TL;DR: The Department Director doesn't trust/believe myself or the Program Manager and is actively demeaning (though possibly out of ignorance rather than true malice), and this is putting the project and the company in danger of going under. Neither one of us wants to resign and let the project fail, but the stress is debilitating and if something doesn't change soon, it's going to fail anyway.
Are there any things we can do to try to salvage the situation?
Background: I (34m) am the lead engineer for the biggest active project at a ~200 person high-technology startup in the USA. This isn't the largest project I've been responsible for in my career and not my first time leading people, but it is the first time with "lead" officially in my job title. The Project Manager (33f), who is functionally my boss, was previously in the top leadership of a smaller startup in a different tech industry. The Department Director (mid-fifties male) has a more traditional background, having worked many years in a couple of the established giants in this industry. The three of us have been with this company for a little over 2 years. The CEO (mid-forties male) inherited the company from the founder many years ago and, though he claims to have an engineering background, seems to have a much higher opinion of his abilities than is reasonable.
The PM and I get on very well; I feel she's doing an admirable job managing this project and most of the other PMs and engineers agree. According to comments and performance reviews, I'm at least on-par with the other, sometimes 10+ years senior, lead engineers in my department. The Department Director doesn't see things this way, however.
On the engineering side, he frequently remarks that decisions "I" have made are wrong and should have had his approval first, even though every such decision is made with a team of at least 3 people that includes the chief engineer for the entire company, in accordance with company policy (which the DD signed). He also often insists that he's unaware of issues or decisions the technical team is working, even though I (and all the other team leads) send these to him in weekly reports and have him on standing invitation to our weekly department meetings.
On the Project Management side, he tells my PM almost daily that he wasn't informed about issues or needs that she's brought up repeatedly, sometimes even on the same day. He demands that she build out schedules for each group working on our project, then tells her he doesn't believe the results and to do them again. He denies that key personnel on our project were diverted to a different project in the same department, even though the charge codes prove it. And I've witnessed dozens of little remarks inserted into conversation implying that he thinks she's stupid. I'm not certain that he's even aware how demeaning his behavior is, but it actually got bad enough at one point that the PM nearly resigned in tears.
In my view, the DD is demonstrating sexism, ageism, or some combination of both, with his own helping of arrogance piled on top. And his blatant distrust and demeaning attitude is not only affecting the PM's and my wellbeing, but it's having a significantly detrimental effect on the project. We can't get the DD to acknowledge problems or approve money or resources that we desperately need, and the project is on the verge of missing delivery. In this industry, if you miss a delivery deadline you're more likely to get cancelled than forgiven, and losing this project could definitely end the company. The PM and I haven't resigned because we're passionate about the product we're trying to deliver, but things can't continue this way for much longer.
Neither of us knows what to do to "fix" the situation. The PM's own manager tends to support the DD's behavior. HR has been consulted and didn't do anything. The CEO seems to actively ignore bad news and has turned a blind eye to the situation. Other senior managers we've consulted so far also had no ideas. The PM and I have tried to make the risks so clear that a child should be able to understand -certainly the other PMs and engineers who've seen them understand- so I don't think the issue is with us, but perhaps I'm too close to the problem to see clearly.
Question: Are there any things we can do to try to salvage the situation?
Thank you for your feedback and comments so far! Edits for clarity:
- There are 2-3 people in the company who have the necessary skills/experience to replace me. There is currently no one in the company capable of replacing my PM; the company would have to hire someone new or promote someone with less experience. All the other existing PMs are over-tasked as it is.
- I have discussed this with my direct manager, the chief engineer, and other project managers. All agree that the behavior is a problem and have their own stories/examples, but none have presented any realistic suggestions to improve the situation. My manager is a very laid-back guy close to retirement, and I think he honestly doesn't give a crap anymore.
- The DD does not treat our other projects with the same level of scrutiny, although two of them are worth about half what my project is worth (~$100M). The PM for those projects is a late-forties male (I keep bringing age and gender up because I suspect part of the DD's issue is that my PM is a young woman).
- The DD jumps on everything he perceives as a mistake, large or small. I am not aware of any mistakes that I or my PM have committed which resulted in a significant loss of time or money to the company, and the DD has not cited a particular example of such. As mentioned above, the DD claims that many of our decisions are/were wrong, though the PM and I did not make them unilaterally or without his knowledge. Per policy, the DD does not have to approve every decision; only those above a specific money value.