“Managing up” can be a misleading—even off-putting—term. It’s often confused with undesirable behaviors like sucking up or manipulating, as if the “managing” employee has somehow figured out how to control their boss like a puppet master with a dummy.
But knowing how to manage up doesn’t make you a brownnoser or a schemer. It makes you an effective employee. That’s because managing up simply means participating in your own management. When you’re managing up, you’re not just showing up and waiting to be told what to do. You’re engaged, thinking ahead and actively building a strong working relationship with your boss. You’re helping your manager do a better job of managing you, which ultimately works in your favor.
Here are a few simple things you can do to start managing up.
Get to know your manager’s style and adapt.
You may be managing up, but your boss is still in charge. Work on understanding their workstyle and do your best to adapt to it. For example, you may naturally be an introvert who prefers to work independently until a project is near completion. But, if your boss is more extroverted, do your best to get comfortable with brainstorming and collaboration, and get used to kicking off every initiative with a big meeting and a whiteboard. If your boss is super detail-oriented, come to meetings prepared to talk about the specifics, even if you’re more of a “big picture” thinker.
Be your own project manager.
A good project manager starts any new project by gaining a clear understanding of goals, expectations, deliverables and timelines. By eliminating any uncertainty from the get-go, the project manager sets themselves up for success.
When it comes to working with your boss, be your own project manager. If you’re unsure about any aspect of an assignment, ask clarifying questions. If your manager doesn’t specify a deadline, suggest one. (“Soon” can mean one day or one week, depending on who you’re talking to.) When you complete a task, ask for feedback. And, be sure to retain and apply that feedback to future projects.
Demonstrate an interest in the bigger picture.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the unique challenges and successes of your individual role. After all, you’re most likely being evaluated on your individual performance. But, a key part of managing up is understanding how your work fits into your company’s bigger mission, as that’s what senior management is focused on.
Pay attention to company updates, and if there’s a quarterly report or corporate newsletter, read it. When appropriate, ask your boss questions about company-wide initiatives and how your work can best support them. It’s also a good idea to keep up with news and current events as they relate to your industry. You never know when a headline or research findings will come in handy.
Provide Back Up.
Even the best managers are imperfect. And the best of the best are aware of their shortcomings and hire employees to do what they can’t.
Your manager’s weakness is your opportunity to become invaluable. If they’re a brilliant creative that’s a little lacking in the organization department, share your knack for creating order out of chaos. For example, if the shared drive has become a random dumping ground that no one (including your manager) can navigate, take the initiative to create an intuitive naming and filing system. Once everything’s looking neat and orderly, send your boss a quick note explaining where they can find the files they need. This kind of gesture adds value and shows that you’re proactive without overstepping any boundaries.
Jenessa Connor is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and young adult author. If you don’t find her in front of her computer, check the local movie theaters and restaurants, Prospect Park or the gym at CrossFit 718.