If you think your relationship with your manager is a one-way street with the manager doing all the delegating and you doing all the following, think again! The employee-manager relationship should be mutually beneficial, with both of you working toward goals that benefit you, your boss, and the team as a whole.
Countless articles and informational sessions have been devoted to the what, how, and why of managing employees. But what about managing your manager? Called managing up, this important career development strategy is an incredibly valuable skill that can benefit your career in a variety of ways.
What Is Managing Up?
Managing up is consciously establishing a good working relationship with your boss to ensure mutual success. It includes training your boss (if you want to call it that) about your job, about you, and how to best utilize you as a resource. At the same time, you want to learn how to work most effectively with your boss, taking into account such things as personality preferences and learning style.
To a casual observer, managing up could sound like “sucking” up to or manipulating your boss—but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Managing up is just as much about bringing out your best traits as it is about helping your manager succeed. Good relationships will be the most critical success factor in your career, and one of the most important relationships to establish is with your boss.
Managing Up vs. Managing Down
Just as it sounds, managing down—overseeing employees who report to you—is what you may traditionally think of management. If you’re in a management position, though, you’ll have to figure out a way to manage up and manage down while looking out for yourself and responding to the needs of your team.
If you don’t have any management responsibilities or direct report staff, then managing up and working together with your manager to find success should be your main goal.
How to Manage Up
From leadership roles to hourly employees, everyone answers to someone, so learning how to manage up is beneficial no matter your level of employment. Here’s how.
Understand What Your Manager Wants
Step one is to have a clear understanding of your manager’s goals and priorities for their team, including you. This knowledge will make it easier to prioritize and focus on the things that matter most to your boss. If, for example, you know that client retention rate in the company is really important, you know where the majority of your effort should be.
Establish a Two-Way Dialogue
Communicating your priorities and goals and seeking feedback on your work are essential for creating open lines of communication that can prevent roadblocks and set you both on the path to success. Make sure you understand your boss’ preferred communication style and methods to give you the best chance of being heard.
Anticipate Their Needs
A significant aspect of managing up is being able to empathize with your manager, put yourself in their shoes, and anticipate their needs. If you can take some work off their plate before they even know it needs doing, you’ll be helping yourself, your boss, and the business as a whole. Managers appreciate this kind of forward thinking and will likely remember it when it’s time to discuss performance.
Be Dependable and Reliable
Show your boss how they can rely on you by being their go-to person. Offer to take the lead on new projects, come up with solutions to a problem, or volunteer to liaise with other departments to expedite workflows. Anything you can do to prove your abilities to follow through will make it more likely that your boss will turn to you when they need help with something. If you can pick up the slack and make their job easier, your job will also become easier.
Present Solutions, Not Problems
The whole point of managing up is to help your manager help you be the best employee you can be, so the last thing you want to do is add more complications to their (likely already heavy) workload. When your manager comes to you with a problem, or you encounter an issue that needs their input, be prepared to brainstorm solutions. This will make you a useful resource who can be depended on to think on your feet and make things easier.
Be Caring and Tactful
It’s important to remember that your manager is a person, too, with their own issues and insecurities. Just as they should with you, take the time to really get to know them and what makes them tick, and carry that knowledge into all your interactions. And when bringing up concerns or issues, come from a place of observation, fallibility, and curiosity—your genuine interest will shine through.
Benefits of Managing Up
Managing up in the workplace is a win-win situation. Both employees and their managers benefit, and the results trickle down from team to team. Here are four benefits of managing up.
1. Improves Your Relationship With Your Manager
Your work relationships are a lot like family relationships—you don’t always get to choose who you work with, and personalities might not always mesh like you’d hope. Managing up helps you find common ground with a manager who doesn’t necessarily think the same way you do. It can also help improve the relationship between you and your boss, which can lead to increased trust and the ability to take on more important tasks.
2. Gives You More Ownership Over Your Work
By managing up, you take control of your own goals and workload, instead of relying on your manager to set them for you. When you are in the driver’s seat for your career, you’ll feel empowered, which increases job satisfaction and engagement.
3. Increases Your Productivity
There’s no doubt about it—when you have a good relationship with your manager and are working together to help each other achieve your goals, you’ll feel motivated to go the extra mile. Increased engagement and trust between managers and employees leads to increased productivity and better performance.
4. Helps You Move Up
When you manage up, you’re demonstrating to your manager that you can be self-sufficient and take on additional responsibility. And, if you know and support your manager’s priorities and help them achieve their goals, they’ll be more likely to advocate for you when you are looking to take on more.
Things to Avoid When Managing Up
As with everything in business, managing up requires careful consideration to avoid any missteps that could have a negative impact on your career.
1. Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep
Sometimes it can be tempting to raise your hand for a big project that might be a little beyond your capability or that you don’t really have the time or resources to complete. If you are asked to take on something outside of your normal scope of responsibility, be very honest with yourself and your boss about what you can handle. Promising something you can’t deliver on will definitely not impress your boss.
2. Don’t Forget to Set Boundaries
As much as you should volunteer to take on projects when you’re managing up, remember to set boundaries, so you aren’t taken advantage of. Fortunately, most bosses will genuinely recognize your efforts and drive, but there are undoubtedly a few who may see your willingness to help as an invitation to pile the work on—with no intention of having your back.
3. Avoid Workplace Politics
When you work with the same group of people for 40 or more hours a week, you’re bound to develop some personal relationships. But do whatever you can to not get caught up in workplace politics or favoritism that can derail your career goals. Stay professional and treat everyone fairly (this includes your manager!), and you’ll stay out of the sticky stuff.
4. Don’t Be a Suck Up
There’s a big difference between managing up and sucking up, so always make sure to stay on the (managing) up and up when you’re establishing a professional relationship with your boss. Your goal should be to honestly and genuinely provide your manager with the constructive feedback and information they need to help the entire team succeed, not empty compliments or unrealistic offers that do nothing more than make you seem disingenuous.
5. Don’t Overstep
In the subtle art of managing up, there’s a fine line between “training” your boss and overstepping boundaries. While your intentions may be purely well-meaning, if you come across as overly challenging or seem like you’re trying to take over your manager’s job, it can backfire. Show that you respect your manager’s position and authority, and always ask before taking on responsibilities that usually fall to them. You should also understand that you may not have the context that they have on a project.
6. Don’t Pass the Blame
Managing up is all about building trust with your manager and seeking feedback when you need help. Everyone makes mistakes, so when something goes wrong, avoid the temptation to cover it up or blame someone else. Establishing yourself as an employee who takes ownership of both your wins and your losses makes you a trustworthy and valuable resource.
Manage Up Your Career
It may seem complicated, but when you break it down, managing up is really just about being the best employee you can possibly be, so that you add value to the entire team. Yes, it’ll take some time to establish the communication pathways you need to build trust with your manager, but your efforts will be well worth it. And if you commit to making managing up a part of your job skill set moving forward, you’ll be amazed at how it can accelerate your career!
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