When Upper Management Wants to Call the Shots

Good bosses don’t do their employees’ work for them. They state expectations, give employees what’s needed and step back to let employees succeed. That’s the ideal.

The boss of a News Director has a special challenge. The boss will wish to honor professional journalistic norms that insulate the ND from the business and corporate aspects of the organization. At the same time, the boss retains responsibility and authority for the work of the ND and the news team.

If you feel your manager is stepping into your job description, you need to sit down and talk about it. The vast majority of issues in the workplace can be resolved through good communication.

Before we discuss actual management interference, let’s discuss “managing up.”

Borrowing from a longtime management trainer, the late Paul Pohlman of the Poynter Institute, we recommend the following:

Learn your boss’ management style

  • Including communication preferences
  • Including personality and temperament

Know your boss’ priorities

  • Including pressures or challenges
  • Including goals for your area

Ask your boss what you need to know

  • What support he/she needs?
  • What he/she expects from you

Tell your boss what he/she needs to know

  • Your priorities and goals
  • Your pressures and challenges

The goal here is to improve your working relationship in order to improve the quality of your journalism. This is a relationship you want built upon trust and honesty.

As for management interference, let’s be clear about two things:

  1. Your manager has authority over your work and may see it as a matter of responsibility to direct your work in some manner;
  2. News Directors serve their managers well when they protect the editorial integrity and independence of the station.

It would be a serious matter to accuse your boss of interfering in the editorial integrity or independence of your department — after all, it is your boss’s department too. You share a lot of responsibility here so let’s be careful about charges of interference.

If a situation arises in which your boss insists on making editorial decisions, seek clear communication for the reason and rationale. A relationship built upon trust and honesty gives each side the benefit of the doubt. If you agree with the rationale there is no harm done.

If you disagree with the rationale, you need to express your reason and seek a satisfactory reply.

We wouldn’t counsel anyone to disobey his or her boss — unless it was a matter of avoiding an outright illegal act! Rather, if the boss insists on an editorial outcome that is onerous to you, you may be left with few options including reconsidering your employment choice. You should take a situation like that to your human resource department.