The Lack of Role Clarity

It’s as Clear as Mud

“I have no idea what the goal is or what they want me to be doing.”

 “Will my real boss please stand up? I have no idea which boss to follow and which of their projects is the priority.” 

“Wait! I wasn’t hired for that, wasn’t trained for it, and don’t know how to do it!”

One of the more frequent and frustrating challenges that leads to employee burnout is lack of role clarity.  In everyday office speak we hear, “Stay in your lane!” and we ask, “What and where is my lane?”  Lack of clarity around roles & responsibilities has a direct impact on productivity, efficiency & morale.  

The solution?  Communication.  Yes, I know you’ve heard this before.  But let’s take a look at communicating to get clarity with new approach.

Option 1: Communicate First.

As frustrated as an employee gets, they often fail to even ask for clarification. They are concerned that asking for help understanding the goals, prioritizing activities and, making the best decisions will make them look incompetent. They stumble along in a darkness of their own making.  Why put yourself through this?  Put yourself out there and be the first to communicate.

In today’s world more than ever, our lives move at over 100 miles per hour.  This is true for the employee and the manager as well.  In many cases, the manager is simply not aware of the stress or confusion.  They should be? Sure.  But maybe they are busy being confused about their own role.  Swallow your fear, put away your perceptions, take the bull by the horns and be the first to communicate.  Here are a few ideas to get the ball rolling.

  • Practice Paraphrasing: If a manager tells you to take the lead on a marketing project and provide status updates, you can help to make sure the role is clear simply by practicing the art of paraphrasing for clarity.  Respond, “So, you’d like me to lead the Susie and Ken in our team on this marketing project.   You need it done by next Friday and you’d like me to report progress and problems to you via email.” 
  • Quick Clarifications: “I want to do the best job I can for the company. I believe I am responsible for Project X. Could we schedule a few minutes to clarify the activities and goals of Project X so I can be sure I’ve got it covered?”
  • The Bigger Challenge: If you’ve taken on more challenging responsibilities without having any lesser responsibilities removed, identify one duty that you find challenging and one you find fairly easy.  “I want to do the best job I can for the company and I’m finding this new task somewhat challenging.  Would it be possible to reassign this (easier) task so I can focus more on learning everything I can about performing this new task more efficiently?”

These three questions, posed regularly and in a calm and professional manner, not only provides more clarity in the moment, they may open the door to more in-depth conversations about role clarity.

Option 2:  Communicate Consistently.  Get in the habit of having a quick clarifying chat with your boss at the beginning of every day.  “I’m going to be focused on X today, I should be able to accomplish Y, I may need help with Z.  Are we on the same page?”  It may seem obvious or possibly overkill but having this quick conversation on a daily basis sets the stage for more meaningful conversations, ensures you are both clear on your role, and keeps your boss abreast of timelines, workflow and support you may need.

CONCLUSION:  Communication is the key to solving the stress we experience when we are not clear about our role within the company.  Be proactive.  You might not be in charge, but you can lead by example with calm, consistent and clear communication. 


ChiKeey Headquarters: Los Gatos, California

Connect: (408) 357-3475


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