Handling Conflicting Priorities

By | Sep 7, 2009

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Do you ever feel like you’re caught in a game of tug-o-war….and you’re the rope?  These days, supporting multiple managers is the norm more than the exception, and it isn’t uncommon to receive conflicting priorities from the various managers you support.  It is imperative to learn to manage conflicting priorities as an Administrative or Executive Assistant.  Because you know what?  You’re the one who’ll get the blame if everything isn’t done on time.

So, what do you do when you have multiple managers, each with their own urgent priorities, trying to pull you in different directions?  This is where your negotiation skills will stand you in good stead.

Talk to the Managers Individually

Your first step should be to talk to the managers involved individually.  Ask them not just when they want a project completed, but what is their absolute, drop dead date when it must be done.  Often, when put this way, the manager will acknowledge that there may be some leeway in their deadline.  I usually ask this question any time I get a project, just so I can avoid having to ask if a conflict arises.  I always shoot for the “want” date, but sometimes have to fall back on the “must have” date.  Remember, though, to always let a manager know if you need to use the fall back date.

Have a Meeting with the Managers Involved

Often, just talking to the managers and letting them know that you have some conflicting priorities will resolve the issue.  If it doesn’t though, set up a meeting with the managers together to resolve the issue.  Remember, you are not there to make a decision.  You are there to inform and negotiate.  Even if you have the authority through your boss to make these kinds of decisions, it’s better politically to get the conflicting managers to come to an amicable decision on their own.  If you have knowledge of what your boss’s priorities are, that information can often help realign priorities a bit.  Compromise is the name of the game.  If you can convince both managers to each move a bit, you can often get your issue resolved.

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Get Your Boss Involved

This is the last ditch effort.  If you absolutely cannot get the managers to compromise, then take it to your boss to make a decision.  Why is this the last thing you want to do?  As a high level administrative assistant or executive assistant, you need to learn to handle these types of conflicts without involving your boss.  That’s part of the expertise many high level executives want to see in their admins.  If you have to take these decisions to your boss on a regular basis, then you need to look at your skill set.  Figure out what skills you are lacking and find appropriate training to improve those skills.

As an administrative or executive assistant, you must be able to negotiate priorities quickly and without causing ill feelings among your managers.

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4 Comments so far
  1. Sabrina (5 comments) September 10, 2009 5:40 am

    I get asked this A LOT in interviews. This is usually what I use too. Most managers seem to think you’re just sitting around thumbing your nostrils waiting, nay, HOPING they give you some work. I always ask when they absolutely need it by, I even let them know up front when I start working for them that I need a due date not “Rush” or “ASAP” because those can be ambiguous. I tell them it helps me “manage my priorities.” Managers seem to eat up that kind of corporate-speak like a dog on Beggin Strips. Then if they have a conflict with each other’s deadlines I do in fact get them together (or at least on the same email) so they can fight it out. Often times they know more about each other’s projects than I do so one might say “Oh, John’s project really is a priority, please do his first” or at the very least they know what’s on my plate and can adjust their expectations accordingly. At my old job we had other Admins on our team we could also reach out to for help in a pinch.

  2. Jodith (189 comments) September 10, 2009 6:28 am

    Thanks for the comment, Sabrina. I forgot to include asking other admins for assistance. I’ve spent so many years as the only admin in the office I often forget that *laughs*.

  3. Stephen (1 comments) December 28, 2009 5:27 pm

    In my workplace, this article applies and is good information for me to use to better handle everyday situations and my managers different ways of working.
    .-= Stephen´s last blog ..It’s Over =-.

  4. Jodith (189 comments) December 30, 2009 11:32 am

    I’m glad it’s helpful. I think I get more questions over supporting multiple managers than anything else.

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