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When You’re Not the Supervisor…But You Have to Manage Staff

While working on another project, I came across the book Middle Management in Academic and Public Libraries, edited by Tom Diamond.  One chapter caught my eye: “Managing the Performance of People Who Do Not Report to You.”

This situation happens fairly frequently, and it can be a difficult one to navigate.

Some examples I have experienced:

My system has a Homework Center.  While I am the direct supervisor of my branch’s Homework Center Coordinator, the Center’s tutors report to someone at our Administrative Building.  There are several layers of messy supervision…the Coordinator is the person who directly sees the tutors at work.  I, as the children’s librarian, visit often but am not in the room the entire time.  And the actual supervisor may only see the tutor a few times a semester. I often have to guide the coordinator in addressing tutor issues, as this position was frequently a first job for those who were tutors and coaching therefore was a major part of managing their job performance.

As the Children’s Supervisor, I am often in-charge of the building when my manager is not present.  This scenario means that I am looked to for guidance from many who are not my direct reports.  Pages will often ask me for special projects if shelving is slow.  If their supervisor is not in and I am in charge…I manage their performance.

Then there’s the dreaded customer complaint about a staff member while you are the Person in Charge.  Of course, the full story must be sought out and one must listen to the staff member, but if something egregious occurs you may have to deal with it…without necessarily being the supervisor.

So how do you proceed? 

Middle Management in Academic and Public Libraries suggests four strategies and based on my above experience, I can concur.  First, if you can predict that you will be in this situation, have a candid conversation with the direct supervisor and learn their vision for the position.  Make sure the supervisor knows that you respect their authority as supervisor and would like to understand how they would like coordination of their direct report to go when they are not present.

Second, try to persuade the direct reports to follow that vision by showing that everyone is on the same page and that the vision makes sense and is suitable.

I personally find that communication is a KEY strategy when I must manage someone else’s direct report.  If anything has to be done, I immediately send an email to the supervisor.  I explain the situation that occurred, how I dealt with it, and ask if there is a different way they’d prefer me to handle something similar in the future.

And finally, the book suggests planning to avoid conflict amongst the coordinator-supervisor-staff trio and, if it cannot be avoided, to work through mediation.

What tips do you have for directing and coordinating staff who do not report to you?  Please feel free to share!

Diamond, T., 2011. Middle Management In Academic And Public Libraries. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Libraries Unlimited.

This post addresses the core competency of VI. Administrative and Management Skills and VII. Professionalism and Professional Development.

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