I would venture to suggest that it is reflective of much more than one person's potentially defective style of supervision. If anything, it is the canary in the coal mine language that serves as a flashing neon sign screaming: "there may be serious management or leadership problems here".
What phrase does all this and more?
"That's above my paygrade."
I can imagine no circumstance where that is a truly valuable or appropriate answer to a question or suggestion. In truth, it is a cop-out. Engineered to absolve the user from any obligation to either a) make a decision themselves b) route the suggestion/question to the proper person 3) or provide a proper explanation of why things are the way they are.
Think about it like this. You are sitting at your local physician. You are curious about a new lump that suddenly arrived on your anatomy. Likely not serious, but still annoying. You ask the doctor about i and get: "thats above my paygrade!" What confidence does that instill in you about their knowledge or their ability? I think we all know by now there are chains of command in every institution. There are processes to follow.
But to just throw in the towel. What kind of respect will that earn you? After all, even if you don't know an answer, or arent authorized to make it, shouldn't the next step to be take it to someone who is able?
How about some pride. How about some ownership? If the question is silly or has been tried or really shouldn't be escalated, then explain right there and then what's up. Do not take the easy way out.
That's something that applies- no matter what your paygrade.