An Admin’s Advice: How to Improve Collaboration with the Boss

Collaborating with your boss can be one of the most challenging — and rewarding — aspects of your job. Learn what an award-winning administrative professional suggests for improving collaboration and working relationships.

In my job as executive assistant for the City of Rancho Cordova, California, I worked closely with the recently retired CEO and city manager, Ted Gaebler, for many years. Our collaboration involved a lot of hours meeting face-to-face each week, as well as constant communication using all virtual forms to support each other. We had a unique and fun partnership, but it was not created overnight; it was purposefully and strategically developed over time.

Creating a collaborative, effective partnership is something that is oftentimes not taught; rather, it is achieved with deliberate purpose, experiences, reflection and lots of two-way communication. Here are four tips that have helped me to become a better partner:

1. Grab responsibility and challenges that work toward achieving your greatest potential

“Own” your career and drive it forward, assertively committing time and resources.

2. Be informed

Turn yourself into an avid observer and reader, always looking to “connect the dots” between things in the real world and your work focus. Read leadership and management books or magazines, and dig into what makes other leaders successful (or not!).

3. Think and act like a CEO and boss

To better serve Ted, I learned to maintain a macro-level view of the organization by getting involved at the highest level and throughout city management, serving on several internal and external teams. This focus helped me grow and more effectively partner with Ted to meet our organizational mission as well as his goals for the city. Look for ways you, too, can get involved with leadership positions on teams, boards and committees … inside and outside the organization.

4. Master the art of bending without breaking

My workday rarely goes as planned — that’s okay. Adapt to change without resistance.

Best practices of a high-performing administrative professional 

If you are struggling to create a high-performance collaboration with your boss, here’s what worked for us:

Engage in conversations with your work partner about one another’s strengths and weaknesses. This step is crucial to mutual support. When Ted and I did not “see eye-to-eye,” my commitment to our partnership never sent me looking for another job! I didn’t internalize an issue and stew over it, allowing it to impact our relationship and my work performance. I shared big concerns and frustrations with him, and we were very respectful of one another yet honest. We shared, listened and chose to disagree sometimes, but always moved on.

Touch base regularly. Calendar time to meet to review the schedule, check in on projects, follow up on commitments and discuss priorities. Be curious and ask questions about everything.

Get involved in the right meetings. Strategically choose meetings that will help to leverage your visibility within the organization, and ask to attend certain meetings with your manager. Over the years, this has helped me better understand projects Ted was working on and allowed me to capture important follow-up.  

I knew it was up to me to be an intellectual work partner, participating at a higher level than simply answering the phone, responding to emails and scheduling meetings. This collaboration was one of the best professional and personal investments I have ever made.

Have you formed a strong working relationship with your boss? Share any additional tips you have for your peers below.