If you have been in the working world for any length of time, chances are good that at some point you have encountered managers, executives, or even board members who were challenging to deal with. Some people, when faced with a difficult boss or other higher-ups, are tempted to throw in the towel and find a new job. However, there is no guarantee that the grass will be any greener anywhere else.
A better strategy is to learn to “manage up” effectively. Whether you are dealing with someone who is new, disorganized, does not communicate well, has overextended themselves, or is simply not competent in their role, managing up can help you manage the relationship and find more satisfaction in your role. Managing up does not mean always saying “yes” and simply going along with everything the other person says. Instead, it is about building solid working relationships with the people who have seniority in your organization, establishing trust, and taking more control over your work environment.
While every interpersonal relationship and workplace situation can be different, the following tips may help you perfect the art of managing up:
1. Seek to understand where your boss is coming from; then, seek to understand yourself.
When you are dealing with your direct supervisor, the first step in managing up lies in how well you understand her. What are her strengths and weaknesses? What are the pressures she is under from her boss? What are her goals? When you understand these things, you can see how your projects and work fit into the bigger picture.
Understanding your boss’s viewpoint, goals, preferred work styles, and frustrations are important, but it is just as important to take an objective look at your own strengths, weaknesses, and work preferences. How do they align with what you learned about your supervisor? How are they complementary? When you are able to identify where your styles mesh and where they conflict, you will be better positioned to find and utilize common ground.
2. Look at and adapt to your supervisor’s communication preferences.
Because so much of the employer/employee dynamic revolves around communication, it is critical to approach interactions using methods your supervisor is likely to be receptive to. Take a close look at your boss’s communication style. Does she seem to prefer ad hoc meetings or detailed written summaries? Does she prefer morning meetings over afternoons?
When you are managing up, you need your supervisor to be able to understand what you are saying. If you know your direct supervisor prefers scheduled, face-to-face meetings over memos or emails, adapt to her preference. Even if you prefer written communication. Communicating regularly and effectively is key to building and establishing relationships where you can provide input and influence.
3. Respect your supervisor’s time.
Managing up means building working relationships with the people you want to influence, finding ways to add value, to help them be more effective, and to fill in gaps. However, be respectful when it comes to your supervisor’s (or other leader’s) time. Be on time for meetings and try to adjourn them on time too. When you owe the person a response or a deliverable, do everything possible to meet deadlines. Showing others that you are responsible, reliable, and a team player goes a long way in building trust.
4. Outperform your personal job responsibilities.
Resist the temptation to let your job performance slide because your manager or others at the top are not as effective at their jobs as you think they should be. Do your job and do it well. Outperforming expectations for your role will help you create value and stand out for your boss and for upline supervisors. This makes your boss look good, which in turn can help solidify your relationship and increase your ability to influence your manager’s actions.
5. Watch your attitude.
Try to keep your attitude positive at the office. This can be a challenge, but your chances of building and maintaining a productive working relationship will be better when you stay professional. The American Psychological Association suggests: “… manage your own negative emotions regarding his/her behavior so that you do not engage in self-defeating behavior (e.g. stonewalling or counter-attacking your boss.)”
6. Apply these tips to working relationships with others.
When it comes to the board of directors for your organization, managing up also means developing credibility with board members individually and with others in the executive suite. If you do not have the support or trust of other senior leaders, your ability to influence the board will be limited at best.
While the above tips primarily address ways to manage up to your direct supervisor, you can also apply them to relationships with other senior executives in your organization and members of the board of directors. Understand your audience, adapt your messaging style to meet their preferred communication style, know what their goals and pressures are, and look for opportunities to create positive value and goodwill by anticipating what they need from you.
Are You Managing Up Effectively?
Being able to manage up effectively is not something that comes naturally to everyone, but it is a skill that nearly everyone can develop and hone. Taking more control over your work and focusing on improving relationships with supervisors and other leaders should make you more valuable to your organization. The end result is to become more engaged and fulfilled in your work.
- Flaxington, Beverly D. (Apr 29, 2013) “Eight Ways to Manage Up Effectively,” www.psychologytoday.com
- Berkeley Human Resources “Relationship-Building: Managing Up,” www.hr.berkeley.edu
- Rousmaniere, Dana (January 23, 2015) “What Everyone Should Know About Managing Up,” www.hbr.org
- Useem, Michael (December 9, 2014) “How CEOs Can Best Manage Their Boards,” www.hbr.org
- McLeod, Lea, “10 Ways to Get Your Boss to Trust You Completely” www.themuse.com
- Prevost, Shelley (September 26, 2013) “25 Revealing Questions That Build Better Work Relationships,” www.inc.com
- Duncan, Rodger Dean (May 26, 2018) “Why Managing Up Is A Skill Set You Need,” www.forbes.com