It sometimes appears that any first-round decisions made are met with distrust, as if they (admins) were trying to somehow undermine the company.

I would understand a bit of kick-back, to ensure that "IT people" have thought through all of the business concerns - but is it common for upper management to show an inherent lack of trust towards their system administrators?

Given, this is a "small" shop ( < 300 employees ), and not "a software company". Is this a common thing in companies this size?

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  • 1
    Maybe they've been reading Bastard Operator From Hell? – Stefan Thyberg May 27 '09 at 14:51

One thing to understand is that most times (and I say most with caution as sometimes, rarely, but sometimes the guys up top do have some tech background) upper management has no idea what you're doing. They're charged with "The Business". You're the grease monkey in the garage that tinkers with the cars that ultimately drive that business. When you take your personal car into a garage don't the thoughts of mistrust automatically strike you when you see a bill? Did they overcharge you? Did they sabotage something? Probably not but as people we tend to not trust what we don't understand. Same goes for IT. Yes, you hired us and (theoretically) you know that we know what we're doing but there's always going to be a level of mistrust between management and IT staff, no matter what size company.

  • Good job tying it to a very real analogy. – anonymous coward May 27 '09 at 14:55
  • +1 for the great analogy. – tomjedrz May 27 '09 at 17:01
  • a car analogy is essential :) – hayalci May 27 '09 at 19:47
  • +1 for being insightful – Nick Kavadias May 29 '09 at 3:56

Previous answers have really nailed the most common reasons for this frequently encountered situation, so why don't we prattle a bit on what you can do about it.

IF GIVEN a situation of natural/typical distrust between the front and back offices (well described above), you'll have to actually do something to break out of the pattern. This is easier to do in SMB than enterprise situations.

A couple of things will generally get the attention of management and provide a basis for some trust to form: (1) show real interest, and (2) show real business sense.


This isn't as hard as it may seem, but it will require a change of mindset. (Suspend any beliefs that 'users' are 'stupid'.) Get some time with management and ask how the business works. How does the firm make money? How does it differ from its competitors? What are the top three problems management is trying to overcome? Note: don't talk IT here - and if they try to steer the conversation that way, put them back on track.


Assume that your budget (if you have one) is funded by YOU; be very, very careful about how each penny is spent. Before purchasing something, line out the Pros & Cons to the business of (a) acquiring the asset and (b) NOT acquiring the asset. (Hint: some call this the business case.) Ask management to review it before making a request for purchase.

Put effort into demonstrating the stuff you are retiring from inventory and/or how you are saving the firm money. Again, be very transparent and unemotional. Ask management to review your report and provide feedback.

In SMB the 'distance' between the decision-makers and IT doesn't have to be great. But, it is up to the IT staff to come out of the cave on a sustained and consistent basis.

It works and you'll be a better resource for it.


I think the problem with management in this cases is that they do not understand IT. In all other areas of the business they may give out tasks and work, but they understand what that work involves and can see if progress is being made. IT however is something they are likely to have very little understanding of, they may have an idea of what they want to achieve in a project, but little understanding of what they work involves, how long it should take etc.

Managers don't like loosing this control, they now no longer have any idea of whether your working hard, or in fact just stalling to take more time on a project, they can't ask you what your doing and be sure to understand the response.

This lack of understanding can then lead to distrust and suspicious- "If I don't know what's going on then they must be doing it wrong". I think this is more prevalent in small business where managers like to take an active role in all areas of a business.

  • "... I think this is more prevalent in small business where managers like to take an active role in all areas of a business." I agree. Hands on + lack of understanding is a dangerous combo. =) – anonymous coward May 27 '09 at 14:56

One thing I've learned from experience is that there are a lot of unscrupulous IT professionals with god complexes: having talked to other people with IT departments, it either is an ongoing problem for businesses this size, or it seems like it's a problem for a lot of people. It's not personal, but the lack of trust is based on giving a lot of control to someone who is part of a group of people that have burned people in management in the past.

The best thing you can do is to not take it personally, try to stay as humble as possible, and keep providing opportunities to be trusted via your actions: a certain level of trust will come with time. But definitely realize that if and when your employment ends, it's going to feel very hostile and like they don't trust you as they try to ensure what they believe is in the best interest of the company.


I think a lot of the beef that upper management has with IT is that they think, by and large, IT is simply overhead that costs their business money. They may understand the need for technology but they don't understand the technology. That and the commodity aspect of things like email, file sharing and even ERP give them the sense of a necessary evil that they have to trust someone else with instead of being able to control on their own.

This is why it's absolutely ESSENTIAL that today's CIO's and IT departments are not merely service entities, but rather full business partners. IT has to provide solutions that give a business a competitive edge in order to gain full trust from up above. It's no longer a matter of providing an email system that works. It's now an email system that lets your sales team work better. It's now a file system that lets users find things faster and track changes in real-time. It's now... [fill in the blank]


Manager who mistrust the admin is a smart manager because he realizes that most probably the admin is the one holding the keys to the kingdom.

Nothing really you can do about it except be honest, do your best and hope that it will get better with time, being aware that it might not.

I've been working for almost 10 years in the same company and I can still feel that my boss doesn't trust me with everything.


One other thought.

The answers so far have been about "generic" trust ... "bosses" to admins, customers to auto mechanics, "business people" to "tech jockeys". And the observations made in other answers are for the most part valid.

But there is a personal element as well, and trust is at heart a personal thing. One earns trust by being worthy of it. It is earned from results. It is also earned from relationships and communication. Don't worry about the generic trust, worry about the personal trust. Who cares if the "boss" doesn't trust the "tech"! But you need to be trusted by your bosses.

The fastest way to become trusted is to do what you way you are going to do, when you say you will do it, for the cost you said it would cost. But you can speed the process by building relationships and by communicating early, often, and in terms that the bosses can understand. I have found that bosses are eager to find a technical-type they can trust, because the arena is so difficult for them to understand.

Take care.


The thing is, managers have some experience with accounting (budgeting, tracking expenses, costing projects, etc.), they have experience with HR (interviewing, performance reviews, etc.) and they generally have some experience with other "support functions" (even if it's just that they know about home maintenance and figure that building maintenance is similar).

Accounting is the best example - managers at all levels work with financial information. So even though the accounting department knows more about where the money comes from and goes, managers have a decent understanding of what the accountants do.

But very few managers in a company that isn't in a high-tech industry have experience with what IT people do. For PC support, the things IT does to maintain a fleet of PCs are very different than what one person does to maintain their own PC. Home networking is vastly different from enterprise - switches, routers, firewalls are a couple of orders of magnitude more complex.

So I've found that managers just don't have the same appreciation (in both senses of the word) for what IT does as they do for other functions. They typically understand that IT is important, but they don't understand exactly what it does.

This is where a good IT Director or CIO fits in - being able to talk to (yes, and schmooze with) the bigwigs as well as being able to understand what the techies are doing/saying.


its also key to remember that as systems administrators, the common misconception is that we're here to fix computers. in truth, we're here to keep the business running and the users working. if you start to think your responsibility is primarily to the electronics, you will set yourself for an adversarial relationship with "The Business" and undermine any initiatives you wish to complete. keep in mind that without the users and the business, you don't get paid. keep their needs foremost in your mind; it goes a long way toward the trust issue.

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