Author Bio ▼

Dr Flis has a BA SSc and a PhD in organisational social psychology and is passionate about helping people who lead and work in organisations create better workplace experiences and improving work cultures. Get free resources and tactics on appropriately dealing with negative online and offline workplace behaviours at or contact Dr Flis at[email protected] or  LinkedIn. You can also follow Dr Flis on her blog Twitter or Facebook.
July 7, 2016

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Work safety: 5 easy strategies to gain task approval or sign-off from a busy boss

These days, many people are struggling with overloaded schedules and diaries. So it’s no surprise that gaining sign-off or approval on priority tasks or projects may becoming a challenge, especially if your boss or manager is overwhelmed with competing priorities and skyrocketing meetings and is generally absent from the workplace. Delays to projects, particularly those linked to a business or security upgrade can quickly become critical within a workplace safety context. How do you gain your manager’s attention to sign-off or approve your project or task for implementation?

5 methods

Firstly: Be compassionate – Your manager may be dealing with a risk averse boss

Put yourself in your manager’s position. They may be working to one or more inexperienced, risk averse, micro-managing and stressed out, time poor manager(s) who has requested that all new projects be sent to their office for approval. It pays to sit down with your manager and ask what they need from you to get your approval through.

In this environment of constant change, be aware that your manager may be wise in the way of the organisation and decide that a delayed decision in this case may lead to a better result. This can be the case for government organisations that traditionally are asked to unwind old projects by the incoming government. New CEOs may also unexpectedly unwind past projects, so sometimes a delay saves time and resources. I’m not saying this is right, it’s just the way it is at the moment.

Secondly: Make strategic use of email or other text-based work technology to raise your project’s visibility

Emails and other text-based communication technologies can boost visibility and provide evidence of progress and approval deadlines. If you want to know how to use online work communications to boost your brand and interactions, then read my article “30 potent netiquette tips to boost personal brand & effective communication” The general rules when using email to raise your project’s profile and seek sign-off or approval include:

  1. Decide how often you will send the updates and remain consistent (e.g., 10am every Friday).
  2. Use consistent email title & headlines to avoid confusion (e.g., project name | day month year).
  3. Strategically use cc’s on the original email. This allows key sponsor(s) and project owner(s) insight as to the other key players who have been informed of your progress. The project owner may follow-up with a phone call to your boss to ask them to sign the relevant document.
  4. Strategically think about who you can disseminate your manager’s “thanks for the update” response. Forwarding this type of “happy” note to external clients and your project team forges credibility you may need when seeking their assistance in later gaining your manager’s approval.
  5. Keep comments concise and, if some element of the project or task is going pear-shaped, remain solution oriented.
  6. Use dot points and lists to improve the chances your boss will actually read the email.
  7. Similarly, attach long pieces of information to the email.
  8. Following on from points 6 and 7, keep the email short (3 short paragraphs at a maximum).
  9. If you are seeking a decision or approval, make this topic clear in the subject line e.g., “Request | Approval for Phase X of Project XX”.


  • Keep the email short and concise and focused on the decision point, deadline, and benefits to either the signatory or organisation.
  • Be clear about the underlying reasons behind the approval or sign-off deadline (e.g., scheduled in line with EOFY activities).
  • Include a one liner that clearly articulates what will happen if this work activity does not progress on schedule (i.e., increased costs, reputation damage to agency etc.)
  • Think about embedding a drop down menu so the decision maker can indicate “approved” or “disapproved”.

Thirdly: Governance process can be your friend

Organisations with an effective governance suite is a wondering opportunity to table your document on a relevant committee or board agenda, with a clear cover note regarding the sign-off approval requirements. The committee’s administration team is then responsible to emailing the agenda to you, your boss and other relevant people. This strategy could help remind your boss about the project and perhaps pick up the phone and have a chat. Project management committees are fantastic so long as you’re not frightened of logging an Amber or Red Traffic Light against your project’s schedule or approval line. Many people think this means they’ve failed or underperformed in some way. This is incorrect, as the committee is there to keep the work progressing, so use them to help you.

Fourthly: Leverage key influencers – engage and leverage other influencers

If you’re really stuck, think about other internal (or external) areas interested in the outcome of your project or work task. These key influencers are not necessarily members of a Board or leadership group (although they can be). They could be other project managers, or a policy or delivery areas who are relying on your project in some way. Get creative.

Think carefully about how the work activity benefits the influencer.  WIIFM or “what’s in it for me” can help clarify how to best approach the influencer. If there’s no clear WIIFM, what else is this influencer interested in? They may wish to be invited as a key speaker to a workshop, or are keen to open an event or a presentation. Ask around and find out.

Fifth & final method: let your manger take the credit

This may sound a bit unfair, especially if the idea for the work concept did not arise from your manager. However, if your manager is inexperienced, new to the position, insecure with their own boss, and/or generally feeling a bit vulnerable you may consider letting your manager take credit for this work activity. Experienced managers know to share the credit where it’s due – this is called leadership. However, to get this work activity over the approval hump, you may need to let your manager take the credit.

A handy way to ensure you and other key players are still acknowledged is to recognise key people in the body of your document. I also suggest that this is not a good long-term strategy, as it may bite you back during a performance appraisal.


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