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7 Steps to Manage Up Effectively

Managing up is the art of building a productive relationship with your manager. Follow these steps to understand your boss's communication style and develop a positive work relationship.


The leading factor influencing employee engagement is widely accepted to be an employee’s relationship with his or her own direct manager. Watch this video (or read the transcript below) to learn seven steps to manage up effectively:

Why managing up is important

If your relationship with your manager is poor, the side effects can actually be quite detrimental…

In fact, Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees can cost the US between 450 to 550 billion dollars each year in lost productivity.

If we know that having a great relationship with your manager is important, it makes sense to look at this topic of managing up. So let’s start with the basics.

What is managing up?

A Wall Street Journal contributor wrote that managing up is the art of “building smooth, productive relationships with higher-ups” and requires understanding and adapting to your boss’s communication and decision-making styles.

We also went to social and asked a few people to tell us their version of managing up. What does managing up mean to them?

John Lewis, product marketer at CIRA said:

“For me, managing up is largely about doing ~monthly strategy syncs so we don’t veer off on different paths. I pull my manager’s long-term vision with partners and leadership, and I push my short-term execution plans. It gets us on the same page!”

On the other hand, Christian Robillard from Carleton University said:

“Managing up is giving your manager a ‘user manual’ for yourself. Sharing what conditions are necessary for you to be at your best, what triggers your worst. Something written so that others can learn from it and challenging your supervisor to do the same in pursuit of mutual understanding.”

You might be thinking to yourself, well, isn’t the manager supposed to be the one who manages? Why should I be having to worry about these things? But I think once you understand the benefits of managing up and you can see the return on that investment, especially for your own career, you’ll really want to do more of it.

At its core, managing up helps you get the resources and acceptance that you’ll need to perform your best work for your boss, and in turn your company.

Let’s spend some time looking at the seven steps that you can use to take control of the relationship that you have with your manager, and start managing up today.

1 Develop a positive relationship with your manager

Get to know your manager as a person. You’re going to spend a lot of time with this person… probably more than your own family. So, ask lots of questions and show interest in your manager’s hobbies, goals, and priorities.

To help you get started, we actually have a blog post that features 200 one-on-one meeting questions that can help you.

2 Understand your manager’s strengths and weaknesses

We recommend making a list of all the strengths and weaknesses that you both know and observe in your manager. And then compare that list to your own. That does mean spending a bit of time looking at what makes you, you, and understanding how that might fit with your manager.

Once you compare those two things together, it will really help you to recognize your manager’s weaknesses, where you can step in, and the weaknesses that you have, and where they might be able to help you out. It also causes a lot less frustration about any weaknesses that do exist and makes you much more willing to help.

3 Show your manager how to leverage your talents

Managing up is the process of taking the best parts of both you and your manager to create a powerhouse of success. But to lean into that, you’re going to have to show them your talents and show them how they can leverage them so that both you and your manager can succeed.

4 Set your own expectations

To meet your manager’s expectations, you really need to identify and share your needs for direction and resources during your one-on-one meetings. They won’t always know. Sometimes they’re buried underneath a mountain of their own things. So it’s really up to you to discuss this with your manager. We recommend doing it face-to-face and ask for feedback just to make sure that you’re both on the same page.

5 Understand your manager’s goals

By understanding your manager’s goals, you will be able to see how your work ties into the group success to make sure that you’re on the same page, similar to how John mentioned earlier how he’s managing up to ensure that he doesn’t veer off onto that wrong path.

6 Anticipate your manager’s needs

Anticipate your manager’s needs by asking for what your manager needs before they think to ask you for it. You’re going to be helpful without looking like you’re sucking up. I know nobody wants to do that.

7 Do your job

Stephen Covey, the author of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People said that effective people do two things: they strive to do excellent work and they prioritize.

Take both of those tenants into your own work and trust me, your manager is going to think you’re a superstar.

Once you’ve put in place these seven steps. There are a few other things you can add to your toolkit to help you effectively manage up.

Bonus: Skills to manage up effectively

  1. Learning how to communicate, listen and observe: As you engage with your boss, try to identify what’s behind his or her words and behavior and the values that underlie them. This will really help you understand who they are as a person and be able to get in alignment with them.
  2. Get comfortable with disagreeing constructively with your manager: Show respect and understanding, but also demonstrate that you care about achieving the best result for the organization. By bringing this constructive feedback to both your manager and the team.
  3. Bring solutions to your manager, not problems: I always like to spend a bit of time with a problem before I actually bring it to my manager so that I can come up with at least a few potential solutions that will help this will alleviate a lot of the stress that often comes along with surfacing one of these problems, and it will show that you’ve already thought through it and you’re trustworthy enough to come up with a solution.
  4. Never take your relationship with your manager for granted: We spend a lot of time with these people and like any significant relationship, it really requires nurturing and periodic reflection, we recommend you do both regularly.

Here are a few links that might be of interest:

Finally, let us know (whether it’s on YouTube or social), what does managing up mean to you, and what is one tip that you think that has helped your relationship with your manager?

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About the author

Erin Blaskie

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