Dealing with supervisors is no different than working with subordinates. You need to have a clear understanding of each other’s goals, expectations and motivations, and be open and honest in all communications. Though it may sound simple, making it happen within today’s complex and demanding job environment may not be that easy to accomplish.

The right fit

You play a vital role in getting the boss you’ve always wanted. Many employers look for a balance between attitude and aptitude when hiring, finding it’s easier to train people in technical aspects than to help them adjust their perspectives. In any situation, having a positive attitude will be beneficial to you and your employer.

The most effective supervisors hire the best individuals possible, understanding the contribution they can make to the program overall. Your boss demonstrates their trust in you by hiring you for a position. You have an equal responsibility to prove that trust is well-founded by fulfilling the expectations your boss has for your job performance. It needs to be a two-way street to establish and nurture a mutually beneficial working relationship.


In general, technical information should be communicated, or at least backed up, in writing. When many details are involved in gathering and giving information, some things may be forgotten or misinterpreted without a written record. It’s your responsibility to keep careful documentation to provide your superior with the knowledge and understanding of the work you are doing.

Try to match your boss’ style in your communications. For example, if they always e-mail you, e-mail them. Match the format, too. That may entail sending multiple e-mail messages, each addressing a single issue; or sending a single e-mail message with bullet points for each technical issue addressed. They may prefer a daily summary of project progress, or daily correspondence only to address pending issues with a weekly summary of progress.

When working with technical details, develop a system to get your superior’s feedback on the issues involved so you can reach the conclusion of the project with no questions remaining and a clear record that everything has been completed according to the project parameters. That may entail a return receipt that an e-mail has been read or a direct response to the details as addressed. If that feedback is not received as anticipated, it’s your responsibility to send a follow-up message requesting feedback. The more proactive you are in this type of communication, the more clearly you will understand your role and what it takes to fulfill your position. It also provides you and your supervisor with backup support should issues arise. Setting this kind of precedent for the small things will clear the way for work with bigger things.

Handling controversy

It’s virtually impossible to have two people that will truly agree on everything all the time, so understand that there will be issues that need to be resolved. Good bosses know it’s counterproductive to correct or discipline subordinates in public. The same rule applies when working with your superiors. Don’t contradict them in public. When an issue arises, arrange a one-on-one review session. If you’ve built a good working relationship, that shouldn’t be difficult to do.

Go in with an agenda, but understand that the agenda may change based on your boss’ needs. In some instances you may receive or have information that you assume your boss doesn’t have because of the decision they are making. You have an obligation to provide that information to your superior so they have as much ammunition as possible to make the decision. If they do have that information, they will acknowledge that and will appreciate that you came forward.

Ultimately, it is their decision, and your role is to support that decision to the best of your ability.

There may be situations where your superiors have information they can’t, or don’t want to, share with you. In a mid-management position, you may be limited in the amount of information you receive. You don’t need access to every detail of major projects to work effectively within your position’s parameters. In some instances, not knowing can be a good thing. Sometimes your boss is trying to protect you. You need to do what is right. So, accept the situation, move forward as directed and assume at some point you’ll understand why.

In a good relationship, you should be able to express that verbally saying something like, “I understand there are situations or issues involved that I’m probably not aware of. I anticipate that, when the time is right, you’ll let me know why.” That reaffirms your trust in your superior, and gives them the confidence that they have your support even though you have questioned the decision.

Hot topics

Those delicate situations, the emotional issues that might be misconstrued, are best communicated verbally. In situations involving emotions do not communicate via e-mail. Writing can give off negative tones that you don’t intend. Emotional issues are best resolved when eye contact, tone of voice and body language combine with carefully considered words to more precisely express what is involved.

This type of meeting should be held in a location that puts your superior in his comfort zone. So, even if you are setting up the meeting, it’s best not to hold it “on your turf.”

Often, emotional issues develop from misunderstandings that have not been addressed when they first occurred. Remember the golden rule, and handle such situations with restraint and maturity. Aim for a clean slate and a resolve to work more effectively in these areas in the future. Ideally, the session will close with handshakes and smiles.

It’s an individual decision on how far you are willing to bend to satisfy someone else’s agenda. When it’s an issue of integrity, you need to uphold your personal standards. You can give another individual the benefit of doubt to a certain point, but you need to know what lines you will not cross to retain your own integrity. If it comes down to choices, choose your integrity over your position.


Goals and expectations are relatively easy to define as compared to motivation. At some point, you’ll need to understand what motivates your boss to do their job. You also will want to communicate your motivation and what you want to achieve to your boss, usually after you have established the trust factor and a good working relationship.

Whatever their motivation, you need to understand it and how it could affect your future. If you want to advance in your profession, look for a supervisor that is not afraid of your ambition and is willing to support your goals. That may be an individual that is looking for someone to take their position so they can move up to the next level. It may be a supervisor who excels in mentoring others by helping them grow in their professional development and then encouraging them to advance to a position at a different facility.

Supportive bosses will encourage you to step up to additional challenges so that you continue improving professionally. Let your supervisor know you appreciate these opportunities and be open to their guidance as you undertake them. By working effectively with your supervisor, you’ll both achieve success.

Tim Moore, CSFM, is assistant director of grounds management for GCA Services, Inc. of Columbia, Md. Contact him at