Build Trust

7 minutes, 3 links


Updated August 7, 2023

Trust is an important foundation for working well with your manager. If you can’t trust each other, your relationship with your manager will break down and your job will be more difficult than it needs to be.

If your manager can’t trust you can do the job they ask you to do, you’ll miss out on projects and opportunities to grow and be promoted. If they can’t trust you’ll communicate openly and honestly about the status of a project, they’ll have no choice but to micromanage you to get the information they need.

So, how do you build trust with your boss?

The first step may be obvious, but it needs to be said—do your job. There’s no way around this. It’s table stakes for everything else discussed in this section. If you don’t do your job, you’re going to have a very difficult time building trust with your manager, so that should be your number one priority. It’s literally just doing what is asked of you according to your job description.

The next step is to do your job reliably. Your manager needs to know you are reliable and that they can count on you to complete the tasks you are assigned. Doing your job reliably does not mean you won’t make mistakes, your estimates will always spot on, or your projects will always be completed ahead of time. Nobody is perfect and timelines will slip, bugs will happen, and estimates will be wrong. That’s just a part of building software that you need to learn to live with. Being reliable means that your boss can count on you to take on a task and see it through to the finish line. The more often you do this, the more your boss will know that you can take on whatever they throw your way.

There’s more to being reliable than just completing your tasks. Here are some other examples of what it means to be someone your manager can rely on:

doFollow through on your commitments. If you tell your boss you’ll do something, do it. (And if you can’t, tell them as soon as you know it’s likely to slip so you both can decide how to mitigate the issue.)

doAsk for help early if you’re blocked on a project or if you think you’ll miss an important deadline.

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don’tSidestep your manager and leave them out of decisions with upper management.

don’tRefuse or avoid boring but important tasks or projects.

A reliable software engineer is someone who is predictable (that is, does what they say they will do) and who is able to complete their tasks from start to finish. Doing just these two things will help develop a good foundation of trust between you and your manager.

Understand Your Manager’s Goals

While your manager expects you to deliver results each quarter, they have their own goals, milestones, objectives, and key results that they need to deliver as well. They are responsible for all the work your team delivers. Understanding this point will help you better understand some of the decisions your manager makes.

As a software engineer, your job is to do everything you can to support your manager so they achieve their desired outcomes. Therefore, your manager’s goals are your own goals.

important This is an important concept that not many engineers understand early in their careers, because most of them are primarily concerned with proving their technical abilities.

Your work is just one piece of the puzzle that your manager needs to solve. When you understand how your work fits into the bigger picture, you’ll be able to identify which tasks will help your manager reach their goals and prioritize those first. If you can manage to do this, you’ll almost certainly gain your manager’s trust. Conversely, if you hinder your manager’s ability to meet their objectives, you may lose the trust of your boss.

exampleYour boss has a goal this quarter to upgrade the programming language for your legacy codebase to the next version. They need to do this because the version you’re on is no longer receiving security updates and there are new features in the next version that your team can take advantage of during development.

doYou focus your tasks on identifying parts of your codebase that contain backwards incompatible changes, resolving issues with dependencies, ensuring the critical parts of the system have sufficient code coverage, and spinning up a new environment to test your code on the newer version. All of these tasks move your team closer to achieving the desired objective.

don’tYou focus your tasks on building new features, refactoring old code to use a new design pattern you learned, and adding a new dependency to the codebase because there’s a new library that’s gaining popularity. None of these tasks help get your team closer to being able to upgrade the programming language version. In fact, things like adding additional dependencies may even make it more difficult to upgrade if the library isn’t compatible yet with the new language version.

In the bad example above, you may think that you’re demonstrating your growing technical skills and showing your manager that you’re a good engineer who can solve difficult problems. The issue is that the tasks you worked on were not aligned with your manager’s priorities for the quarter, whereas in the good example, you helped your boss get closer to their goal of upgrading the programming language version. If you want to build trust with your boss, you need to figure out how to align your own goals with your manager’s goals.

Adapt to Their Management Style

Everyone works differently. There’s no single way to maximize your productivity that works for everyone, and everyone has their own way that works for them when they need to get things done. This is especially true when it comes to managing people and projects.

Different managers have different management styles, so when it comes to working well with your manager, you’ll need to figure out what style they prefer. You’ll need to consider the following questions when determining how your boss prefers to work:

  • How do they prefer to communicate?

    • Email

    • Asynchronous chat

    • Voice or video chat

    • Face-to-face conversations

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