As a manager or leader, you may be familiar with the strategy of managing up. But if you are like most people in the workplace, you may need to learn what it is and why it is essential. Learning how to manage up is an invaluable skill no matter what position you hold within a company and can open doors of significant opportunities if done correctly.
What is managing up?
Broadly, managing up is the art of developing robust and beneficial relationships with people in higher positions than you, such as your boss or manager. But it is not just about developing relationships — it is also about understanding how to work with your boss in a way that benefits you and your manager.
Managing up requires honing in on your boss’s needs, wants, and expectations and finding ways to meet them — make him look successful while still achieving your own goals.
It is a form of savvy self-advocacy — utilizing soft skills and knowledge to build trust with your boss and create an environment to achieve goals from both sides.
Why is managing up important
Managing up is important because it allows employees to demonstrate their skills and capabilities by taking proactive steps to help achieve their manager’s goals.
It also helps build trust and understanding between managers and employees, making it easier for both to work together more effectively in the future.
And managing up allows you to bridge the gap between yourself and your boss, yielding various benefits such as increased job satisfaction, better performance feedback, more growth and development opportunities, and even career advancement.
How to manage up?
The key to successfully managing up includes creating a good relationship with your boss, so they do not have to micromanage you. Here are 14 examples of managing up:
1. Anticipate your boss’ needs and act before they ask
Anticipate what your manager needs. Get a sense of what your boss is working on or have a general understanding of their priorities. This means researching their upcoming projects, tasks, or deadlines.
Ask your manager what they are working on, try understanding what that means, and ensure you know all the stakeholders. Pay attention to what your boss is talking about and try to identify opportunities where you can help.
That will give you an idea of what tasks they might need help with or assistance from you. Once you have that information, it will be much easier to take action before they even ask.
2. Pay attention to your boss’s preferences
Pay attention to your boss’s preferences and try to accommodate them whenever possible. For example, if your manager like to be kept in the loop on what is going on, make sure to update them frequently.
If they prefer concise, shorter, direct emails, keep that in mind when sending emails — make sure you stick to the point and do not include too much unnecessary detail.
Or, if they prefer face-to-face meetings, try to schedule regular check-ins so you can stay on top of their priorities and goals.
In addition, it is helpful to learn what makes your boss uncomfortable or unhappy. For instance, if your boss does not like aggressive behavior, avoid becoming overly assertive and instead work through disagreements discreetly.
Paying attention to those small details will make your boss open up to you and trust your suggestions or judgment.
3. Seek clarification if you don’t understand an assignment
Managers can be busy, and sometimes they might not explain something in detail or assume that you already know what they are asking you to do.
So, ask for clarification, and you will avoid miscommunications or misunderstandings. No one is a mind reader – and chances are your boss will not be either.
If you need help understanding an assignment or request from your boss, it is best to seek clarification. This is especially important if the job or request is time-sensitive.
Your boss will appreciate it when you seek clarification if you need help understanding an instruction or request.
4. Maintain a high level of confidentiality
Many people view confidentiality as a critical component of successful management. When sharing information, it is important to remember that some specific details may be sensitive and could potentially jeopardize the success of your project or relationship if that information were to fall into the wrong hands.
Your boss needs to trust you with sensitive information for the company to run effectively. However, sharing that information without proper authorization can jeopardize your boss’s position and even get them in trouble.
So, when you get access to sensitive information from your boss, do not to share it with anyone — including your friends, family, or even on social media.
Maintain a high level of confidentiality and only share what you are authorized to share. This will ensure that your boss can trust you with sensitive responsibilities.
5. Take on tasks that your boss will appreciate
Do your research. Before taking on a new project, ensure you know what your boss is looking for and what will be the most helpful to them.
You can also find out if your boss values short-term results or long-term impact. If your boss focuses on short-term goals, propose a project you can complete quickly with tangible results.
If your boss is more interested in long-term impact, suggest a project that will take longer to complete but will have a bigger payoff.
Be prepared to explain why you think a particular task is essential and how it will benefit the company. And if your boss has questions or concerns, be ready to address them head-on.
When you come to them with a well-thought-out proposal or solution, your boss will see that you are taking the initiative and putting in the effort while considering their needs.
They will also appreciate that you are looking out for their best interests and not just trying to advance your career.
6. Let your boss know whenever you complete a task or project
Your manager wants to know what is going on, even if it is not their direct responsibility. So, let her know whenever you complete a task or project, even if it is under another manager. And do it cleverly!
Do not just say that I completed this task or project. Go into detail about what you have done, how long it has taken, any challenges you have overcome during the process, what skills and knowledge you applied to complete it, and any new insights or lessons learned along the way.
That provides a fuller picture of what you have accomplished and highlights your overall contribution to the project or task.
Read also: 15 Examples of Taking Ownership
7. Frame things in terms of how they will benefit your boss
If you identify areas where your boss may not be as strong, this can provide an excellent opportunity for you to take on help out feel the gaps.
However, how you approach and convince your boss that he needs some help matters — being proactive rather than reactive is critical here.
