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How to Deal with Bad Museum Managers?

Almost anyone who has been working in museums for any length of time will have stories about bad managers. They are nearly impossible to avoid and sometimes come from those whom you would never expect bad behaviour. Whether you are dealing with a micromanager, someone who doesn’t understand personal boundaries, or someone who is simply inept at their job, here are tips to improve the situation.

Talk It Out

If you are comfortable asserting yourself, your best option may be to simply talk through the issue with your manager. To take this approach, you should prepare for a meeting with them having outlined your concerns and potential solutions in advance. For instance, if you’re dealing with a micromanager, you could prepare a few examples of times they have been overly intrusive in your work. Explain how this behaviour has affected your ability to do your job and how you can work together going forward. You want them to know they will be kept up to speed on progress without having to be involved in every detail of the project.

The Team Approach

When you work on a team, a bad manager is not likely to affect just one person. Taking a team approach can enable you to confirm that there really is a problem with the manager–not just a difference in approach to your work between the two of you. You can all work together to determine what the issues are and take your concerns to your manager or to your manager’s supervisor if that is more appropriate. One word of caution–don’t allow a real conversation about work issues to turn into a manager-bashing session. You are looking for solutions, not a dumping ground for your frustrations. Inter-departmental gossip can get back to the person it was said about and can hurt you in the long run.

Go Over Your Manager’s Head

If you work in a larger museum, you can talk to your manager’s boss about their actions. It is generally considered proper to try to address an issue directly with your supervisor before going over their head, but if you are not getting any answers, go to the person who can dictate they make changes. Talking to a higher-level boss is a great option when your manager is simply bad at their job. There may be opportunities for retraining that could help your manager do their job well, or it might be time to replace that person. Either way, if the higher ups are unaware of the issue, they can’t easily do anything about it. Speaking to upper management can also be an option if you feel threatened by your manager or that talking to them directly could put you or your job at risk.

Contact HR

In larger museums, there will usually be a Human Resources or HR department. Part of the job of HR is to provide unbiased mediation between employees. If you are involved in a case of a manager acting inappropriately, such as making suggestive comments or touching you inappropriately, or if anything illegal is taking place, HR should be your first point of contact. If a manager is acting inappropriately or illegally in any way, HR is responsible for protecting the company’s interest and will be highly motivated to address such issues.


Sometimes you may find that even after trying all of the prior options, your manager is still not someone you can work with and that there is no evidence that there will be any change in their behaviour or job position. In these cases, your best option might be to update your resume and start looking elsewhere. You have the right to work in an environment that is healthy for you, and if that means taking your skills to a different organisation, you should do so.

There is no guaranteed way to avoid working with bad managers, but with some effort you can at least try to help the situation get better. When all else fails, don’t waste your skills anywhere that will allow the management to kill your passion for your work. You may find a museum is a better fit for you and your abilities.

About the author – Jim Richardson

Jim Richardson is the founder of MuseumNext. He has worked with the museum sector on digital and innovation projects for more than twenty years and now spends his time championing best practice through MuseumNext.

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