HR Headaches: Under-Confident Managers Too Dependent On HR Help

Herer are tips on how to train your under-confident managers so they stop being so reliant on HR to solve their problems.

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Here's what you need to know:

  • You can train your managers to be better leaders
  • Some managers may be under-confident because of how they are managed themselves
  • Allowing managers to rely so heavily on HR is counterproductive

One of the roles of the HR professional is to assist managers whenever they encounter a problem that might impact the organization. We teach our management teams to come to HR when there’s a concern or complaint about harassment, discrimination, or workplace bullying. These issues typically require an assist to make sure they’re handled correctly; in line with company policy and the law; and resolved in the best possible manner.

For some managers, HR is more than a resource for significant problems or issues that have a larger impact. For others, HR is the go-to whenever there are questions, decisions or corrections required. The simplest ‘managerial’ task is too challenging for them. They’re contacting HR when employees want to trade shifts or leave early. They’ve become so dependent on HR for help, and they freeze when asked to make the smallest supervisory decision.

Training under-confident managers gives them the skills and competence they need. That translates to confidence to make the decisions on their own when appropriate, and only come to HR when necessary. If your organization has managers who are reluctant to wield their supervisory power, you’ll want to examine why they feel that way, and how to get them on track to perform these needed tasks.

How prevalent is the under-confident manager?

Few people are born leaders: but leadership can be trained. In a recent survey by the Society of Human Resource Managers, 57% of workers believe managers in their organization could benefit from training to improve their people management skills. Half believe manager training would help them improve their own work performance. When they broke down where managers are falling short, 41% said their manager needed training on communication; 38% thought they could be better at training and developing their teams; and 37% cited time management and delegation skills.

57% of workers believe their managers could benefit from training to improve their people management skills.

Managers agree: in another study, almost 60% of managers confess they’ve received little to no training for their role, and 44% report they frequently feel overwhelmed on the job. Nearly half the respondents admit they mimic their own leader’s management style — it’s the only ‘training they’ve received to tackle their new responsibilities. If they had a great manager, you’re in luck: if not, you have a manager who’s undertrained, overwhelmed and likely causing issues within their team.

Confidence or competence?

The quickest way to deal with a needy manager is to answer their question and move on to your next task. When HR does that, however, it doesn’t resolve the issue, it extends it. If the same manager keeps coming for advice, try turning the question around to see if they’re able to make the decision, but lack the confidence to do so, or if they’re unable to answer the question and in need of training.

Instead of solving the problem for them, ask the manager what they think they should do.

When an under-confident manager asks a question, ask them what they think they should do — or what they’ve done in the past when the issue came up. If they have the right answer, let them know they’ve got this, and they don’t need to call you to confirm when they’re right. If the issue is slightly different than something they’ve encountered in the past, ask what they’d do in a similar situation.

Guide them into working it out on their own, rather than offering a quick solution. If they get it right, again, boost their confidence and let them know you’re there to help, but they’re capable of handling these issues on their own.

When training is needed for under-confident managers

If, when you ask what they think should be done, they don’t come to the right conclusions, you’re looking at a manager that needs training. For many supervisors, particularly those who are new to the job or promoted through the ranks, they don’t have solutions. They’ll need training in management and communication skills to increase their competence levels. You could consider a mentor from within the organization, or recommend outside training. Many online classes are low- or no-cost: they can help bring up the manager’s skill set along with their confidence.

Why are under-confident managers reluctant to manage?

There may be many reasons why managers, particularly those newly promoted to the job, are hesitant to make decisions. They may lack a clear definition of their role. You’ll want to sit down with them and outline which decisions they can/should make with autonomy, and when they should go to their own manager or HR for assistance.

Under-confident managers may have been (or are) micromanaged by their own direct supervisor. They may wrongfully believe they have no authority or autonomy in their role. You’ll want to provide clear guidance on their duties and responsibilities.

Some managers don’t want to be the bad guy or alienate their team when hard decisions have to be made. It’s much easier to say ‘don’t blame me, blame HR.’ You may not be able to stop them from making you the villain, but you can retrain them to make decisions independently.

Working remote can lead to under-confident managers

Some of the newest members of many company’s management teams are remote managers. They may lack the confidence to wield their authority from a remote location, or worry about picking up signals or tone from a distance. If their concern is they won’t be able to immediately gauge the team’s reaction, they may need help from HR or their own manager. Training on communication and follow-up skills helps assure messages are clear and don’t cause more harm than good.

Redirecting and training under-confident managers

Allowing under-confident managers to continue coming to you for everything is counterproductive.

Whatever the cause of a manager’s reluctance to make decisions, allowing the behavior to continue is counterproductive. It may seem easier and faster to just make the calls for them, but ask yourself, then, why you’re paying them a manager’s salary? You can help them grow into their role and become independent.


Start with redirection. If you’re consistently getting requests the manager knows the answer to, start boosting their confidence. Ask what they think should be done, acknowledge they’re right and tell them to move forward. Remind them they don’t need to call you for the same issue next time.

Learning and development

If you’re getting simple requests the manager doesn’t (but should) have the answer for, training is necessary. Learning and development programs aren’t just for large companies. The smallest business can benefit from L&D. You may have a supervisor work with them for a few hours a week to train them; you may sign them up for an online course; or you may consider more formal education is a worthwhile investment. The first step to developing the manager is understanding where they need training, then providing them the access they need to receive it.

Clearly outline responsibilities

For all managers, whether under-confident managers or not, make sure there’s a clear outline of responsibilities. Depending on your organization, list the decisions they can and should make independently; as well as the types of issues they should be brought higher up the chain. With a clear definition of what’s expected, they’ll grow into the role over time. If not, they may need additional training or you may consider they’re not the right fit.

When managers are trained well, they’re competent and confident. They lead their team effectively, perform their own work well, and rely less on HR or others for help.

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