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I'm currently working on one part of a technical data heavy project. The project manager in charge of this project is what one might term "An Old-School Project Manager" in that he has absolutely no knowledge of the application domain or anything remotely technical whatsoever - in his own words "What he does is Delivers."

As well as designing the technical specifications and developing the code to those specifications, my role is also quite client facing, so I need to interact with the people who will be consuming the data to help to get it in shape for when it is all finally deployed; most of the tasks that these clients are being asked to do is way beyond their job description and I think it is important to be respectful of that and realise any help that they give us is based on goodwill.

The PM is an absolute control freak who rubs everyone he ever deals with completely up the wrong way. All emails must go through him (maybe he will forward them on, maybe he will let you know if there has been a reply), and all emails must be written in a language that he understands (he doesn't know what a database is, or the difference between a schema and data so...). He almost never reads anything he's sent, what he does read he sends back asking for it to be "more high level", and he never knows what he is asking for, he just starts rambling about "this must be simple right, this is how it is, no?" - not that he admits this, he just says that he needs me to make what I've said "more high level". I'm struggling to work out what he actually does all day except of course for Delivering and acting as postmaster.

How do you work with a manager who has this kind of personality?

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closed as not constructive by maple_shaft, Aaronaught, ChrisF Aug 13 '11 at 16:50

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Manager should manage and not deliver - developers are on delivery these days. – user11408 Aug 12 '11 at 18:29
He insists on being the gateway for all email? AND understand it all even when he has no need to? Yikes! – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Aug 12 '11 at 18:29
Maybe he means What he does is Deliver the Mail. – psr Aug 12 '11 at 18:40
I smell a cleverly disguised rant... but I am sympathetic if it means anything to you. The single worst job I ever had was reporting to a micro-managing control freak. It doesn't get better. Look for a different job. – maple_shaft Aug 12 '11 at 19:13
Not so cleverly-disguised. – Aaronaught Aug 12 '11 at 21:43

2 Answers 2

Clearly explain your points and concerns to him in person (not in writing). Point out that the way he wants you to communicate with customers is not efficient. But don't be too pushy, tell him about CC, and explain that if you put him in CC he will be posted on every email, but things will get lots better for both of you, your customers and higher-level management.

You may want to get him to invest his time into this issue before making your point. For example, every time you send email and don't get a reply soon, shoot few more emails asking him if he got a reply or not - push it a little, but do it nicely, so he doesn't get very mad but spends his time on the issue.

Try to make him understand that you are partners. I have a feeling that he feels like his work is not appreciated by you (and/or others) and is seeing you as an enemy rather than a partner. Thus, lacking a self-esteem, confidence and self-actualisation. So ask him to help you frequently enough and point out that he is doing a good job. Not only it will make your relations better, but you might actually get some help :)

I am sure this will work out nicely for both of you. Unless he plays win-lose strategy, in which case your only option is to resolve this conflict trough the higher manager. Simply because you cannot make any deal with people who doesn't care or don't have authority to resolve the issue.

As for level of details - be extremely high-level, why not? Talk about details only if customers ask you about them. I don't see it as a big problem.

Also, if I may make this advice, take a look at Herb Cohen's book called "You Can Negotiate Anything". I think it might help a lot in cases like this. And like he said, - Care, but not that much.

Hope it helps!

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I like the idea of trying to persuade him to accept a cc of each e-mail, instead of being a mail relay. If you need to, point out how much time this will save; almost all PMs freak out about schedule more than anything else. If you can get him comfortable with your communication style, he ought to be willing to accept that. – Alger Aug 13 '11 at 1:39

Find a new job. Or figure out what his own boss wants, and deliver that instead.

If you like the job, then figure out how to communicate with your manager properly, which means: ignoring everything he says, and watching only what he does, which includes how he rewards your peers. Frequently less-good managers say one thing then do another: so ignore the verbiage and watch his actions; he may say he wants one thing, then gives rewards to others who do something different.

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I actually like the job. – user23157 Aug 12 '11 at 18:47
@The Mouth If you like your job, elevate the situation to your project manager's boss. – Marcelo Aug 12 '11 at 18:58
@Mouth: Don't change your job. I am pretty sure that you just have to learn how to deal with people/situations like this. You can pretty much find a manager like this at many other places, so always running away doesn't sound like a good plan. – user11408 Aug 12 '11 at 19:02