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Managing Up at Work: What it Means and How to Do it Successfully

A common misconception is that managing up means ‘sucking up’ and being crafty to secure a promotion.

However, we’re here to tell you this is simply not the case when executed correctly.

It's all about striking the right balance between showing you have the skills to manage and that you're eager to take the next step in your career.

In this blog, we will cover the importance and benefits of 'managing up' in the workplace, top tips for executing it effectively and how it will benefit you and your organisation.

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What is Managing Up in the Workplace?

Managing up in the workplace is the ability to communicate and collaborate effectively with your seniors. This includes exhibiting leadership skills as a method of career development. Consciously working for the mutual benefit of yourself and your boss.

In a nutshell, it's about amplifying your best traits to aid your career advancement, while helping your manager succeed.

Why is Managing Up in the Workplace Important?

When done correctly, managing up will make your manager’s job easier, as well as your own.

If you can communicate and work effectively with your manager, meet all your performance goals and generally be a valuable employee, you should feel more fulfilled with your work life.

By showing you are a valuable employee who can take on additional responsibility, you are securing their trust. Senior leaders are more likely to advocate for you if an opportunity arises.

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The Benefits of Managing Up in the Workplace

1.      Improves your relationship with your manager

Having a good working relationship with your manager will help improve morale, job satisfaction, productivity, and overall happiness. Your manager also holds the key to your career advancement within your organisation. Therefore it is important that you build a positive relationship as they will be the first to advocate for you.

2.      Gives you more control over your own work

Being able to set your own personal goals and tasks gives you a lot more accountability over your own work.

3.      Increased productivity

Managing up essentially means you are taking on more work than usual. Enhancing your performance to deliver the best results for increased productivity.

4.      Helps your career progression and professional development

Managing up will help you stand out as a hard-working employee. This will give you a better chance of being considered for a promotion.

5.      Develops your leadership skills

Taking on more responsibility in your role and completing more advanced tasks is essential. It will give you the opportunity to develop essential leadership skills, such as problem-solving, decision-making, strategic thinking and more.

6.      Increases your value to the company

By being a more productive and positive employee, you will be a more valuable employee to the organisation.

When Should You Manage Up? Five Examples

Knowing exactly when you should step up to the mark is essential. Here are some scenarios where it may be useful to manage up:

1.      When you’re hoping to move up to a more senior position

Managing up gives you the opportunity to convey your leadership skills. This will in turn help to actively demonstrate that you can handle the responsibility that comes with more senior roles.

2.      When you want more responsibility in your role

Taking it upon yourself to ensure that you are progressing at a good pace in your role is highly important.

Additional responsibility is not always given. It requires the initiative to ask for it. This could eventually turn into something more permanent and help advance your career.

3.      When you have a new manager

Helping a new manager find their feet in a new environment can make their transition a lot smoother. At the same time, it will also help establish a positive relationship from day one.

4.      When your manager is overwhelmed

When your manager is snowed under with work, it is important that you are responsive and offer to help wherever possible. This will show you are attentive to your manager’s needs and that you can take on extra work/responsibility. It will also take a lot of pressure off your manager and reassure them they have your support.

5.      When you want to create a better relationship with your manager

Managing up is a good way to develop a stronger working relationship with your manager. This can help boost morale, productivity and your career prospects.

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How to Manage Up at Work in 10 Simple Steps

1.      Know Your Manager’s Communication Style

Understanding how your manager works best enables you to adapt to their communication style to collaborate most effectively with them. Here are some questions that you should be able to answer about your manager:

  • Are they relaxed or do they like constant updates?
  • How often do they like to be updated? Daily? Weekly?
  • When are they most responsive? Are they an early bird? Or a night owl?
  • Do they prefer collaborating or micromanaging?
  • Do they prefer to communicate through email or in person?
  • Are they data-driven or rely on instinct?

2.      Create a Good Relationship with Your Manager

The ability to understand your manager’s communication style is highly important. And knowing exactly what they expect from you as an employee is equally important.

Getting to know your manager as a person is a good starting place. Showing a healthy interest in your manager’s hobbies, priorities and goals will help create a good rapport. This will make communicating with them on a professional level more comfortable.

If you do not already have a good relationship with your manager, it is never too late to create one. Here are some small steps you can take to help boost the working relationship you have with your manager:

  • Set up regular one-to-one meetings: Take the initiative to organise ‘catch-ups’ with your manager to discuss ongoing projects, ideas, and progression towards the organisation’s goals.
  • Start communicating more openly: Being able to be open and honest with your manager is important for achieving the best results. If you disagree with an idea your manager has, don’t be afraid to speak up and make an alternative suggestion.
  • Communicate on a more personal level: Your manager is human too. Taking an interest in what they did at the weekend or learning about their hobbies outside of work shows you care.

