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How to Work Around an Unavailable Boss

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You have control over many things at work, but an unavailable boss is not one of them. At the same time, she plays a critical role in what you are able to achieve. She delegates responsibilities, supports your unique initiatives and shares accountability for results. An unavailable boss has a significant effect on your daily experience. New communication and organizational strategies can help you adapt to an imperfect situation.

Understand the Situation

Unless she is inept, your boss usually has a good reason for being unavailable. An obvious cause is that she is overburdened with responsibilities. She might also be engaged in an important project or transition that is competing with her attention for a set period of time. Whether you face an ongoing or short-term situation, acknowledge that your boss’s circumstance is not only difficult for you, but also for her. Express compassion to your boss and offer to help in practical ways. Taking these steps will build a professional friendship which will carry you far beyond the challenges at hand.

Use Technology

Technology is a powerful force in today’s workplace – particularly mobile tools. Use these flexible resources to initiate and maintain contact with your unavailable boss. Check in with your boss to find out what technology is at her fingertips and how she prefers to be reached, such as by email, text or instant message. Inform her of your best technology-based contacts as well; communication is a two-way street. Organize updates by achievements, actions planned and input needed. Save records of all electronic correspondence in case you have to refer back to the trail for projects in queue or quickly retrieve details at her request.

Schedule Conversations

An unavailable boss is not free to speak with you at a whim. In reality, you will need to schedule many of your conversations. Get a sense of the reasonable length of meeting times, whether 15-minute or half-hour blocks. Request at least three windows of opportunities for conversations then check those against your own schedule before confirming. Even though these sit-downs might not be formal, organize an agenda in advance. You might have a long list of items to discuss with her but focus on no more than three to four topics at one time.

Prioritize Your Own Work

If you have an unavailable boss, chances are you too are time challenged. It is important to properly prioritize work so that you are productive and available to take on your boss’s overflow. Always move tasks higher on your to-do list closest to the revenue line. Complete tasks that are relatively easy to tackle like those requiring one action step or little time. Ranking your own priorities and skillfully meeting each will help create order in a chaotic situation. You will also feel like you are making real progress despite your boss’s inaccessibility.


Kenya Lucas has been writing professionally since 1998. Her work has appeared in “Anthropology & Medicine,” “New Directions for Evaluation,” “Psychology of Women Quarterly” and “Journal of the Grant Professionals Association.” She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Johns Hopkins University and Brown University.

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