Is it right to escalate to senior leadership (CEO) if you feel the senior management is not doing the right thing or basing the decisions based on personal preferences rather than the goals of the organization. How should one go about it?


4 Answers 4


How should one go about it?

Very very carefully. The politics around this are huge. What you do not know is if the actions by senior management are at the direction of senior leadership. Decision are being made based on information to which you are not privy or of which you are not aware. So what may not make sense to you may make perfect sense based on the direction they are choosing to go or the priorities they are choosing to address at the penalty of what you find important.

Even if published "open door policies," it is important to tread carefully. If you choose to bypass your chain of command, do so in "learning" mode and do so with the full recognition of the risk of downstream effects, e.g., mistrust by your chain of command, you are likely to face.

And, for yourself, examine this notion of "right thing." What makes your opinion so right? How often do we see in complex business problems something that is so right? Isn't it more slightly more right or even the best of all crappy alternatives? It is a red flag to me when some claims they are right and everyone else is wrong. We all do it; I do it all the time, but in the back of my head I ask myself what am I not seeing.

  • 1
    "It is a red flag to me when some claims they are right and everyone else is wrong." Funny, this is what concerned me about the senior management at my previous company! There are only so many people one can fire for failed projects before someone should look at the people doing the firing.
    – Karen
    Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 16:52

This really depends on your organization structure and culture. Some companies have a very rigid escalation procedure that prevents certain levels to contact senior roles. So, David as rightly said, you have to be really careful.

Is there an existing Project Management Escalation Process within your organization? If there is, does it enable you to talk directly with the CEO without any other senior role involved?

I'm assuming that your question is related to project risks and/or issues where you are struggling to get support from a member of the Project Board. You could take two approaches:

  1. You could suggest the Board to include you in the communication procedure with the CEO (or other Senior level) to support any queries or concerns they might raise as a mean to interact with him/her. Nevertheless, I have to admit that is can be really difficult if not impossible.
  2. On the other hand, you could accept that the Board has the ultimate interest in the project's outcome; so if you have already conveyed all your concerns, they have acknowledged them and they have decided to do nothing, the potential failure will be down to them.

Either way you will have to ensure that your attempt to approach the CEO does not generate additional conflict or impacts your relationship with the Board complicating your project even further.


How should one go about it?

By making sure that what you "feel" is in fact "true", and that you have supporting evidence to prove it.

If you feel (think) that senior management is conflict with the goals of the org, then match the decisions being made with the stated goals and show the conflict. Show how the decisions are detrimental or personally driven. Unless you have evidence to support your claim then you're nothing more than a disgruntled employee.

But even then, as David said, be VERY careful. Even if the decisions being made ware wrong, they're probably not 'firing offenses', which means now you've called out your boss, and he's still going to be your boss.

My first suggestion though would be to gather your evidence, and talk directly to the senior leader. Pose it as an "I don't understand this decision" type of inquiry to see if perhaps there's reason you don't know about. If you start from a "I'm not privy to everything" position rather than a "they're wrong" stance, you may get farther.


A few thoughts:

  1. Know your companies' protocols. You need to know if you are even "allowed" to escalate issues at your workplace. In some companies, this could be an indiscretion that earns you a write-up and a "personal-management" plan.
  2. Avoid making this personal. Even if you work in an open-door setting, do not throw anyone under the bus. Talk about "challenges that have not been overcome" and "project inertia". Be diplomatic and test the waters. Have evidence of issues - not of personal failures by managers.
  3. Understand the repercussions. Individuals caught up in your reporting of the problem will quickly know where the accusation comes from -- don't kid yourself otherwise. They will not, in all likelihood, think favourably of you thereafter.
  4. Know your senior management. Will they care? And even if they care, will they act? Being told about a problem and acting on a problem are two different things.
  5. Consider other avenues. You say they are wrong and making decisions based on personal bias; can you challenge their decisions - to them, in project meetings - with facts? Industry standards, best practices, research -- it's all out there.
  6. Ask yourself: Could I be the one who is wrong?

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