What It Means to Manage up and How to Do It

If you’re focused on career success, you’ve probably heard the phrase managing up. What does it mean? Simply put, it means you manage your boss. You understand and anticipate what your boss wants.

In practice, managing up can mean everything from being the most stellar employee to being the one person who can let your boss know the team workload needs adjustment.

He sees you as the most stellar employee because you understand his priorities and manage your own work in line with them. The boss will adjust team workloads because you can place them in a managerial context — as in, “we won’t meet corporate office goals unless Tim gets freelance help with graphic design and Lesley learns the new software more quickly.”

Bear in mind that managing up does not mean being best friends with your boss. It means genuinely understanding what bosses are charged with doing in the overall corporate structure. All organizations have goals that managers must meet. If they aren’t meeting them, they may be viewed negatively.

So if you want to discuss the possibility of more responsibility in social media, and your boss delays the conversation a month or two, don’t feel like you’ve been put off. Understand it from a managerial perspective. Is it the end of the quarter coming and sales reports are due? If your boss needs to increase sales, determining and analyzing sales figures actually is more important than your career path, but it will influence it if you can help meet the goal.

Sure, all bosses should care about their employees’ career paths. They have to balance that with their mission in the company, though. The more you can help them, the more you’re helping yourself.

Here are six ways to manage up.

1. Know Your Boss’s Mission and Goals

Knowing your boss’s mission and goals is the key building block for developing a managing up plan. You can’t strategically think about how to manage up without knowing what your boss is expected to produce or how he or she is expected to perform.

A manager tasked with developing a mobile application for your company’s products is going to have a very different set of goals from a manager who wants to bring more diversity to human resources. You need to be aware of what those goals are.

2. Figure Out Your Boss’s Type

Devote some time to thinking about what type of boss you have. Results oriented? Delegator? Hands-off? Micromanager?

You need to have a handle on what type your boss is to manage up effectively. A results-oriented boss will be very happy if you convert achievements into measurable results. Talk to them in terms of results, not of process. Say your skills helped sales grow 12 percent, not that the software saved two hours of analysis.

A hands-off manager doesn’t want to know how you fulfilled tasks. They just want to know that you did. A micromanager, frankly, may always want to redo employee tasks slightly. If this is annoying, bite your lip and go with the flow. Part of managing up means letting a manager work comfortably.

3. Be a Great Performer

This is another building block. You always get work done, and it’s top-quality. You know your job inside and out. You get along with the team, and you go above and beyond. You are the go-to person. You don’t let stress affect your work, and your calm helps buoy up the team. Because your work reflects on your boss’s management, high-quality performance is a key part of managing up.

4. Learn Your Boss’s Preferred Communication Method

All bosses you ever have will have a distinctive communication style. Some people love ad hoc conversations with their employees, so asking questions when the boss drops in or is walking down the hallways is fine. It means an open-door policy or flexible communication might be corporate goals.

Others, though, may be very focused on work and maintaining supervisor/supervisee boundaries. An informal question may be seen as just that: too informal. Instead, set up a meeting time with them and come prepared with an agenda to keep things on track.

5. Open Communication Channels

All employees need communication channels with their direct supervisors. However, some may not have them, or not fully. How do you open communication channels if your boss hasn’t fully opened them? That can happen if you need more discussion, training or information to do your job effectively.

Ask your boss for more communication by making it clear you want to meet his departmental goals. More communication is a means to the end of driving performance higher. So if you know sales need to increase, ask what your boss needs from you to make that happen.

6. Develop a Good Working Relationship

While you don’t have to be your boss’s best friend, you do need a good working relationship. Take the time to learn your boss’s background and experiences. These are good to know for how he or she approaches life in general.

Find out if you have mutual interests. Both love soccer, Taylor Swift or playing video games? These can provide great ways to bond.

Managing up means understanding and anticipating what your boss wants and needs. These six strategies will put you on track to manage up.

What’s your favorite strategy for managing up? Share your thoughts and tips in the comments!

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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