direct question / suggestion about giving me more authority to make decisions, he evades and points out I should come to him to make the decision (despite him not getting involved at all in the past and not really knowing what I do, at least not about the internals).
  • This would be ok if I were an unskilled worker who just executes orders, but I pick my tasks myself, manage everything myself, there have been no complaints. I just want to make "official" what I have already been doing: managing myself and doing what is best for my job. So, what would be a good strategy?

background:

  • in public service (Germany, university)
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3 Answers 3

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Remember that authority is one of the weaker forms of decision power. Respect and consensus building is much stronger.

Point out the concrete problems you see and gather input from all people actually involved on approaches to fix them. Get them to vote and opine on each other's suggestions. Pick one and ask them to accept a trial period to evaluate the decision. (E.g. try it for three months, with a specific date to reflect over the trial and then either continue or drop it.)

If everyone relevant has been asked to provide input to this process, you will have fairly strong support for your decision at the end, with zero authority enforced from above.


What if they don't recognise the problems you see? Unfortunately, no amount of authority will make them see something they don't, and compliance with such a decision will be weak or half-hearted in the best case. Malicious compliance in the worst case.

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    If everyone who does the actual work is on board and wants the decision, it matters very little what a detached boss thinks. As far as I can tell from OP, the boss is distant enough from the actual work that I doubt they would notice if the workers improved their processes on their own.
    – kqr
    Feb 13 at 15:54
  • I like the approach - "gather input from all people actually involved on approaches to fix them". I am not sure if this exactly answers and helps my question - but I am quite sure it is a good point to consider. What you are pointing out (I think) is that it is not always important what is the "best" decision but that you might achieve more not via brute force but by making sure people feel they can weigh in.
    – kedavle
    Feb 17 at 20:27
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I have a feeling this job is not going to be a good fit for you. But I am going to try to give you an example of what "stay in your lane" means for you, and how you can work with the boss you have and the company you have.

So, let's take a simple example (and nobody pick at the details of it, because it is oversimplified for a reason.) Someone is doing a particular process by hand. It takes x hours a week/month and more importantly, y times a year there is a delay or mistake that costs z dollars or hours or customer goodwill or something. (Eg we reduce our bill 20% that month to make up for that mistake.) There's every chance that you don't know what the bad thing costs when it happens. That's the sort of thing it's your boss' job to know. You feel that technically, the right thing to do is to automate this process. It will cost a hours, and these other things will be delayed while you do it, but then all that hand-work time will go away and the expensive errors will go away. You see this as a technical decision, where you choose the "right" thing, and automating is pretty well always the "right" thing to do.

Your boss sees a different picture. The costs of doing it the way it is now, the possible increases or decreases in those costs over time, the estimated cost of your suggestion, the estimated benefit of doing that, and so on. The other things you and the other developer could be doing have to be weighed against it, of course. If that "number of errors" is very low, like one a year, and the boss can be convinced that "oh that was a one-off it won't happen again" then the boss is likely never going to decide to do the automation. If that number is very high, and the problems it causes can't be solved with money and time (disgruntled customers who leave) then the boss is very likely to decide to do it.

See how this doesn't really have a technical part? You're worried about "competence inversion" by which I think you mean that your boss should be more competent than you, but is in fact less competent. You may be right. From where I sit I consider another possibility: your boss has plenty of competence at a job that is completely different from yours and wants you to bring technical details that will enable making a business decision quickly and accurately. You want the boss to delegate those business decisions to you. But you don't seem to see any difference between a business decision and a technical decision. I wouldn't, therefore, delegate those decisions to you.

Relax. You don't have to do your boss' job. You don't really even know your boss' job. Provide the information your boss needs (this is industry-standard practice, this will save 5 hours a week, this will prevent the sort of error we had last month that took 3 days to fix, I think this is about a week's work) -- in a format your boss needs. Effort. Savings. Best practices. Risk. Non technical words. Business words. Your boss doesn't need or want to understand whether virtual inheritance or template meta programming are silver bullets or overhyped nonsense: bosses want business words. You can get those answers. Then the boss makes a business decision, and you implement it.

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  • It is good to point out there are other aspects beside the technical. However, the "business decision" does not quite fit, being it is a public sector (as mentioned in question) where there is no pressure to "make money". But you are right, the boss has a different view and different priorities (whatever those might be). But, I am talking about technical decisions. Right now, I can't even officially make the technical decisions. And the boss intervenes on technical decisions.
    – kedavle
    Feb 7 at 0:08
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    Public sector may not need to make money, but can't waste it either, need to support programs that have been announced and so on. Nothing is a technical decision only. Like "we can do a sloppy quick job that will be impossible to maintain in 1 day, or we can do it right in 1 week" the technical decision is "do it right" but the business decision may be slam it out and move on to something else because the week is not available. If you learn to phrase your technical input like that, you will be more likely to get your way but you will also perhaps understand when your boss goes a different way. Feb 7 at 0:48
  • Even if the quicker solution is the "right" fix, politics can still make you need to do things in a sloppier manner. Understanding the full requirements can help make it seem less crazy, but it's usually really hard to get them.
    – Ed Grimm
    Feb 7 at 4:54
  • You are assuming the bosses look at the big picture and make sensible decisions which are not always technical. I assume this may sometimes be the case. But even more often, the reality is that the decision is determined by what results in the least amount of work and the least amount of hassle for the boss (other colleagues have also reported this). And public sector may need to make or save money. But the individual people do not behave efficiently or sensibly. Can only say this from experience and observation. I am still idealistic but there is a point where this becomes self-destructive.
    – kedavle
    Jul 27 at 17:28
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At one semi-governmental organization I worked at, when the internal client didn't get their way, they simply outsourced the work outside of the organization.

At another company, the people that got promoted to the executive suite were the people that never made any waves and the people that never upset anyone internally.

In other words, there may be a thousand and one reasons why your boss isn't willing to upset that internal client.

If you really care about this, you should consider finding a new employer in the private sector. The private sector isn't ideal either. But if you're careful about which offers you're willing to accept, you can find a more professional work environment for yourself.

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  • I think that is a good point with the possibility of the client outsourcing the work. I have been focusing more on the technical point of view and possibly not enough on internal "politics".
    – kedavle
    Feb 7 at 0:07

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