I'm looking for a single word that would be used to describe someone who is an incompetent intermediary. To be more specific I would like to describe someone whom it is necessary to communicate knowledge through, however this person doesn't have the proper skill set to understand or further communicate the knowledge accurately and effectively.

As a hypothetical example, consider a scenario where an engineer communicates technical knowledge with a program manager, who then attempts to communicate that knowledge with a customer. However, because the program manager lacks technical prowess, the relayed message is distorted to the point being mostly or completely wrong. What word would one use to describe the program manager? Preferably I would like to find a non-pejorative term.

Edit I would also be interested in any phrases that describe such a person.

  • english.stackexchange.com/q/429824/277355 a similar discussion of same
    – lbf
    Feb 7, 2018 at 17:27
  • An all too familiar concept to most people, but one that I cannot think of any better ways to put into words than simple description. The incompetent intermediary becomes the bottleneck in the scenario, but that’s an attribute of the incompetence, not a term for the person. Excellent question! Feb 7, 2018 at 17:35
  • @jodag what has your research revealed?
    – lbf
    Feb 7, 2018 at 17:38
  • I've been unable to come up with a term which conveys both incompetence and intermediary. Looking through various synonyms of both didn't yield a term which I felt conveyed enough information. I'm actually surprised as @JanusBahsJacquet mentioned, the concept seems familiar to most people. I've asked colleagues about it but nobody can think of such a word.
    – jodag
    Feb 7, 2018 at 17:42
  • 'unfit for the task' is a good way of summing up the situation - although more often related to temperament and deportment than skill.. but also someone skill. "not up to the challenge" or "out of their league" are terms that might work more generally with skill, although not precisely apt for your well described and common situation.
    – Tom22
    Feb 7, 2018 at 18:50

3 Answers 3


I would describe them as a stumbling block.

The second definition is:

an impediment to belief or understanding

which sounds exactly like your hypothetical programme manager.

It also has the benefit of sounding less derogatory than synonyms like hindrance, impediment or obstacle.


You could use weak link:

The least dependable member of a group, as in The shipping department, slow in getting out orders, is our weak link in customer service, or They're all very capable designers except for Ron, who is clearly the weak link. This expression alludes to the fragile portion of a chain, where it is most likely to break.

Although its idiomatic usage does not actually imply an intermediary, it fits nicely with your usage because links connect things together.

  • 1
    I like this suggestion although it's not exactly what I want since, as you say, it doesn't actually imply an intermediary. I'll mark as accepted in a day or two if someone doesn't submit anything better.
    – jodag
    Feb 7, 2018 at 23:22

They're all very capable designers except for Ron, who is inept! Unfortunately, he is the design foreman for this project

http://www.thesaurus.com/browse/incompetence?s=ts and incompetent

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