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What managers – and work psychologists – get paid for?

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Every one would like to be a manager

In my years of teaching at Universities, I found students queuing up to learn management and personnel psychology, industrial psychology, organizational psychology, etc.

Few though, had any idea what management entailed. And they are horrified when they find out.

. . . it is well paid, but . . .

The financial rewards are high. Yes, the trappings of good clothes, assistants, and international travel are glamorous.

I could say that “this is what is wanted in return for these goodies”. But that sounds like a bargain. You give us this – and we give you the rewards that you desire.

It doesn’t work like that.

On the surface, yes. Incompetent managers, who have themselves made a Faustian bargain, will tell you that your job is to brown-nose the boss. The website is full of how to impress your boss.  Well, the same skills will be valuable when you want to impress the gangs in prison-where you just might find yourself.

Management is NOT about impressing the boss. If you boss wants impressing, he, or she, is a pratt. End-run them. I suppose that is why most big organizations are run so badly. Most people understand this rule and end-run their boss.

Management does have a purpose

Management is about coordinating the various parts of an enterprise. I’ll give you an example.

Psychologists are part of general management

As psychologists, we belong to the general management function

Let’s take a real example. A few weeks ago, in an effort to stop a visiting friend from stepping into a busy street in Edinburgh, I took my eyes off my feet, tripped over some metal protruding out of the concrete.  I fell flat on my face.

It hurt, a lot. It was Edinburgh after all, so it hurt my dignity too. I looked drunk, which I wasn’t.

Fortunately, I didn’t break anything – including my glasses. I just bruised and grazed my knee.

My point is this. That metal has been there a long time. I am not the first to trip over it. It is a menace to the blind, the elderly, wheelchairs . . . and me.  A decent psychologist looks out for such situations.

Why? Dozen of city officials walk that street – they issue parking tickets, they inspect shops. How is it that a metal obstruction that trips people has gone unnoticed and unsorted?  A decent psychologist would look at the organizational structure that allows the error to occur and to persist.

This is the UK – we have ‘targets’ the way other countries have ‘bandits’.  An organizational psychologist would be alert to the consequences and their own responsibilities in the face of such a policy.  A decent organizational psychologist would bear in mind that his or her job is ‘general management’ – the way parts of an organization come together to form common cause.

When an accident happens, a relative junior will investigate what happened and why.  A relatively junior lawyer will review the legal liability.  A more senior psychologist thinks about the incident at a systemic level. They ask

  • Who follows up these incidents?
  • Who is responsible for minimizing these incidents?
  • What is the relative importance of checking for hazards on the pavement and checking for unapproved adverts, for example, which we have paid many people to do?
  • How did we get to the point that none of us have sorted out an obstruction on the pavement for years?

Within an organization, a psychologist will ask a manager why his or her subordinates have walked past an obstruction, again and again?

If targets are to blame, remove the targets! If the manager say that s/he has no authority to remove the targets, they have abdicated.  In a Weberian bureaucracy, they have said clearly “I cannot make the decision. Please refer to my superior.”   If they do not put your through, or make an appointment for you with their superior, then you only have one choice – to seek that appointment yourself.

If you are external to the organization, and their organizational structure is concealed, then go directly to the Chief Executive – with that argument.

This happened. I inquired from the public officer nominally responsible. They did not have the authority to solve the problem. They declined to refer me to their manager, which I understand is their obligation when they do not have the authority to resolve my request.

I now refer this to you  and ask you to direct it to someone who does have authority.

To psychologists, if these incidents are happening in your organization, you aren’t fulfilling your responsibility as general managers. Different sections aren’t meshing.

Bring it to the attention of a line manager, once. Once. Then go to their managers. And keep going. Politely. Sweetly. That is your job.

Psychology requires the exercise of authority, not brown-nosing a boss.

That is why not everyone really wants to be a manager .   .  . or a work & organizational psychologist

That is why a lot of students duck out of organizational psychology, once they get in to it.

Our trade is not only about earning money. It is not about brown-nosing a boss.

It is about exercising responsibility in accordance with the law. Pay bonuses that lead to recklessness or metal protuberances in the pavement, are prima facie evidence that the common cause of the organization is being neglected  If they aren’t resolved on first raising, that is prime facie evidence that some general staff are asleep.  To put no finer point on it – problems that persist are prima facie evidence that people earning much beyond 25K are stealing their wages.

That includes us – psychologists.  It is our job to raise these matters and insist they are resolved.

That’s why, after all, a lot of students don’t want the job.

Published in Business & Communities


  1. Hi
    The job of a manager, is to create the right environment for his team to put in their best efforts and be happy to troop in to the workplace everyday. It does not mean smooching up to the boss, it means carrying your team along with you, so that they are willing to walk with you even on less trodden paths. As always, an interesting post.

  2. Jo Jordan Jo Jordan

    Couldn’t agree more – but most are too insecure to get it.

  3. Thanks for sharing,

    I’m going to comment from a Project Management perspective. Your boss is your most important stakeholder. Every Project Manager knows that. Your boss can fire you, promote you, isolate you, demote you, etc… While managing every project, you have to remember the importance of your boss, and you have to ensure that he or she is satisfied with your performance.

  4. Jo Jordan Jo Jordan

    You see, in a good firm, no one person has a final say. In fact no one person does. A professional who makes a decision should make the same decision as any other professional given the same facts.

    Also all decisions are signed off. In a good firm, if a manager wanted to fire you, they would have to persuade their own boss and you would be entitled to argue your case. There is mud on their face if they lose – so they make sure there is a case.

    Even it they win, they will acquire the reputation of a manager who allows matters to get out of control. They should have project managed you to pick up problems early and to correct them early.

    If I were a psychologist working with or for your company, I would pick up your comment and I would investigate whether you are able to act as a professional or whether your boss is running some kind of mafia outfit. Your comment is prima facie case, like the metal protruding from the Edinburgh pavement, that the ‘organization’ is in disarray.

    Can’t agree with you – sorry! Where I can agree with you is that your decisions will be reviewed by your boss. Not to see if you are correct. We wouldn’t have appointed you if you were not competent. But to check how the situation you are dealing with fits in with other situations coming up that you don’t know about. So a review of your decision is not reflection of your competence but reflection of the organizational structure. Apologies would be extended to you that you have to redo you work with a new set of facts.

  5. I totally agree with what you’re saying, but in any firm, your direct supervisor (whether a manager, CEO, etc…) can easily make your working day a living hell. It’s always a good idea to treat your manager as the most important stakeholder.

  6. Jo Jordan Jo Jordan

    Yup, Project Management Hut. My argument precisely. The psychologists and auditors in the organization should be picking this up and sorting it out.

    When we continue to let bullies bully then they will bully more.

  7. Deb Deb

    Who’s job is it to raise the problems of pain (street metal or organization problems?) It may also be the community’s job to note persistant, painful problems that need resolving before something bad happens… If is meant to be, it is up to me — may be the psychologist as well as friends, family, supporters of the cause.

    Creative approaches work too. It doesn’t always need to be delegated upward to be solved. Keeping the powers that be informed, when appropriate, helps. Sometimes, the “get ‘er done” approach works better.

    Resistance is a resource…and a sometimes a gateway to a creative solution or path to one.

  8. Jo Jordan Jo Jordan

    Hi Deb, that is the responsibility of the psychologist and manager doesn’t mean that is not the responsibility (or opportunity) for someone else!

    It just means that the psychologist and manager cannot duck the responsibility when no one else has spoke up!

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