Manager without authority is no manager, at all

Dear Joan:
I am in a very frustrating position at work.  I work for a company that I have been with for six years now. I have been the office manager of the satellite company for five years. It is a small office and I manage four women in the office.  The problem lies in the dynamics of all of our "positions", I think. I feel there is an enormous power struggle with two of the women in the front office.  It has been this way for over a year and nothing has been resolved. I have tried talking to my supervisor and she has also talked to the women which I felt made things worse.  So now I have no standing in the office whatsoever.  I feel as though I am just someone else who works there with no "rank" and all the responsibilities. 

Also, over the past few months, job duties have been rearranged so that somehow these two women in the front office have a HUGE amount of free time on their hands.  They stay online a great deal of the day, shop online and talk on the phone a lot. I have complained to my supervisor.  It seems as though every time I complain or bring an argument against these two women, they somehow turn it around against me.  I don't understand how this is done but it happens every time. I wish I could video tape them or come up with some type of proof of their not doing anything, while on company time, and getting paid for it.  

All I want is to be able to do my job once again and have my job duties back.  I want to have my standing back to where I feel I have the respect I deserve and I don't feel if my supervisor steps in, nothing will ever change.   

Joan, why can't she see through these two phonies?  There are two of us women in the office working ourselves to death while these women sit and look pretty and shop all day.  How can they get away with this and what can I do? 

Please help, I love my job, just not the people I have to deal with. I have put in too much time and invested too much into this company to just walk away from it all. What can I do? 


The biggest problem you have isn’t with the two people who are slacking off; it’s with your supervisor. You aren’t an office manager if your supervisor gives you nothing to “manage.” If you really are a manager, you have the authority to oversee the workflow of the people you oversee. In addition, you would have the authority to confront inappropriate behavior and have the power to enforce changes, or fire an employee who refuses to comply. If you “manage” you have some authority and it appears that you have none. You may be a coordinator or “lead” person but you are not a manager. Either your boss needs to give you the authority you need, or she needs to let you go back to the job you used to have and she needs to be the sole person in charge.  

It’s not clear if your supervisor is in the same location you are. If she is located in the same office, it’s apparent that she is not in touch with what is going on. In addition, the two people who are shopping online all day must have convinced her they were innocent and you were the problem. How else would you explain their ability to continue their behavior, while your supervisor ignores your requests to do something?  

Since you are in an unworkable situation as it stands now, I’d suggest that you set up a meeting with your supervisor and ask the following questions: 

  1. “When I told you about the inappropriate behavior of the two employees in my area, you spoke to them and nothing changed. In fact they got worse. Now they are even more blatant in their activities (give examples). My question to you is, do I have the authority to manage these two or don’t I? I would like to take some action to set some expectations and hold them accountable, but I can’t if you don’t support me having that authority.”  
  1. “Do I have the authority to discipline and/or fire them if they refuse to stop, or fail to improve to a reasonable level?” 
  1. “Do I have the authority to modify the workload? As it stands now, another person and I are buried in work, while they play online most of the day. If I can’t have the authority to balance the workload, there is no way for me to have any leverage with them and rectify this problem.” 
  1. “If I do have the authority to confront these two and impose some new workload expectations, they are likely to run to you for protection and they will try to get you on their side. Can I count on you to back me up and hold firm to what I am doing, as long as I run it by you in advance? Because if you don’t, my role as the office manager will continue to be ignored and my role will be a joke to them.” 
  1. “If there is something you’re not happy with in how I am ‘managing’ the office, I’d appreciate it if you told me. If there is something you want me to change I’m happy to work on it, but I can’t continue in this role without any real authority and your support to make it work.”  

Without this agreement and “re-contracting” of your role and responsibilities, you are really in a no-win situation. If you can get agreement that you do have the authority you need, then you need to come back to her with a plan on how you plan on reassigning the work and what you plan on doing when they balk or ignore you. That will be the true test.  

She may even want to call a meeting and tell the group that she is going to be relying on you to take a stronger role in managing the day-to-day operations. She can convey that you are planning on making some changes in the division and that you are going to be working closely with her to implement those changes. In other words, she could send the message that you have the authority and she will back you up.  

Without the authority you need, it is a waste of your good time and energy to try to get these two to change. If your boss won’t let you take these steps, you would be better off stepping out of your role as “office manager,” and going back to an individual contributor role. At least that way you can worry about your own work and not be expected to manage others’ work with both hands tied behind your back.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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