Editor’s note:The best insight on HR dilemmas is provided by solving real-life situations that IT pros face every day, and that’s what our HR Handbook column is all about. TechRepublic columnist Wade Mitchell welcomes your e-mail questions concerning human resources issues. Although all of the messages are read, he reserves his responses for those that will likely benefit the most members.

Dilemma: Group leader not respected
I am the supervisor of a group of four individuals. It was apparent when I was appointed that everyone supported my promotion to that position. Now after about a year, they appear to be sniping at my decisions and authority at every occasion. How can I assert myself as the boss?


Bill, it has been nearly a year since your promotion to what I assume is an IT management position. Since you were promoted, and not brought in from another business unit, you are likely still viewed as “Bill the colleague” to your staff and not the authority figure in this picture.

While it is an unprofessional attitude for the staff to have, some blame lays at your feet. You may have made the very common mistake of trying to be everyone’s “favorite boss,” and in doing so may have unintentionally continued to treat the staff as friends. Sure, you want a friendly rapport with the people you supervise. However, it’s important that you make it clear you’re in a position of authority and the staff needs to respect your decisions. Your newly gained title won’t automatically get you the respect you feel you deserve. Instead, you must communicate to your staff in words and deeds that you are the boss.

Change from buddy to boss role
If anything, team members who are promoted to leadership roles must work even harder to earn the respect their titles require. It sounds like your staff has soured and feels like they can walk all over you.

The solution is simple, but it won’t be easy. If you want to succeed as an IT leader, you must forget about being everybody’s buddy, and become “Bill the Boss.”

Realize that the company has faith in you or you would not have been promoted. Remember that you need to exercise your authority. The next time you have an important decision to make, encourage constructive input from your staff. Then make your decision and make it final.

Take the helm with a firm hand
Don’t delay on making the move into your role as boss. You need to act fast so that the situation doesn’t deteriorate any further. If a staff member has acted in an insubordinate manner, the best way to handle a minor, first offense is to meet with the employee. Discuss misconceptions, talk about why his or her actions were not appropriate, and provide alternative ways that the employee could have expressed concerns in a more respectful way.

As always, any time you meet with a staff member, ask the employee for ideas and input. Does the employee have suggestions about avoiding this problem in the future?

However, if the employee’s actions were more serious, it may call for a more formal response. Find out from your HR department if your organization has a protocol that you should follow. Many companies will recommend an escalating policy. In such models, at the first sign of inappropriate staff behavior, you need to do the following:

  • Inform the subordinate, in clear terms, that further acts of insubordination will result in a written reprimand.
  • Follow up the incident with a memo or e-mail describing the event and detailing consequences if similar behavior occurs again. Be sure you indicate that the employee must respond to your e-mail, and document that the employee has received the information. File this in a secure location and send a copy to HR.
  • At the next incident with that same employee, complete a report immediately and place it in the employee’s permanent work record. At the same time, explain that you are more than willing to revisit the issue with the employee in 30 days, and if there are no further incidents, you will consider adjusting the document or removing it from his or her file. Again, policies about written reprimands vary among organizations, so you’ll want to determine what your HR department requires in these circumstances.

Now you have demonstrated that you are working from a position of strength. Making the role move won’t be easy, but it is the only way to quickly gain the attention and respect of your IT team.

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