What You Need to Know about Managing up

The relationship you have with your boss can make or break your career. One of the main reasons people leave their jobs is what goes on between them and their immediate supervisors.

You also have a role to play in building a good relationship—it’s not just up to your boss. It’s particularly important to be proactive if you’re in middle management. You’ve probably invested a fair amount of time in your position and nurtured the development of your staff. Here are the steps to take to effectively “manage up” and practice organizational stewardship.

Build Rapport

Getting to know your manager as a person is critical to building trust. This is especially true when you’ve just started reporting to them. Finding appropriate connections bridging the personal and the professional can be particularly helpful.

Ask them questions about their life outside work. Maybe they enjoy sports or serial dramas, love to fish, or belong to a service club. Show an interest and look for common ground where you can. Be curious but don’t overdo it. You’re not trying to develop a friendship; this is not usually a good move.

In addition to fostering camaraderie, you will also want to learn about their previous professional experiences, leadership philosophy, and future professional goals. This will help you anticipate their needs and communicate clearly, helping you work together effectively and preventing workplace friction.

Learn Their Management Approach

Find out what your supervisor’s management style is. What work practices to they follow and how do they interact with their direct reports? They might like to hold morning meetings with their staff. Perhaps they make a habit of walking around the office later in the day, conversing with people. Are they apt to phone you when you’re packing up for home and ask for an update on a project?

By all means take note of their usual routine, but do ask what their expectations are for your availability and how they usually like to communicate. It’s best not to assume. Meet their expectations, but don’t be afraid to be strategic.

For example, you could request regular meetings through their support staff on a schedule that is frequent enough to be useful but not so frequent that it feels redundant or superfluous. Let them know what you need in terms of guidance and direction while being respectful of their time. After a while, take stock together of what’s working.

Understand Priorities

While you’re no doubt familiar with the company’s goals and objectives, you may not fully understand what your immediate supervisor’s responsibilities are. These come in two flavors. First, what’s your boss being held accountable for by the company CEO and second, what pet projects or additional personal objectives do they have?

When it comes to the first set of priorities, ask them if they’re comfortable sharing their formal performance plan with you. This is an invaluable way to ensure your performance goals are fully aligned to support theirs. It shows you the bigger picture—what other goals they’re expected to meet.

Follow this up by asking them exactly what they will rely on you to do to support these goals. You’ll need to drill this down further to prepare your own performance plan, so this is the time to confirm how they’ll measure your accomplishments.

Ask them too about those other unwritten priorities they may have. Remember, the more you understand their role and the pressure they’re under to produce, the more successful you’ll be in meeting the requirements of your position.

Communicate Effectively

There’s much more to communicating then regular meetings you may have with your boss and the times when they reach out to ask you for information. You have knowledge about the work completed by your team that might be helpful to them in other ways.

It could be that you’ve prepared a new monthly report that’s a good vehicle for giving them a snapshot of the status of various projects. Maybe one of your team members has designed a novel prototype that can increase productivity.

Keeping your manager appraised of new developments and providing a quick status update on others can usually be accomplished through email. Communicating well by email is an art. Make sure the subject line is clear, the text is concise and there’s a call to action if necessary. Be sure to check with them at your next in-person meeting how effective this method is and what can be refined for the future.   

Have Their Back

Above all, tell your boss immediately if there’s an urgent matter they need to be aware of. There’s nothing more damaging to your relationship than letting them be blindsided. You need to show that you have their back and you’re prepared to assist.

If you bring a problem forward, ensure that you also suggest a solution or a course of action to find one. You may not always agree with their decisions, but in almost all  circumstances your job is to support your boss and not publicly disagree while providing perspective in a less viable setting.

In short, it takes everyone involved to build a cohesive well-functioning company. If you can practice a few ways to manage up, you’ll increase your job satisfaction and effectiveness dramatically.