Mastering the Art of "Manage Up"

Your job title might not say "supervisor," but everyone in the workplace is a manager of relationships—and the most important relationship you have at work is with your boss. This means you must learn the art of "managing up." What does this term mean, and how can you do it successfully?

Managing the art of managing upSetting the record straight

As you approach your relationship with your supervisor, particularly a new boss, it's critical to remember that both of you carry responsibility for making the relationship a success. Too many employees place all the onus on their boss to make it work. "He doesn't communicate." "She doesn't explain what I need to do." Well, did you communicate with him? Did you ask her what you needed to do? Your boss is a busy person who makes mistakes just like anyone else—and that is why you need to manage up.

Often you'll see advice about managing up in terms of "bad bosses," and while managing up is often the only way to survive a situation where you are vastly more qualified than your supervisor, the same techniques can improve any manager-employee relationship.

The goal of "managing up"

If you think about it, the end goal of managing up is making your supervisor's job easier, which in turn makes your job easier. In a sense, you are greasing the wheels for your boss' success—not in a creepy, brown-nosing way, but in the sense that you are taking care of the basics and then some, so they do not have to. When you come prepared for meetings, communicate in their preferred style, and have answers ready for their questions, you are saving them time and legwork.

Strategies for improving your relationship with your boss

  • Get to know your boss's preferred communication style, strengths, and weaknesses. A tiny bit of observation can pay dividends. For instance, if your boss's emails cut to the chase and contain bullet points, do not send them a wordy treatise on your next project. Keep it short and to the point. On the flip side, if you notice your boss values chit-chat around the coffee machine, make a point to participate. Small talk might feel like wasting time, but your boss might place a high value on interpersonal relationships.
  • Take initiative to make sure your marching orders are clear. When your boss hands off a project, ask where the project falls in terms of priority, particularly if you are juggling a full to-do list. This will help you understand your boss's pressure points and where you should dedicate extra effort. It is also a good idea to follow up your conversation with a written summary of your action plan: "Per our conversation, I'll reach out to so-and-so, and I'll do XYX by this date." Putting this in writing will confirm you and your boss are on the same page, thus saving you both time brought about by misunderstanding later.
  • Look for ways to provide added value. Obviously, you want to keep certain boundaries in place—you do not need to pick up your boss's dry cleaning or set up their home internet. But are there ways you can assist in the workplace? Perhaps you can take over scheduling meetings with other departments, or maybe you can learn a new company-wide software first and develop specific training materials for your team. These are the types of administrative tasks that take up hours of supervisor time and can add up to easy wins for you.
  • Bring solutions to the table, not your problems. Go to your boss for guidance and approval, not to be your fixer. Work hard to make sure the majority of your interactions are positive and solution oriented.

The art of "managing up" is really the art of being a team player.

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