You want to build a relationship with your boss based on trust, respect, and mutual benefit from working together.
So, approaching your manager in a way that shows how you can add value—not just fill gaps—is essential. When you offer help, try to frame things in terms of how they will benefit your boss.
For example, rather than saying, “I will care of X,” say, “By taking care of X, I will free up valuable time for you to focus on more important things.” This is just one example, but the basic idea is to put yourself in your boss’s shoes and think about what would make their life easier.
Then communicate clearly and convincingly how you can help make that happen. The key is to find ways to make your boss look good and do whatever you can to help them. This shows that you are thinking about how you can help them and meet their needs.
8. Never badmouth your boss to others
Never criticize or badmouth your boss to others — this will only reflect poorly on you. If you have an issue with your boss, discuss it with them privately.
Frame your feedback regarding what your boss can do to improve rather than what they are doing wrong.
For example, “It would help me a lot if you clarified expectations for this project before assigning it to me.” is more helpful than “You never give me any direction.”
Keep your tone respectful, even if you are frustrated — being rude or condescending will only make your boss not listening to your feedback (or worse, fire you).
Always be respectful and courteous, no matter how disappointed you may be. Criticizing or badmouthing your boss to others will only reflect poorly on you.
9. Ask questions no matter how “dumb” they may seem
Do not be afraid to ask your boss questions, no matter how “dumb” they may seem. However, it is crucial to understand that there is a big difference between asking questions for understanding and asking questions to show off or undermine your boss.
Asking the right questions can make you look smart, engaged, and eager to learn. Asking questions to show off will make you look incompetent.
Do your homework first. Make sure you know what you are asking about before you approach your boss. The last thing you want is to seem clueless or unprepared.
Frame your question in a way that shows respect for your boss’s authority and knowledge. For example, “I was wondering if you could explain why we do things this way”. I want to be clear on what you want me to do.
Can you please walk me through all the steps again?” or “I’m sorry if this is a dumb question, but can you explain what ‘x’ means in this context?” are questions that show your genuine interest in understanding something.
The key is to ask questions that demonstrate a genuine interest in learning and improving your skills.
10. Be mindful of your boss’s time
Perhaps your boss is extremely busy, so it is important to be mindful of their time and not overload them with requests or take up too much of their day.
A good rule of thumb is to only ask for their time when necessary, and you have a specific question or request. Bosses are usually busy with many responsibilities and ongoing projects, so keep that in mind.
If you have something that you need to discuss with your boss, schedule a meeting with them only if it is essential.
Come prepared with a list of things that you want to talk about, and be prepared to answer any questions that your boss may have.
Remember to thank your manager for their time during the meeting and follow up afterward if necessary. And always send your boss an email summarizing what you talked about later.
That way, he will have a record of everything discussed and will not have to spend time trying to remember what happened during the meeting.
11. Respond promptly whenever your boss asks you to do something
Always respond promptly and clearly when your boss asks you to do something. This means you should always ensure they understand what you are doing and when you will finish it.
That can create confusion and make your boss question your abilities. If your boss has to ask twice, it will make you look bad — and nobody wants to look bad in front of their boss.
So, think through what they are asking and then provide a concise response outlining what you plan to do and when they can expect to complete it.
If there are any questions or concerns, bring them up as soon as possible, so there is no confusion on either side.
That way, you can assure your boss that the task is in good hands and will be completed on time — exactly what they want to see.
Read more: 11 Good Examples of Showing Initiative
12. Establish clear expectations with your boss early on
Setting clear goals and expectations with your boss is crucial because it will help define the parameters of your relationship.
Knowing what your boss expects from you, you can work to exceed those expectations and build a positive relationship with your manager.
If you are unsure of your boss’s expectations, be bold and ask. It is better to ask for clarification than make assumptions that could lead to problems later.
To establish successful working relationships with your manager, you must first understand what they need from you.
13. Take initiative whenever possible
Managing your boss can be tricky if not done with tact, so you must have a plan and know what will work for any particular situation.
One tactic that can work for you and improve the relationship between yourself and your boss is taking the initiative whenever possible.
Instead of waiting for instructions or permission from your manager, ensure that you proactively tackle issues or make suggestions before being asked to do so.
That shows not only responsibility but also foresight, both qualities that any manager highly values.
It builds up the boss’s confidence in you as an employee when they see how hardworking you are without them having to check up on you every day.
14. Show your willingness to improve
Showing your weaknesses is far from being a sign of weakness. Admitting that you do not know something (or need help with something) shows that you are aware of what you need to learn and willing to take the steps necessary for growth.
It is important to show that you are self-aware and cognisant to realize what areas you need to improve rather than pretending everything is perfect.
That said, being transparent about your weaknesses does not mean wallowing in them or appearing helpless — but showing that you are actively working on improving yourself and growing professionally.
Managing up can build trust between yourself and your manager as they will appreciate your efforts in helping them achieve their goals.
In addition, your hard work will not go unnoticed as your manager will likely recognize your skills when you take proactive steps towards meeting their needs and expectations.
Managing up can open doors for new opportunities within the organization and pave the way for potential promotions soon.