How To Tell Your Boss ‘That’s Not My Job’

No to boss

Thanks to the lingering effects of the Great Recession, many of us have taken on multiple jobs. Now though, workplaces are beginning to hire more frequently and also increase the raises given to recognize this new level of responsibility. In the meantime, we’ve all found ourselves being asked by our supervisor to take on additional projects, complete a new task or even change the nature of our jobs.

While being a team player is important, it’s also critical to communicate with your boss about boundaries and priorities. Here are some tips for telling your boss “That’s not my job” without coming right out and saying it.

Make it a Group Decision

So your boss has asked you to be a manager on a six month project. On the one hand, you want to prove to your boss (and your boss’s boss) that you can handle the new responsibility, but you know your current workload already has you putting in 60 hour weeks.

Instead of just saying “Sorry, but I don’t have the time,” illustrate to your boss the position she’s put you in and ask her to help come up with a solution.  Replace the potentially-whiny response with “I’m glad you’d be willing to increase my responsibility level, and I’m going to need you to prioritize these different projects with me. Can the current work be pushed to the side while I spearhead the new project?”

This will help your boss to see that she has, in reality, just asked you to do four tasks at once, and also gives you the guidance you need. This approach makes you teammates, not adversaries.

Saying No 

Sometimes, you do need to say “no.” For example, you’re an Assistant Director of Communications but for the last five days your boss has asked you run across town for errands that have nothing to do with work.

Instead of snapping, “Hey chief, that is below my pay grade,” explain to him why you can’t keep up with the errands in terms of your professional responsibilities. Try saying, “I enjoy helping you out, but every minute I’m out running these errands for you is time I’m not working on our strategic communications plan, which is due to the Board in three weeks. There are other people that could run your errands, but there is no one else to write the plan.” You can stay positive and convey your “no” without sounding harsh. Always have a solution ready.

It should go without saying, but it’s also necessary for your career, that you can just say “no” when your boss asks you to do something illegal or unethical. If the little angel on your shoulder speaks up, listen to it! Also, think about finding a new job. You don’t want a boss who puts you in that position.

Beyond Your Expertise 

Another time to say “no” to your manager is when you’ve been tasked with something outside of your area of expertise. For example, you work in PR but your boss doesn’t understanding the difference between your field and advertising. So she tasks you with coming up with a new ad campaign, since “you’re in charge of communications.” While you might be excited to dabble in a new field or eager to take on more responsibility, in reality she is setting you up to fail.

Again, instead of simply saying “That’s not my job,” use this assignment as a way to showcase your professionalism, expertise and ability to adapt and develop.  Try this, “Thanks for the vote of confidence, but advertising requires quite a bit more marketing experience than what I have in my public relations skills. If you see this as the future of the position, I’d love to take some classes and develop those skills. Until then, I’d like to manage this project by putting out a request for proposal to some of my advertising contacts.”

Just think, which would you rather have happen… to explain to your boss that you’re not skilled in that area BEFORE the project, or to have your boss say “why didn’t you tell me you didn’t know anything about advertising?” after the project has fallen apart? When I was doing PR at Quinn Cat, I made it clear from the beginning what my skills were, so there was no confusion. I was always willing to try new things, but made sure it was something I could handle first.

Snapping the words “That’s not my job!” at your boss is unproductive and can be detrimental to your career. However, nearly every supervisor is guilty to of asking employees to work beyond their job description. Communicating clearly about why the assignment isn’t a fit and working together to find a solution will prove your value to your boss, no matter how demanding they are.

Scott Huntington is a PR Specialist and writer. Follow him on Twitter @SMHuntington or check out his blog,

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