It’s not your boss’s job to be your best friend. And if your boss is driving you crazy, you’re not alone. It’s frustrating when they don’t listen and pay attention to the needs of their teams. And if you’re not managing up, there’s no reason to expect this to change.
The truth is that we redefine our working relationships every day at work – and that’s a pretty big deal. For many of us, that means spending our working hours tiptoeing around management and being careful not to overreach, lest we offend them.
While we want to seem assertive and confident at work, we don’t want to give the impression of insubordination. That’s a genuine fear that keeps many of us from achieving our full potential. It’s important to strike the right balance and get what you need to do your job effectively, without stepping on your manager’s toes.
Managing up is a vital skill that can help you do just that.
No, it isn’t a manipulative strategy – in fact, it maximizes workplace relationships and helps employees nurture their connections with the higher-ups.
Once you learn how to manage a manager, you just might be ready to be a manager. Check out our overviews of leadership roles and see if you have what it takes to move up.
Assertiveness – of the right kind – is key to managing up
When you’re managing up, you also get to guide your boss’s expectations of you.
When your boss asks you to handle something, find out what you’re taking on and how they expect you to work on these tasks.
There’s nothing wrong with tactful pushback. To stick to the deadline your manager gives you, might might have to reshuffle some priorities or push out some other tasks. You may also need some additional resources in order to do the job well. If this is the case, don’t be afraid to say so.
Sit down with your manager or supervisor and tell them in clear terms how you intend to go about it and when they should expect it on their desk. Communication is crucial, and there’s nothing wrong with tactful pushback. To stick to the deadline your manager gives you, might might have to reshuffle some priorities or push out some other tasks. You may also need some additional resources in order to do the job well. If this is the case, don’t be afraid to say so.
Make sure they give you the go-ahead. Once they see your progress and commitment, they’ll be inclined to score you well on your performance review.
Adapt, improvise, overcome
An essential part of managing up is effective communication. 86% of executives say they’ve seen projects fail because of miscommunication.
Some directors want to be CC’d on every little thing. Others prefer weekly status updates. Some bosses are readers – they want detailed reports before they’re ready to discuss – and others would have you brief them yourself.
Not all managers work the same, and not all have the same expectations.
You need to assess your working relationship with your superiors. Be diplomatic in your approach – this isn’t the next season of Game of Thrones. Figure out how they like to be reported to – in person or via email, morning reports, or weekly updates – and stick to it.
Make sure you deliver according to their expectations and talk to them using the channels they prefer – and in a tone they understand. This can bring you more opportunities to rise in ranks than you ever thought possible.
Bridge the gaps
If your boss has issues keeping track of time, help them stay on schedule with reminders. Offer to take responsibility for recurring tasks and ease their workload. Remove obstacles from your supervisor’s way, and your career will advance quickly.
Remove obstacles from your supervisor’s way, and your career will advance quickly.
Go above and beyond to improve your team’s efforts and make good on your performance review. Don’t wait for your boss to tell you what to do, especially if your gut says it should have been done already.
Make your boss look good
No, they aren’t spectacular at everything. Shocker, right? You’re probably asking yourself: when do you step in to help, and where? After all, you wouldn’t want to cross any lines.
But it’s also essential to take initiative. Make it your job to highlight new efforts and possible solutions for your boss to take advantage of. Sure, they might slap their name all over it. But they’ll also appreciate your gesture and learn to value your input. This is a great way to gain valuable experience and make your presence known.
The art of managing up isn’t rocket science – by learning the way your boss operates, you can help them succeed and also accomplish what you need.
Effective two-way communication means you speak the same language: if you’re trying to make a request, speak their language instead of expecting that they’ll learn yours.
Approach your colleagues and superiors with friendliness and cooperation, and they’ll likely respond in kind.