The idea of “managing up” to your boss might seem like a daunting prospect. It is your boss, after all; shouldn’t they have all the answers and know what’s best? Or maybe you feel like it is not your place to challenge your boss on their decisions or to share your opinions.
Add to this the fact that maybe your boss is not very approachable, or your working relationship has traditionally been more formal. These things can make you hesitant about managing up. And what does managing up really mean?
Managing up is about doing your part to foster a healthy, respectful relationship with your manager – it is a shared accountability.
Why managing up matters
Organizations and businesses that are successful are ones that are also innovative and creative. They welcome diversity in all its forms: diversity of experience, background, culture, ethnicity, gender, disability, and more. With all these differences comes a wealth of diversity of thought, a key driver for innovation.
Now consider this: you were hired because of your unique skills, abilities, accomplishments, and perspectives. What you contribute to your workplace is important and valuable. A good boss understands that and will welcome the perspectives of each person on their team. A great boss seeks out diversity of thought and encourages their direct reports to manage up on a regular basis.
Managers do not have all the answers – they rely on a skilled team to do great work and provide their best advice to achieve organizational goals. A successful team is a sum of its parts.
Managing up is good for everyone
The insights that you have from the work that you do daily is important. These insights can help your team to work more efficiently and can help your boss to be more effective in their role.
If you have a goal to become a manager yourself one day, this is also an opportunity to build your own coaching and leadership skills. In a one-to-one meeting with your boss let them know that you are eager to build your skills in this area. If you haven’t managed up before (or maybe they haven’t been either), this can help your manager to get on board with the idea, too. The two of you can work together to set the framework for how managing up might work.
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How to manage up effectively
Managing up is a skill that you can learn and get better at with practice. Here are some tips to get started:
- Build your credibility You can establish yourself as a trusted advisor to your boss (and your colleagues) by doing consistent, quality work. Become a thought leader in your area of expertise by continually learning and applying a growth-mindset. Anticipate your boss’s needs and be prepared with information that you think they may require for a project or report.
- Understand your boss Identify your boss’s preferred communication style and how they like to work. Do they seem most open to informal, unscheduled conversations in the afternoon? Do they prefer to speak on the phone or are emails a better way to get their attention? Consider how they are most receptive to feedback: do they want you to communicate briefly, do they prefer a longer conversation, or, if you’re already providing feedback on your role and performance in your regular check-in forms, could you add a section dedicated to feedback for them? If you’re not sure, ask them!
- Build a relationship When we have a friendly working relationship, one that is respectful and trusting, we can work more effectively together and we can get through the hard times easier, too. Be intentional about getting to know and understanding your boss: invite them along the next time you make a coffee run or ask them about that trip they have planned for next year. Connecting over small things can help to build trust.
- Lean into the hard conversations Hard conversations can be, well, hard. Telling your boss that you cannot meet a deadline or sharing a different opinion can be challenging. In these situations, it can be helpful to prepare in advance. Consider what you need to say, how you will be most effective with your message, and what you would like as the end result.
With intentionality and practice, managing up effectively can help you to work better with your boss and colleagues, create value for your boss, increase your job satisfaction, and help you to achieve your professional goals – it may even set you up for a promotion to manager!
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