Seven Tips For Managing Up

Let's face it -- leaders and managers operate in a demanding climate. Often they are being asked to do more with less. Decisions are constantly scrutinized. A lack of progress and growth could mean that jobs are on the line.

You have great ideas, a command over how certain aspects of your business work, and a hunger to grow within the company. You are trying your hardest to be part of the solution to help your business, and your career, grow. You may even be a fantastic manager for your team. But you tend to run into roadblocks with upper management green lighting new projects or budgets.

Being successful today requires two-way management. "Managing up" is actually much more difficult than managing your team. Here are some tips to help you assess and retool your approach.



Understand the bigger picture. Most of the time you may not be exposed to the bigger picture of your organization. This is a top-down function, and it is understandable that various levels within an organization may only be exposed to a limited amount of information as required to perform their role and responsibilities.

In order to effectively manage up, you must seek to understand more of the bigger picture.  This will prime your ability to frame everything you present to your boss in a more informed and strategic context. Try to learn as much as you can about your business, your category, the market factors and competitive pressures, as well as the internal and external challenges and opportunities. Start by asking the right questions and reading and researching as much as you can. You'll have to fill in some gaps with educated assumptions.

Learn what makes your boss tick. To effectively manage up you must be in sync with the management style of your bosses. Do they prefer to be briefed in narratives or numbers? Do they absorb more of your status updates in person, via email or documentation? What are they accountable for, and how is their performance reviewed? Do they have something to prove or an axe to grind internally? How can you help them look good? How can you help them manage up?

Always maintain a positive attitude.  Never let them see you sweat, even in the heat of conflict or during the inevitable stressful times. Be the shining light that always seeks solutions rather than the finger pointer looking to assign blame or pointing out inadequacies of others. Don't do it for the credit, but be sure that your efforts are known. Be humble, but be strong.

Don't get involved in politics. Don't get involved in politics beyond the scope of your role. However, providing information that helps your boss navigate his/her politics can be very helpful. As you earn your boss's confidence and trust, eventually he/she will open up to you and empower you to become a more valuable asset by helping with internal politics. Don't force it.

Follow the rules:. Be sure to follow the processes and procedures as set out by your boss and the company. Remember that it is your boss' responsibility that you follow the rules, so following the rules does help to make your boss look good. Most procedures are in place for a reason, but if you have constructive feedback about refining company processes or guidelines, speak up and push back. There may be times when you are forced up against a wall that doesn't allow you to achieve your goals, in those cases, see the following tip.

Break the rules. When you are 100% sure of your approach, don't be afraid to break the rules for the benefit of your project or the company. When done properly, this will also help your boss look good. Just remember that failure after you have broken the rules can have a painful downside, including an erosion of your boss's trust. Make sure you're very confident when breaking the rules and be prepared to explain yourself even when you're successful.

Seek more responsibilities. As you continue to prove yourself, ask for more responsibilities. Do a great job. Make yourself indispensable. Make your boss's job easier. Leave your mark. Always remember -- confidence and trust are earned, not simply handed over.

Do you have additional tips for managing up? Add them in the comments or hit me on twitter @jasonheller.


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