3.      Offer to help

If you have the time, ask your boss if they need a hand with anything. This will help your boss and show them that you’re willing to take on more responsibility. It could also widen your responsibilities to include more advanced tasks.

4.      Know Your Manager’s Goals

Another element is to be fully aware of your manager’s objectives. If these are not clear, a one-to-one catch-up may be necessary. This will ensure you are both on the same page and you can complete critical tasks with these goals in mind. It will also show that you are dependable and have the organisation’s best interests at heart.

5.      Be Proactive

Being able to use your initiative when problems arise is essential towards taking preventative measures and controlling them effectively. This ensures that they create zero or minimal damage to the organisation.

This proactive approach will demonstrate to your manager that you are motivated, reliable, and capable of dealing with any unanticipated problems.

6.      Speak Up When Necessary

It is important to maintain an open and honest business relationship with your manager. This includes being able to provide feedback when necessary.

For example, if you feel like your team is taking on too much work, it is important to notify your manager. Approaching them in a genuine and helpful manner regarding the situation will help them act before it becomes uncontrollable.

A survey undertaken by Interact found that ‘69% of employees avoid communicating negative information to their manager. While 37% won't end up communicating that negative information at all.’

Holding back important information will just worsen the situation and damage your manager’s trust in you. So, it is essential that you are always open and communicative.

7.      Anticipate and Intervene

Always be willing to offer additional help where possible and observe which areas you could participate in more regularly.

For example, if you notice your boss is overwhelmed with a particular task, you could jump in and offer to assist. Whether that is proofreading a document, drafting a copy of a report, or completing a time-consuming task. Actively demonstrate your concern for your manager’s time and show you are a valuable and ambitious employee.

8.      Be Patient and See the Bigger Picture

If you think that you are outperforming your manager, think about their decision to hire you. The best leaders fill their organisations with bright and optimistic employees who will excel in their roles.

Remember, feeling impatient in your position is only temporary. It is essential for building up your skills and familiarising yourself with your industry. But eventually, your hard work will help propel you to higher places.

9.      Develop Empathy

Being able to put yourself in your manager’s shoes is a valuable ability. This will help you to better understand their needs and build up trust and an all-around better relationship. Some key questions you might want to ask yourself are:

  • What pressures are they under? 
  • What helps them do their job?
  • What can I do to make their job easier?

EY Consulting undertook a survey in 2021 regarding empathy in the workplace. The study reveals that workers feel that mutual empathy between company leaders and employees leads to increased: efficiency (88%), creativity (87%), job satisfaction (87%), idea sharing (86%), innovation (85%) and even company revenue (83%).

10.  Ask For Feedback and Career Advice

There’s no need to wait for the bi-annual performance reviews or meetings to ask for feedback. You can proactively set up more regular performance meetings to discuss your role.

This will show your manager that you truly care about your role and are passionate about improving. This will also show that you respect and value their opinion/experience to gain advice on your performance and career.

By making your career goals clear, your manager can help drive you towards that destination.

What Not to Do When Managing Up in the Workplace

1.      Be Unauthentic

Constantly pacifying your manager by repeatedly saying “yes”, and pretending that everything is okay, is unproductive for both parties.

To be more supportive, ask questions in times of uncertainty. Or make suggestions, and highlight any problems you might be having.

2.      Attempt to Cover Anything Up

Similarly, trying to hide a mistake that you've made will ruin the trust your manager has in you. Instead, as soon as something goes wrong, own up to the situation instantly.

It could be that your manager will be frustrated at the moment. However, in the long term, your honesty will ensure the situation is resolved quicker. The situation will be able to be controlled before it becomes more complicated. And you will gain a positive and trusting reputation with your manager.

3.      Show Favouritism

Working with the same people every day means that you get comfortable with your co-workers. You may even be closer to some than others. However, this can sometimes come across as favouritism and can increase resentment from others and decrease motivation.

Treating everyone equally, including your manager, is the best way to earn the respect of your colleagues.

Ready to Take the Next Step to Manage Up?

Secure your place on our Leadership Skills for Emerging Managers training course to learn key leadership styles, build your confidence to manage others and build a culture of high performance. 

Kathryn Williams
Marketing Assistant

1+ years of content, social media, and email marketing. Endeavouring to bring the latest, expert-led courses to the forefront for public sector professionals looking to develop their skills and learn new ones.