The way I see it, 'overreaching his mandate' is used when someone elected to a position or answering to someone else does things that are 'out of line' (negative connotation) for him. There is an element of malice involved.

My questions are:

1) Is there a phrase that conveys a similar meaning BUT for non-elected/not-answerable-to-someone people without the sense of malice but the actions being wrong nevertheless, maybe out of stupidity? E.g. A father may try to care for his child by standing by his bed all night so that if the child is afraid, he'll find his father awake protecting him. However, the child privately finds this scary and is upset by it.

2) What other similar phrases are there for such actions, for people who may or may not be answerable to someone else and with varying intentions? e.g. (one phrase for one of such situations): My father went out of the way to make sure that my commute to school was comfortable by delaying his office even though there was a school bus available. There is no malice and the child gains from the action but the father is majorly inconvenienced. I think the same phrase can be used for elected people. What other phrases for different situations are there?

EDIT: Also: Going overboard has negative connotation along the same lines.

  • Mods, feel free to comment if the question needs improving, or if you think it should be removed.
    – 0fnt
    Mar 12, 2016 at 6:12
  • In your second example, if everyone's happy, what's the overreach?
    – Lawrence
    Mar 12, 2016 at 7:43
  • The father in the first example could be overprotective, but not overreaching his mandate. Can you edit your question to specify what you want? Are you asking for a phrase you can use to describe someone who does something not absolutely necessary?
    – user140086
    Mar 12, 2016 at 8:49
  • @Lawrence I edited and in my mind father was majorly inconvenienced but I wrote differently.
    – 0fnt
    Mar 12, 2016 at 14:28
  • @Rathony Well I think he's doing a bit too much. I clarified my question to better match what was in my mind. He can let his kid use the school bus.
    – 0fnt
    Mar 12, 2016 at 14:28

2 Answers 2


Sounds like the Dad went “above and beyond [the call of duty].”

above and beyond (something)
more than is required; greater than the required amount.
(Typically: be ~; go ~.) The English teacher helped students after school every day, even though it was beyond the call of duty.
(from McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs, via ‘The Free Dictionary by Farlex’)

Used with “his/her mandate,” “above and beyond” could capture “overreaching his mandate” for an elected/appointed official, not only without the negative, “out of line,” connotation that you observe (correctly, in my opinion), but with the same positive connotation usually found in its use with “the call of duty.”
(example of positive use with “mandate” found in ‘Saving the Jews: Men and Women who Defied the Final Solution’ by Mordecai Paldie on ‘Google Books’)

Used with “his/her authority,” however, the negative connotation is retained, so “above and beyond” is not always positive, such as it is used in the penultimate paragraph of the linked article from ‘Kens5/Eyewitness News’.

Somewhere in between the normally positive connotation when used with “the call of duty” and the normally negative one when used with “his/her authority,” there are also examples of the phrase being used to gently imply the notion of “being wrong nevertheless, maybe out of stupidity” presented in your question and examples, such as it is used with “the bounds of reason” in ‘Godey's Magazine’ (from ‘Google Books’) and with “the call of reason” in ‘New York Game & Fish’ (also from ‘Google Books’).

  • 1
    +1 Also, very appropriate answer for your user name :) .
    – Lawrence
    Mar 12, 2016 at 15:07
  • 1
    @Lawrence Thanks! I did try to be one but now that the 'poussins' have flown [above and beyond] the coop it's a lot less stressful for me, Mama Coq, and especially them, that's for sure!
    – Papa Poule
    Mar 12, 2016 at 16:29

One phrase that may have some traction in bureaucratic settings is "operating above [one's] pay grade." Google Books searches turn up several instances of this expression from books published in recent years. From Christopher Foster, British Government in Crisis (2005):

[Alastair] Campbell protested his innocence to the FAC [Foreign Affairs Committee] and to [Lord James] Hutton. He told Hutton that he had no influence on the contents of the September dossier. But events, and the Hutton inquiry, showed that he mis-spoke himself about this. Shoals of comments were made on versions of the dossier, many by his own staff. When asked, he denied responsibility for his own staff doing this, observing that, if they had done so, they were operating above their 'pay-grade'.

From Sheila Weller, Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon—And the Journey of a Generation 2008):

But Danny [Kortchmar] was quicker to recognize what he says now was the "tremendous charisma" in the often melancholic James [Taylor]. ... James's subsequent stay at McLean would add to the mystique, but even then he operated above his pay grade as a ladykiller: at fifteen, he was, as Danny would put it, "dating twenty-year-old chicks."

From Elizabeth Gilbert, Committed: A Sceptic Makes Peace With Marriage (2010):

Please understand, I am not an anthropologist and I acknowledge that I am operating far above my pay grade when I make any conjectures whatsoever about Hmong culture. My personal experience with these women was limited to a single afternoon's conversation, with a twelve-year-old child acting as a translator, so I think it's safe to assume that I probably missed a smidge of nuance about this ancient and intricate society.

From Elliott Mackle, Captain Harding and His Men (2012):

I thought fast. "He told you to back off, that you were operating way above your pay grade, you and your buddy the beanstalk?"

From Kimberly Daniels, Spiritual Boot Camp: Basic Training and Supernatural Strategies for Combat Readiness (2012):

A terrible thing has taken place in the state of Florida that is shaking our nation. A seventeen-year-old boy was gunned down in a gated community. He was profiled as a criminal, when the young boy had only a pack of Skittles candy and a can of iced tea in his possession. The 911 recording showed that the man who gunned the boy down called in to say a suspicious person was walking through the community. The police dispatcher ordered the man to stand down. They ordered him to cease following the young man. In the end the young man has died uselessly. The gunman was a neighborhood watch captain who apparently took his job too seriously. He had just enrolled in criminology courses. He had a concealed weapons license, but he operated above his pay grade and usurped an authority that he did not have.

From Kevin Richards, Popular Culture: East & West German Identity (2011):

In Bourne Supremacy, Pamela Landy's agents are killed during an operation. Eventually, they trace the finger prints belonging to Jason Bourne. Landy begins investigating and soon learns that Bourne was not in Germany when the event occurred. She soon discovers about Operation Treadstone. When she questions Ward Abbott, a fellow CIA deputy director, he provides vague details about the operation and constantly tries to convince her from discovering the truth about Treadstone. As Deputy Director Ward Abbot reminds her on various occasions: "You are operating above your pay grade" (Dodds 28). She is powerless as Abbott is her equal and must investigate on her own.

And from Chris Innes, Healing Corrections: The Future of Imprisonment (2015):

A few of these [local healing environment initiatives] were reminiscent of the kinds of staff recognition or morale booster programs that were common in the Leading and Sustaining Change efforts. Quite of few of these had catchy names, such as "New Beginnings," "OPeration Pick Me UP," "Sharing the Load," "Team Up," "Be CAREful Out There," "Working Together to Achieve Success," "Finding the Rhythm," and "Think and Operate Above Your Pay Grade!" While some referred to creating healing environments or using Dialogue the primary focus of their initiative was elsewhere.

In all of these instances, the notion of "operating above one's pay grade" involves exceeding one's hierarchical authority—sometimes in a positive way, sometimes in a negative one. The related disclaimer "That's above my pay grade" is a way of saying "That's out of my league" or "That's over my head"—a denial that one has any power to decide or influence a policy or strategy determined higher up in the organization.


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