What to Do When You're More Qualified Than Your Boss

Your boss just asked the 10th dumb question of the day and it finally hits you: you’re more qualified than she is. Before your head swells too big, before you do something dumb that costs you your job, take a deep breath.

more qualified than your boss

Is it normal?

“It’s actually quite common that a manager has less technical expertise than his or her employees,” says Sherri Thomas, CEO of Career Coaching 360 and author of “The Bounce Back” and “Career Smart.” “Why? Because a manager has a different role and set of responsibilities.”

Best case: you work for a confident leader who surrounds herself with people who are smarter than she is and isn’t threatened by your brilliance. These bosses will encourage you and help you get ahead, says corporate, career and life coach Rebecca KiKi Weingarten of TradeCraft Coaching.

Another possibility: your boss has been promoted beyond his capabilities and will worry you’re gunning for his job. If he feels threatened enough, he’ll fire you.

Either way, you don’t want to showboat.

“There is a difference between sharing your expertise and flaunting it,” Thomas says. “One is being helpful, the other is seen as grandstanding.”

Grandstanding can get you fired. That’s what happened to one of Weingarten’s clients who came to Weingarten when it was too late to salvage the situation.

“This woman was outshining her boss,” Weingarten says. “It was impossible not to. The person was not qualified to be the boss. The question is: do you want to keep your job or do you want to get credit for this particular project? This client said, ‘I need to get the credit for this. I worked so hard. I don’t care what my boss thinks.’”

She got the credit, but lost her well-paying job.

Subject matter experts

Remember, your job is to be the subject matter expert in a specific area and accomplish certain tasks and assignments within that area, Thomas says. Meantime, your boss is accountable for executing departmental goals, setting strategic objectives, defining and aligning roadmaps, managing budgets and motivating and developing employees.

“Managers need to excel in managing programs and leading people,” she says. “Employees need to excel in being subject matter experts and executing to their deliverables. A manager of a software development team wouldn’t be required to know how to write code or de-bug software.” Heads up: that would be your job.

Another one of your jobs is to make your boss look good, Weingarten says. “It’s not listed in your job requirements but your job is to make your boss look better and not overshadow them,” Weingarten says. “It’s never a good idea to overshadow the boss or diminish them in any way.”

It can be tricky because you also don’t want to let your boss steal the credit for your work. Even if you did Every Single Thing on a particular project, find a way to acknowledge your boss’s contribution, she says.

“At a meeting, you should not call attention to yourself that you did all the work on a project,” says Weingarten, who helped another client change the wording in such presentations so the boss wouldn’t feel attacked. She urged her client to credit other people on his team by name to share the credit.

Instead of saying “I did this; I did that,” recognize your boss. “When you give a presentation or talk to others, be sure to shine a spotlight of recognition on your manager for supporting your efforts on the project,” Thomas says. “You may know the details or be the go-to person for a specific area, but it’s important to recognize that your manager plays a key role in supporting the initiative.”

Sample language: “Thank you so much for this opportunity to present this project that my team and I worked so hard on. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to prove that we could do this,” Weingarten says.

The subtext, Weingarten says, is: “You’re the boss. You are the authority. You are the leader. Without you, this wouldn’t have happened.”

The pros call it ‘managing up.’ While your boss manages you, you need to manage your boss. “Professionals who are career smart know how to manage their manager,” Thomas says. “It’s an art, a skill, that everyone should learn how to master.”

Thomas is working with a client who is learning to manage her manager. “She came to me frustrated that her new manager had written her up for poor performance and she now had two months to prove herself or she would lose her job,” Thomas says. “After discussing a few strategies, she started changing the language she used in presentations which may have been viewed as bragging about her areas of expertise. She started giving shout-outs to her manager for giving her the opportunity to lead the project. Two months later, she successfully passed probation. Two months after that, she was hired by another department into a higher position.”

That’s the payoff. “When you do this well, you’ll be creating a solid, positive relationship which could lead to bigger projects and more growth opportunities,” Thomas says.

You’ll end up being the boss yourself. Be sure to surround yourself with smart underlings and don’t feel threatened when they perform well.

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