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Department manager or glorified clerk?

I’m the manager of a small company with about 200 regular workers. We have seven department managers reporting to the chief executive officer (CEO), the patriarch of the family corporation. We don’t have any independent authority to sign for petty cash even if we have the funds for it. The CEO must approve everything. My wife who’s working as a manager in a major corporation, can sign for much larger amounts. She teased me about it and called me a glorified clerk. Can you help me understand my situation? — Toothless Tiger.

“Management is the least efficient activity in your organization,” American strategy expert Gary Hamel wrote in his Harvard Business Review article “First, Let’s Fire All the Managers” (2011). “Most managers are hardworking; the problem doesn’t lie with them.” The problem is in the “inefficiency” of a “top-heavy management model that is both cumbersome and costly” that requires even minor decisions to be made by the CEO.

Even in major corporations, I’ve experienced the same thing issue with lack of authority to disburse petty cash. That’s the reality.

I remember being offered a rewarding job by a medium-sized bank owned by a Chinese-Filipino family. Its CEO offered to triple my current pay and cash allowances, plus a car plan, interest-free housing loan, hefty health maintenance package and guaranteed bonuses equivalent to 17 months’ pay.

I was tempted to accept the job until the CEO set one condition — to stop writing this column. I turned it down right away as I saw this condition as a sign of what management style to expect. At the time, I was working for another bank but our CEO never imposed such conditions. Neither did my previous employers.

Why should I accept a job that limits my independence and stifles my creativity even after office hours? I thought it was a major red flag.

LEVELS OF AUTHORITYI’m not saying you should follow my example. You have to define and understand your personal values before making a big decision. Evaluate your long-term professional success based on what’s important to you, not the material things that are being offered to you.

Every organization has levels of authority. The typical hierarchy is a pyramid: At the apex are the CEO, president, general manager, and chief operating officer, with full and exclusive authority to sign almost any transaction.

Next in line is middle management. Many of them don’t have exclusive and independent authority to sign, but are required to perform due diligence. All transactions must be reviewed and recommended by them prior to the CEO’s approval.

At the bottom of the pyramid are non-management or rank-and-file workers, team leaders, unit supervisors and to some extent — managers without any exclusive signing authority.

Much depends on the management style of an organization. At times, a small, family enterprise with strong control procedures may not be able to change its ways even after becoming a big company. The old way has become so ingrained that delegation to professional managers is hardly practiced.

This failure to delegate is what Hamel describes as “the reality of empowerment (falling) far short of the rhetoric” contained in the corporate vision, mission and value statements.

PROFESSIONALISMNobody likes working for a person who can’t trust anyone. That doesn’t mean leaving your job. You just need to show you’re the kind of person who can be trusted. Do the best you can as a professional. Take the time to foster positive interactions with your top management, who may not see your situation as a problem.

Approach your work as if you’re the business owner. If you believe you have as much to gain even without being an authorized signatory to a petty cash disbursement, you’ll have a significant impact by paying attention to bigger, strategic things that are often missed by top management. That is the way to prove your worth.

Be a trouble-shooter rather than a complainer. If you continue with a complainer’s mindset, chances are you’ll commit mistakes when you try to address things that are beyond your control. Rise to the challenge of high-profile projects that demonstrate your competence rather than seeking the status that comes with signing authority.

Doing your job without grumbling makes you come off as more professional.

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