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How to Fill in for Your Boss

How to Fill in for Your Boss

Stepping into the boss's shoes for a day or two is no big deal but if you're taking over for a longer stretch there are a number of issues to keep in mind

Carly Chynoweth | The Times

Stepping into the boss’s shoes for a day or two is no big deal but if you’re taking over for a longer stretch there are a number of issues to keep in mind

EVEN the hardest-working managers need to take a break sometime, whether it’s for a short holiday or a 12-month secondment to another office. And when they do, you might be asked to step into the breach by taking over during their absence. Here’s how to make the most of this sparkling opportunity:

1. Know what’s expected. There’s a big difference between keeping an eye on things while your boss is in Greece for a fortnight and running the show for a year while she’s on maternity leave. “Sometimes acting up is a maintenance role, which means keeping things ticking over, and other times there are more substantial projects that need taking forward,” says Penny de Valk, chief executive of the Institute of Leadership and Management.

2. Know your limits. When Lesley Hunt, an assistant river engineer, is asked to fill in for her boss at Halcrow, clear guidelines are set about how far her authority extends. “My senior engineer and I talk through scenarios [to clarify] what I can deal with and when the decision needs to be referred upwards,” she says.

3. Don’t double your workload. If you’re taking on some or all of your manager’s responsibilities, you’ll need to delegate an equivalent number of your usual tasks – unless you want to find yourself working two jobs, De Valk says.

4. Be ready to learn … Stepping up into your boss’s position is an excellent opportunity to gain new, CV-enhancing skills.

5. … but leave room to show off. “You don’t want the whole thing to be a learning experience or there’s a risk that you won’t do that good a job,” De Valk says. “Identify what you are really good at and shape that into a project so that you can demonstrate your skills.”

6. Ask for help. That might mean taking a training course before or during the time you’re acting up, De Valk says. It’s also worth finding a mentor who can help you through the process.

7. Be open about your fears. It’s normal to feel nervous before taking on a new role, but your manager thinks that you can do the job, which is why he or she suggested you for it. If you are worried about your ability to do the job, a discussion with him or her should iron out most concerns. However, if you genuinely lack the technical or professional skills needed to do the job properly, don’t take it on, De Valk says.

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8. Prepare for peer pressure. If you’re promo-ted from team member to team leader – even temporarily – your relationship with your colleagues will change as you become their boss rather than their friend. Some may resent the change; an open conversation at the outset is a good way to begin. “Be fair and respectful towards people,” Hunt says. “Make it clear that you want their input and that they will get credit for their ideas.”

9. Be honest with clients. Explain what’s going on and how long they will be dealing with you rather than your boss. Make sure that they know what they can expect of you and what decisions – if any – may need to be delayed until your manager’s return, Hunt says.

10. Look who’s back. If you’ve been acting up for a significant length of time – covering maternity leave or a sabbatical, for example – you may not want your old job back when your boss returns. It’s fair to expect your employers to help you to find a position at your new level.


Read about how to fill your boss’s shoes by better handling your own — particularly if you are a woman — in Climbing the Ladder in Stilettos: 10 Strategies for Stepping Up to Success and Satisfaction at Work, by Lynette Lewis ($14 plus delivery from Amazon).

Find out more about making the move into management with On the High Wire: How to Survive Being Promoted, by Robert W. Gunn and Betsy Raskin Gullickson ($28 plus delivery from Amazon).

Pick up tips on how to create the opportunities that you need to get ahead at work with Get Paid More and Promoted Faster: 21 Great Ways to Get Ahead in Your Career, by Brian Tracy ($12 plus delivery from Amazon).

Courtesy of © 2008 YellowBrix, Inc.

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