When you envisioned yourself as part of the work world, you probably spent a lot of time worrying about how to interact with your future boss. What kind of employee would you be? How would you handle criticism? How would you prove your worth within the organization? How would you learn to bounce back from your mistakes? And perhaps most importantly, how would you handle being managed by someone (who wasn’t your mom or a teacher)? Now that you have a job, you’re most likely used to the idea of being managed by a boss, but the truth is that management can work in multiple directions. “Managing up” is also a crucial skill, and it requires you to implement a range of strategies to help your boss be more effective.
“My definition of [managing up] is deliberately and proactively taking the time to better understand a senior leader’s personality, interests, and weaknesses to optimize success for all,” says Dana Brownlee, founder of professional development and management consulting company Professionalism Matters, Inc.
Effectively managing up requires you to anticipate and prevent problems, adjust your approach so you can better work with your manager, take on less desirable projects, speak up for what you believe in, and navigate difficult personalities and situations. While this can admittedly sound a bit overwhelming, doing it can help distinguish you on the job and build a stronger bond with your manager, who — let’s face it! — is at least partially responsible for your professional future.
“When you don’t [manage up], you’re a bit of a victim to the whims and weaknesses of your manager,” Brownlee tells us. “When you manage up, you’re compensating for some of their weakness, filling in gaps, and stepping up to the plate to make both of you more successful.”
Keep scrolling for nine of Brownlee’s expert tips for managing up. Starting small is key, so if you’re nervous about the process, try taking on just one or two of these suggestions at a time.
1. Understand your manager’s preferred method of communication. Helping your boss to be her most effective requires you to have an understanding of how she works best — and that starts with communication. Assess if your manager prefers to communicate face-to-face or via phone, email, IM, or text. If you can’t figure this out simply by observing her work, don’t be afraid to ask. Brownlee suggests bringing it up when there’s a relevant situation, such as when your boss asks you to share with her the results of a research project you’ve been working on. You could say something like: “Would you rather I email them to you, or should I set up a time for us to talk about it in-person?” Ask enough questions like this and pay attention to how other people in the office communicate with your manager, and you’ll be well on your way to maximizing your own communication with her.
2. Figure out the best way to present information. Some managers want you to lead with the bottom line and follow up with the details, while others respond better to the opposite. Managers will also vary in terms of their attention span, whether they like to take in information visually or verbally, and how direct or nuanced they prefer to be. If you want to be a managing-up pro, you need to become an expert on all of these intricacies with respect to your manager. “Figuring out how your boss prefers to be communicated with is a huge step forward in your ability to work with them more effectively,” Brownlee says.
3. Be proactive about meeting agendas. Before meetings, email your boss and ask her to share a list of the items she’d like to achieve while the team is together. Organize that information into an agenda and distribute it to other attendees. Doing this will make you invaluable to your manager, since it will allow her to lead meetings and conversations more effectively and efficiently.
4. Offer to take on more responsibility for organizing meetings. “If meetings are somewhat disorganized, ask if she would like your assistance developing agendas or tracking action items,” Brownlee suggests. Chances are that your boss will be thrilled (and not at all offended) by your offer, especially if she’s not someone who thrives on running meetings.
5. Volunteer to coordinate logistics as a follow-up to any meeting. If there are tasks or projects that come up as follow-up from a meeting, you should be the first one to offer to coordinate the relevant logistics. Let no administrative task be below you! Schedule any follow-up meetings, distribute related documents, and make sure that everyone involved understands what they need to do next. Over time, you’ll develop instincts about how to coordinate this kind of follow-up, building your boss’s trust in you.
6. Step up to handle time-consuming tasks. In order to help your boss be her most effective, you might occasionally need to step out of your proverbial lane and add a little extra work to your own pile so she can focus on the tasks that only she can do. Volunteer to conduct research or to write the first draft of an upcoming presentation. Your manager will likely need to put the finishing touches on your project, but taking some initial work off her plate will go a long way.
7. Make your manager aware of potential risks and problems. People often become less engaged with the more minor details of day-to-day projects as they rise higher within an organization, so your manager might not be aware of potential issues to the extent that you are. Present these risks and problems to your manager (calmly!) so they can get ahead of them and avoid major fallout. Doing this will also likely save you some stress and work in the long run.
8. Maintain your own task list. Don’t rely on your manager’s to-do lists for cues on what you need to get done. Start and maintain your own task list so that you’re always a step ahead of your schedule and your boss’s expectations. Extra points if you get into the habit of proactively checking in with your boss and updating her on your progress.
9. Volunteer to pitch in on projects that cater to your specific skills — and empower others to do the same. Awesome at designing presentations? Great at running numbers? Even if these tasks don’t technically fall within your job description, taking them on is a great way to lend additional support to your manager. Consider how your skill set might fill in the gaps in hers, or how your talents could supplement hers in the projects that she hates doing the most. Take it even further by volunteering to help others finesse these skills in one-on-one sessions or a casual group training.
Do you find yourself managing up a lot on the job? What are your tips to help make it easier? Tweet us @BritandCo!
(Photo via Getty)