5 Tips for “Managing Up”

Regardless of your company, position or level, I’m here to argue your most important job is managing up. What’s that? It’s managing your boss and her equals, her boss and equals and all the senior leaders all the way up the chain.

Yes, they are supposed to provide you with a certain level of direction and management. But for you to be able to do your job well, you need to learn how to manage them. Why? Most senior leaders are busy and sometimes disconnected. They need a little direction and reminders from their people on what to focus on and what’s important. And because each leader has her or his own style, needs and agenda, you’ll need to adapt how you manage up to each person.

It may just seem like extra work, but it will be great for your career – I promise. For one thing, it’s a great way to make yourself indispensable because that leader will remember who made their life easier just because. Working closely with them will also help you learn from their leadership traits and work habits and figure out what you want to adopt and what you definitely don’t.

Even though every leader is different, there are a few managing up strategies I have used successfully for a wide variety of personalities:

  1. Figure out what their biggest priority is AND how you can help. Helping a senior leader with a major initiative is a huge win for them and you. Squeezing their pet project onto your plate can win you allies – as long as they are giving you credit and lifting you up, too. Or sometimes it’s enough when you have the chance to learn something new. A good option for this scenario is to take the “menial” tasks off their plate…such as making a clients’ edits or creating a tracking document. They will appreciate you freeing up their time.
  2. Print out documents for them to review. I know most of us try to be environmentally conscious, but most leaders are too busy to keep up with their emails, so your kick-butt presentation on ways to make that process better will just get lost in the shuffle. You’re better off printing it and leaving it on their chair.
  3. Give them deadlines that aren’t the real deadline. If you know your boss’ boss needs something by Friday, ask your boss for input by Wednesday (and, yes, this means YOU also need to be on top of your game). This way, if she misses Wednesday (and she might/probably will), the whole project is still OK and – bonus! – you look like a hero for giving her more time. J
  4. Follow up (reasonably). If you’re waiting for a response to something, be proactive and follow up! The cadence of when and how often to follow up will depend on the situation and the senior leader you’re dealing with, but trust me – they probably aren’t ignoring you on purpose. They just got busy and temporarily forgot about your project, so you need to get it back in front of them.
  5. Build in face time. The heart of managing up is having a relationship with senior leadership. Managing up will help you build that relationship and you can then lean on that relationship when you need to be firm about a deadline. Following up in person can be the most efficient way to get what you need, especially when you flash your winning smile, but it’s less frightening to do so when you have a personal connection.

What’s your experience with managing up? Any helpful strategies?

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Stephanie (Harig) Prause

Stephanie Prause is a corporate communications, sustainability communications and investor relations professional, juggling a career she thrives in with being a mom and wife. She is also passionate about staying active (as in, she’ll lose her mind otherwise). Other interests include sampling craft beers, cooking from scratch and reading voraciously (at least for about 20 minutes before she passes out mid-sentence).

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Love this post! I’d add in a 6th point – Send lists of discussion points before any one on one meeting so they aren’t caught off guard by anything. Also, even though your one on one time is for you, there may be something there that peaks their interest — and that goes back to point #1

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