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Career Advice

Do's And Don'ts For Moving Up When The Boss Is On Vacation

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

July 18, 2011

Your boss' vacation is coming up soon. Last time she left it felt chaotic and as if no one was minding the store. This time, you want to step up - for the department's sake and for your own too.

If you've been hoping to move into management, a boss' holiday could be your on-ramp to show your skills and advance your prospects.

Before you start taking charge, though, you need the boss' blessing to be the fill-in manager. So set up a meeting and offer your support and assists - and be sure to indicate the advantages to your taking on added responsibilities, said Donna Schilder, a leadership, career and business coach. Show how it will keep the department moving toward goals or give your boss the opportunity to take a stretch assignment in the future and give you partial responsibility for the day-to-day department operations.

Even if there's a de-facto deputy you could offer to take on a few assignments, Schilder suggests, and remind the boss: "It builds a deeper bench."   Ask if the deputy, who may already be overloaded with assignments, could mentor you or guide you through some assignments. That will put him at ease that you're not in a power grab.

If your boss agrees to have you step up, then start establishing clear boundaries on what you can do - and what you cannot do or authorize. "The more you get your role clarified the better it will work," she said.

Taking on the manager's role temporarily is tricky - there's a fine line to walk between colleague and superior. It's important to remember that you don't have the power and influence your boss does, and so you need to pick your battles carefully.

"If you press people to do every little piece you're going to fail," she said. Schilder suggests being assertive rather than aggressive, and professional and collaborative instead of hard charging.

Once your boss is gone for a week or two, then the balancing act really gets complicated. Here's a few dos and don'ts for those vacation weeks, courtesy of Schilder:

  • Do find out too how - and whether - to contact your boss during the vacation. Sometimes email updates are good, and they're especially valuable if something political or potentially negative is occurring, Schilder said. Discuss and understand when it may be right to go to your boss' boss with a question or dilemma.
  • Show the traits of a leader. Coach, don't tell. Observe and don't judge. Communicate clearly. Give credit where it's due.
  • Don't delegate tasks that you normally do or add tasks that you've been wanting to see done that your boss hasn't approved.
  • Do keep a running list of important things your boss will need to know. This bullet pointed document will make it clear that you were engaged and that you want to keep your boss in the loop.
  • Don't be a know-it-all. Give answers only if you're sure of them. Don't act like the hall monitor or five feedback as if you were the boss.
  • Do be assertive and use humor if a co-worker seems reluctant to treat your assignments seriously. Be clear that you respect the co-worker's expertise and job, but say that you've been asked to pass out assignments in the boss' absence. "You can't back down," she said.
  • Don't try to look more competent than your boss to his peers or superiors.

If you want to move up eventually, this temporary step up will be your first chance to prove to the higher ups - as well as your colleagues you're managing for a bit - that you've got the talents and temperament to be a leader.

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