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Advice | Work Advice: When management offers you a bigger role but is mum on pay

Reader: I’ve been tapped to lead a large multiyear project at my organization. This role doesn’t currently exist — so far, the project has been run by committeeand would involve a level of managerial work and cross-departmental coordination that I believe warrants a significant pay bump.

I made this case to my boss, who agreed. She submitted a draft job description and salary in line with our discussion and met with leadership to answer questions about the new role, but she’s out of the decision-making process now. The budget process is a closed system; staff don’t receive salary information until the budget has been approved, and at that point there’s nothing we can do to negotiate for more.

I’m uncomfortable walking into a new role before seeing an approved job description and salary, so I’m trying to determine my bottom lines for both. If they’re not reflected in what I’m offered, I’ll decline and stay in my current role. Is that advisable?

Because I’m the only staffer qualified for the new role, it’ll be a huge roadblock to the project if I say no, and my boss would probably take flak from leadership. I’m excited about the new role, but I like my old duties just fine.

Our CFO has a track record of not responding well to pushback from women. He has allowed several important female staffers to leave because he refused to negotiate with them. I have a good relationship with our CEO, but he generally defers to the CFO on these matters. How should I proceed?

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Karla: Even though you have no way of knowing what cards the house intends to play, you’re holding a pretty strong hand already.

  • You are the only one there qualified for the job they want filled.
  • Your boss seems to have your back, whether you move into the new role or stay in your old one.
  • The company has more to lose than you do if you decline to lead the project, so it’s in their interest to make you a good offer.
  • You are “uncomfortable” committing to a job with no description or pay agreement because you know it’s a stupid and disrespectful thing for them to ask of you.

When the only deal being offered is “Take it or leave it,” there’s power in being willing and able to say, “’Kay, bye.” (Maybe not verbatim.) There’s a time to kick down doors, and a time to leave them closed and walk away.

At this point, other than figuring out what your personal dealmakers and breakers are for accepting the job — and maybe doing a little advance recon by sitting in on some project meetings — I don’t see anything more you can do. You or your boss could mention during a casual chat with the CEO that you are hoping her proposal was approved because it would be a great project to work on —- letting the conditional “would” convey the message that acceptance is far from a done deal.

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Otherwise, it’s up to management to figure out a budget that includes a salary and job description that will win you over. If they do — and only then — you can accept and start work. Until then, your line is: “I’m waiting to see exactly what the job entails before I make a decision.” If the offer falls short, it’s “No thanks,” leaving it up to them to sweeten the deal.

Incidentally, I am not ignoring what you say about your CFO’s attitude toward women who try to negotiate. But it sounds as though you wouldn’t even get an opportunity to say more than yes or no to the offer under your company’s budget procedures. Then again, since that type of rot seldom stays confined to one apple, you and your boss should be alert for backlash if you turn down the role, the project suffers, and the C-suite starts hunting for a scapegoat. Blaming you for a mess you had no hand in creating seems illogical, but so does skimping on the cost of managing a major project.

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