Career Strategies for Librarians
Dealing with Difficult Supervisors
(an excerpt from Jump Start Your Career in Library & Information Science)
by Priscilla Shontz
Try to understand what motivates your boss. Your boss won't be perfect. You may work for someone
who's never managed anyone before. You may work for someone with an entirely different work style or
personality than you have. Your boss's priorities are probably different than yours. You can't change your
boss. Understanding what motivates your boss may help you develop some strategies for making the
best of the situation. In her book Rules for the Road: Surviving Your First Job Out of School, Eve Luppert
suggests motivations and techniques for working with several common types of supervisors.
Control Freak. He is motivated by the fear that something will go wrong and he will be blamed. Try to
anticipate his needs and provide it on time or early. One benefit of working for a control freak boss is that
you'll learn every step of a process. As he sees that you anticipate needs, he will trust you and may
become a great mentor for someone they trust.
Hands-Off. She is in the business to do her own thing, not to manage you. She doesn't have time to stop
and explain to you, and won't be good at giving feedback. Find someone else who has done your job or
does your job, and get guidance. Find the time when your boss is most receptive and have questions
prepared then. Find a way to let your boss know what you're doing and what you've accomplished.
His Job is Your Job. Maybe this person is paid to strategize, but he doesn't get much done. Don't slack
off because your boss seems to do so. Make sure you tell him how long an assignment will take when
he assigns it. Doing your boss's work will give you a chance to learn things beyond your job and may
prepare you for a job with more responsibility.
Let's Be Friends. She wants to be liked or loved. She isn't good at drawing lines between her personal
and professional life. Be friendly and persuasive, not confrontational. This boss can be a good mentor,
often makes decisions by committee and is often open about information.
Grouch. He complains and criticizes all the time. Try to defend him to his detractors; this will build trust.
Whenever you have a conflict at work, step back and develop a strategy. Don't react immediately. Don't
take his criticism personally.
It is your responsibility to learn to get along with your boss. You can't change who he is, but you can
control your behavior and expectations. Make sure you give your strategy time to work; be patient.
Camila Alire said, "If you are having trouble with supervisor, ask yourself, is it you or is it the supervisor?
Do others have trouble with this person? If the supervisor acts the same with everyone, then what can
you do to work better with them? Find out from others what works and what doesn't. If you're the only one
who has a problem with the supervisor, then do some self-reflection - is the problem affected by gender,
race, personality? For example, does this person have trouble dealing with people of your gender? Are
you contributing to the problem? If it's you, what can you do to change your behavior. If you are entry-level
and only one having trouble with a supervisor, the library director will not be too understanding. It's a
challenge - a mark of a good supervisor is how they deal with personnel. Ask yourself, is this a functional
institution? If not, then get out."
About the Author:
Priscilla K. Shontz is a web designer and freelance writer and has worked in university, community
college, medical and public libraries. She is author of Jump Start Your Career in Library & Information
Science and is a past president of the ALA New Members Round Table.
Article submitted Mar 2002
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.