In my language, we have one single word for what is referred to in English as "boss", "manager", "superior", "senior staff"... and I have a very hard time figuring out which of the English words to use when. I've consulted all the dictionaries I have found to get an understanding of what to use when, but if anything, I'm even more confused now... To give some concrete examples, in the following sentences, which would you say would be the best choice to replace X:

  1. If this fails, the matter should be escalated to the relevant X.
  2. If this happens, you should contact the X responsible.
  3. The administrative director is the X of administrative staff.
  4. The relevant staff member's X will then discuss the matter with the board.
  5. Who is his X?
  6. If you experience harassment, you should first contact your immediate* X.

*By "immediate" I mean 'the one directly above you in the organisational hierarchy' – if "immediate" is the wrong choice of word for this, you're more than welcome to correct me!

Thank you so much!

  • 3
    Saying 'my line manager' or 'immediate superior' are very common. Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 22:10
  • 1
    +1 for the research you put in before posting :) My first thought however is that the answer will turn out to be "all of the above, and then some." For example, from my own work experience "team leader" would be the right answer for some of those sentences. The more important point is perhaps to know the culture and language of the organisation you are communicating within. Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 22:24
  • 4
    Also note that "boss" is a very informal word, so you probably shouldn't use that in any formal writing.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 22:36
  • 2
    Bear in mind that the person who has the final say over your leave, promotion, etc. might not be the same person who assigns you tasks on a day-to-day basis — and that neither of them might be the person who supervises your work. So it's not just about formality and context; it's also about exact meaning.
    – gidds
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 23:42
  • 3
    "Boss" when you tell your girlfriend about work, "manager" when you talk about your previous job in a job interview, and "superior" when you defend yourself in court for something your boss told you to do. Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 14:05

5 Answers 5


"Manager" is a fairly neutral word, suitable for most business contexts. Your manager is the person who has responsibility for supervising your work.

"Manager" would work well in (3) (4) (5) and (6)

In (2) I'd just say "contact the person responsible". And in (1) "person" is probably the best word to use, or I might use "line manager", or "administrator", or "member of the senior staff". In some organizations "manager" might also work. This is an example of company specific language.

"Boss" is a fairly casual way to describe either the head of the company, or your manager. So "the boss" is the leader of the organization. "My boss" is a slightly casual way to say "my line manager". The examples are more formal, but "boss" would be possible in (4) and (5), in the right context

Much of this terminology is not generic. It is specific to a company. What one company calls its "Leadership Team", another might call "Management Committee" and a third "Senior Staff Group". When working in a company, you have to get used to the terms and phrases that are company specific.

However "Manager" and "line manager" (for your immediate manager) are quite widely used in many organisations.

Culturally, "superior" is a word that is not often used. It has connotations that the person is not only above you in an organisation, but is better than you. It is sometimes used to translate words like "senpai" from other cultures (Japanese), but this tends to result in "translationese".

  • 1
    I noticed one word you didn't include from the OP's list was "superior" (a term I never liked at all). Is that term now out of favour? Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 10:50
  • @RockPaperLz-MaskitorCasket In my experience it's never been particularly common except in very generic usage to refer to any or all management, not a specific individual. Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 13:38
  • 1
    @GalacticCowboy And some militaries, but that's a bit of a different context. Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 14:23
  • 1
    This might be dialect-dependent, but everywhere I've worked here in the USA "manager" would indeed be the best term.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 18:43

The other answers here are quite good, so I won't duplicate them, but I would like to add some context around the word "boss" in English, which has additional connotations — additional meanings that you may want to be careful around.

Boss is a noun, meaning "the person in charge of something," but it can also be a verb — he bossed me around yesterday — and it can also be an adjective — that bossy lady at dinner argued with the waiter the whole night.

What you'll note about the other two forms, the verb and the adjective, is that they both have negative connotations — they're used in cases where someone is claiming authority that they might not rightly have earned. The negative connotations carry into the noun form as well: The noun boss in English often has a subtle negative connotation to it, not just "the person in charge," but "the person who tells me what to do all the time and takes away my freedom." You'll hear sentences like my boss was pretty rough on me today, and my boss is a real hard-ass, both directly implying that the boss was not just managing the speaker, but treating the speaker very badly as well.

You can also see that negative connotation in sentences like he's actually a pretty good boss, or actually I really like my boss, both of which have the speaker showing that in that exceptional case, the word "boss" is intended to have a good connotation. The speaker is speaking casually but still wants the listener to know that boss isn't bad in their context, implying that it's generally bad in most other contexts.

