How to Deal With Managers Who Feel Threatened by a Subordinate
An employee's skill level, tenure and ability to develop collegial relationships can threaten her manager's confidence. An employee who intentionally flaunts her skills instead of putting them to good use for the greater good of the department might be aware that her manager feels threatened. In this case, it's the manager's fault for allowing this behavior to continue. However, if the employee doesn't realize that her manager feels threatened by her skills and expertise, this may be a sign that the manager lacks the skills and capabilities necessary to effectively lead her subordinates.
Critical to a manager's success is leadership training. Employers generally provide training to their supervisors and managers that teaches them how to effectively interact with their subordinates. In addition, leadership training gives supervisors and managers useful techniques for becoming first responders in employee relations matters within their respective departments. Being a first responder means addressing interdepartmental matters concerning employees before going to the human resources department for assistance with dealing with insubordination, employee conflict and performance issues. Determine whether the manager who feels threatened by her subordinate is equipped with the skills and knowledge to lead her department employees. If she's not, then leadership training and professional development may help resolve the deficiency.
Supervisors and managers who are promoted from within the organization were once peers with employees they now supervise. Promotion-from-within policies help create a workplace where employees are motivated to excel and advance in their careers. However, line staff who aren't yet ready for supervisory roles because of their workplace relationships with peers can be threatened by their subordinates -- the same employees who were once their co-workers. The solution to this could be to reassign the supervisor or to provide counseling on how to view workplace relationships from a supervisory perspective. Supervising former peers requires that the manager distinguish between the personal and professional relationship and inform subordinates that she cannot let the previous friendship influence her ability to lead the department, according to advice given by the Society for Human Resource Management in its April 12, 2010, post on dealing with managers who have difficulty supervising former peers.
Employees with valuable job skills and qualifications can pose a threat to managers whose functional expertise may not be on par with their subordinates' expertise. In this case, stress the importance of leadership skills to your managers. Managers must have some level of functional expertise to conduct their subordinates' job performance. Importantly, however, they need leadership skills to sustain departmental operations. Assure the manager that her leadership skills are essential to her success as a manager and that she shouldn't feel threatened by employees who might have deeper functional expertise. In fact, she should recognize employees who have superior skills by delegating projects that require high-level functional skills and qualifications. For example, if a law firm's professional staff manager is threatened by an employee whose experience as a paralegal suggests that she knows more about cultivating relationships with courthouse personnel or how to manage e-filings for lawsuits, encourage that manager to use the paralegal's skills to train legal secretaries and new paralegals how to interact with the courts.
Incidents of workplace violence waged by disgruntled employees make safety an important consideration. All reports from managers who literally feel threatened by their subordinates need to be addressed immediately and, if necessary, dealt with swiftly to ensure that an employee doesn't carry out threats in any form. In this case, dealing with the manager means assuring her that she's safe and that the company will support her employment decisions -- whether discipline, suspension or termination -- concerning a subordinate she feels threatened by.