Managing Up

It isn’t often we provide advice here to employees. This is one of those issues though that begs for attention. Managing up is not just a real challenge for many, but one of those skills that, if employees develop, increases their influence in the organization, allows them to have more control over their workload and career, and leads to both a productive and positive working relationship for everyone. It involves understanding your manager’s preferences, priorities, and communication style, and then aligning your actions and communication to complement and support their goals. Managing up is not about manipulating or simply pleasing your boss but rather about fostering a mutually beneficial and respectful working dynamic. To do it well, look to these tips for managing up effectively:

  1. Communication: Understand how your manager prefers to communicate (e.g., email, in-person meetings, phone calls) and adapt your communication style accordingly. Be clear, concise, and proactive in your updates and reports. (Insider tip – Send an email at the end of each week to your manager to update them about what you have accomplished, what is still outstanding, and about the status of projects that you know are important to them. This not only helps them be informed but also doubles up as a way for you to toot your horn without being obvious.)
  2. Anticipate Needs: Pay attention to your manager’s goals and priorities. Use this information to anticipate their needs. Try to be proactive and offer solutions or suggestions before they ask for them.
  3. Be Reliable: Deliver high-quality work on time and meet deadlines consistently. Building trust with your manager is crucial for a successful managing-up relationship.
  4. Ask for Feedback: Seek feedback regularly to understand your manager’s expectations and areas for improvement. Act on the feedback received to demonstrate your commitment to growth.
  5. Support Their Goals: Align your own objectives with your manager’s goals and the company’s vision. Show how your work contributes to the overall success of the team and organization. In some organizations, particularly smaller ones, the vision and goals may not be all that well defined. Because of this, you may need to regularly check in to make sure you are aligned with what could be shifting priorities.
  6. Respect Boundaries: Recognize your manager’s time constraints and avoid overburdening them with unnecessary details. Be respectful of their schedule and prioritize requests accordingly.
  7. Offer Solutions, Not Just Problems: When facing challenges or obstacles, don’t just highlight the issues—propose potential solutions or alternatives to help your manager make informed decisions. Bringing up issues without any suggestions as to how to resolve them makes you a complainer…and nobody likes that! Also, be prepared to be the one assigned to resolve the problem you are bringing to your manager’s attention.
  8. Stay Positive and Professional: Maintain a positive attitude and professional demeanor, even during difficult situations. Avoid office politics and gossip that can create a negative perception. Keep it both real and positive. Cliques might have been cool in high school, but they are career killers in the professional world.
  9. Develop Your Skills: Continuously improve your skills and knowledge to become an even more valuable asset to your manager and the organization. If you aren’t learning, you aren’t growing. Nor do you make much of a case to be kept on and trusted as the organization inevitably develops…without you.
  10. Manage Conflicts Constructively: If conflicts arise, address them respectfully and professionally. Focus on finding solutions rather than assigning blame. It doesn’t matter who is at fault. What matters is your willingness and ability to find solution as effectively as possible.
  11. Advocate for Your Needs: Be open and honest about your own career goals, professional development, and any support or resources you may need to excel in your role. Your manager wants you to succeed. Informing them of your needs gives your manager a road map they otherwise may not have.

Remember, managing up is about building a strong working relationship based on trust, respect, and effective communication. It can lead to increased job satisfaction, career growth, and improved overall work performance, not to mention you creating a mentor relationship that is vital to overcoming both economic and political headwinds that are unfortunately part of being a member of an organization.