You'll also find situations where the connotation of "person who makes all of the decisions, depriving others of their freedom" is intentional. For example, Boss Tweed controlled nearly all politics in New York City in the late 1800s — if you wanted any role in government at all, you needed Boss Tweed's blessing. Boss Hogg from the Dukes of Hazzard TV show went by that title to imply that he (the county commissioner) was in charge of everything in Hazzard County. Gangsters and mafia members and gang members may sometimes refer to their leader as "Boss" — note the capitalization, implying that it's not just a noun but a proper noun, a name, a term of respect, indicating that the speaker recognizes and likes that authoritarian leadership.

Importantly, what all of these forms have in common is a power disparity: A manager or supervisor may be a colleague or friend, but a boss is usually not. The word boss implies that a person has power and control in a way that the other words don't state as strongly, and a difference in power can often be negative: Hence the frequent negative overtones in the word boss. Notice that I'm worried the boss will fire me is a common English sentence; but I'm worried the manager will fire me is a lot rarer.

Anyway, there's not always a negative connotation to the word "boss," but there's often a subtle overtone of negativity, so in addition to the fact that "boss" is often preferred in more casual contexts than a business setting, you also need to be careful not to imply negativity that you may not intend. So when in doubt, stick with "manager," which is much more neutral.

  • 2
    'Boss' can also have very positive connotations such as in "that was totally boss'.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 15:11
  • 1
    @JimmyJames One could make a pretty good argument, though, that that version is a colloquial back-formation from the negative form of "boss" through the word's superlative connotations. Etymonline suggests that that positive form dates only to the 1950s, originating in jazz, while the negative form goes back hundreds of years as an alternative to master (note the loose relationship between boss and slavery as well). Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 16:24
  • 1
    Like 'bad' meaning 'really good'. I can see that.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 18:51
  • 2
    The negative connotations are absolutely there, but the word is quite common and I would say used neutrally more often than not. "Manager" is probably better around the office, but if you say "Oh, she's my boss" when talking about someone after work, people won't assume you don't like her. Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 22:18
  • 1
    @MarkFoskey It really depends on context. Is I'm going bowling with my boss a neutral or a negative use? It mostly depends on the speaker's history, their tone of voice, and other contextual clues! (Tuesday night leagues? Company bowling tournament? Forced into a "team-building exercise?" Trying to earn a promotion? Every one of these changes the context.) It can be incredibly hard to know which set of additional meanings the word might be carrying in a given context, so my point is really that it's often safer to avoid the word altogether rather than have your meaning be misconstrued. Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 14:32

Your examples don’t completely nail down the context, so there is some wiggle room. Plus there are differences between US and British (and likely) other usage. But here’s what this American would say.

  1. manager or supervisor
  2. [too context-dependent to be answered]
  3. supervisor
  4. [context-dependent]
  5. boss, manager, or supervisor
  6. supervisor
  • 2
    +1 For noting the term 'supervisor'. It's probably worth noting that 'supervisor' and 'manager' have specific connotations that can be significant in a legal context i.e., a supervisor can give direction but may not have any decision-making authority.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 15:08

Modern work lingo these days favours line manager to avoid all the subtle differences in connotations that might inadvertently be triggered. You can use that phrase for all your X.

  • 2
    Is this correct? Whenever I hear "line manager", I think of an assembly line. Perhaps this is a good phrase in certain regions but not others? Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 10:49
  • 1
    I agree, it is a bit reminiscent of assembly lines, but the idea here is line as in line of command (think of the difference between line and staff rank in the military). As I tried to indicate by my use of the word lingo, I do think this is a bit of a fad. Before retirement I worked at a major UK midlands university.
    – Deipatrous
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 12:25
  • 1
    Thanks. Seeing how it is mentioned in other answers and comments, I'm thinking you are likely spot on about it being a fad. Ngram viewer provides additional evidence: books.google.com/ngrams/… Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 14:18
  • 3
    In the UK, line manager is used to denote your immediate superior, so may not be appropriate for examples 1-4 from the question. Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 16:52
  • @reallydismayed Would you say that (i.e., "line manager") is more common to use than "immediate manager"? Also, would you use "line manager" in academic contexts to, for instance, saying that the head of department is the teaching staff's line manager?
    – Helen
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 21:10

Manager or Supervisor would both be appropriate. Ideally you want the word that connotes the role you'll be playing. In most cases, you will be managing or supervising your team while they work fairly autonomously. You'll be providing coaching, feedback and oversight, with the occasional time where you may be dealing with issues that they can't or don't want to (elevated Customer Service role). Boss or Superior may have a negative connotation with them- you probably don't intend to boss them around, or act superior to them, so in most cases, these would be words and connotations you would like to avoid.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .