People Management: Coaching session

Q: My chief executive is always away. I have problems that need sorting but she is never there. What should I do?

A: What exactly do you think your boss is doing - relaxing at her cottage in the south of France? Or wandering around art galleries, perhaps?

I wonder what you think the job of a chief executive involves - because it is not sitting in the office waiting to hear about your problems. The reality of a chief executive's job in the third sector is that much of it is external-facing: being an ambassador for the organisation, dealing with stakeholders, clients or members and campaigning on the organisation's issues and problems.

The wonderful Harry Caton, who once ran the Alzheimer's Society and is now the patients' tsar, told Acevo chief executives: "Keep moving - a chief executive who sits still is a chief executive going nowhere."

But your question illustrates a real problem about 'upward management'.

There are enough volumes on downward management to bury any manager 10 feet under. There is practically nothing, however, on how anyone should manage their boss.

This is certainly not to say that the issues and problems you have do not need to be resolved. But you need to be smarter about how you get the attention of your chief executive and how you get her to engage with these issues.

A friend of mine used to be private secretary to Lord Young, a man averse to tackling the boring details of civil service routine. He told me the wonderful story of how he used to save up all the papers he needed Lord Young to sign for a long car journey, and simply force-feed them to him en route.

But does your chief executive actually have to be in her office for you to contact her? Does she have a mobile phone, or is she reachable by email?

Or have you tried talking to her about this issue, discussing how you can tackle it so you can both do your jobs efficiently?

But please remember that the chief executive is out there promoting the organisation and enabling it to be 'extrovert'. I suggest that you give her your support and stop whingeing.

- Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send questions to

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