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7 min read

The irreplaceable employee’s guide to the art of managing up

Want to make yourself an indispensable team member? Learn the definition of managing up and how to put this career-changing strategy into practice.
From Team '23

Tempo Team

It’s a manager’s job to oversee their direct reports. However, employees who understand the art of managing up play an active role in making their working relationship with their boss as positive and productive as possible.

At its heart, managing up is all about making your manager’s job easier. Not only does this make your job easier, but it also highlights your role as a valuable company asset. Learning how to manage up will give you more control over your career, making you indispensable and helping you get the best possible results for your organization – and for yourself. 

Whether you’re looking to advance your career or just hoping to improve your day-to-day work life, managing up is the next skill to add to your professional toolbox. 

What is managing up?

Managing up means consciously working with your superiors to achieve the best possible results for you, your boss, and your company. Instead of waiting to be told what to do and checking off a task list, you’ll develop a rapport that turns your professional relationship into a two-way street. You can adapt your work style to better fit your manager’s preferences and expectations while earning their trust and respect.

This might sound like sucking up. But the concept of managing upward is all about cultivating a good relationship with your boss to support their success and get you closer to fulfilling your career goals.

11 tips to manage up successfully

Most employees want to become someone their boss knows they can rely on, but how do you turn that desire into a reality? Here are 11 actionable tips for effectively managing up:

1. Get to know your boss’s work style

Does your manager like daily check-ins or end-of-week progress reports? Are they detail-oriented or more focused on the big picture? Are they an early bird or a night owl? Observe your boss’s preferred work style so you can tailor your approach and minimize friction.

2. Get to know your own work style

Self-awareness is a critical part of managing up. Take time to reflect on your own strengths, weaknesses, and habits. Are you naturally proactive, or do you tend to wait for direction? How do you typically respond to feedback or setbacks?

If your work style conflicts with your boss’s, you’ll have to put in a little more effort to get on the same page. Look for places you can adapt while staying true to your own strengths. 

3. Communicate like your boss

Pay attention to how your boss communicates. Is their language direct or indirect? Do they prefer emails or in-person meetings? Mirroring their communication style (while staying true to yourself) will help you interact smoothly and convey information effectively.

4. Know what matters to your manager

Think about your manager’s priorities and how your work fits into the bigger picture. Are they highly focused on deadlines, work quality, or client relationships? Recognizing your boss’s goals, objectives, and values will help you deliver what’s most important to them and avoid inadvertently complicating their workflow.

5. Learn how to say no

Managing up doesn’t mean saying yes to everything. Knowing how to say no will help keep your boss’s expectations reasonable. If you’re overloaded or disagree with their approach to a problem, learn to respectfully push back by walking them through your workload or objections and suggesting alternative timelines or solutions.

6. Talk about solutions, not problems

When you say no – or when you’re dissatisfied with some aspect of your role, workload, or work environment – don’t rush to complain to your boss and expect them to solve the problem. Proactively brainstorm potential solutions to get issues addressed faster. Your manager will be impressed with your initiative and problem-solving skills.

7. Avoid unpleasant surprises

Keep your boss informed on the projects you manage. If they’re not detail-oriented, find a way to provide just enough information to keep their expectations in check and get help when something doesn’t go to plan. 

8. Take initiative

Demonstrating your ability to take initiative is a critical aspect of managing up. Don’t wait for your boss to assign every task. Instead, anticipate their needs, take ownership of projects, and look for places where you can add value.

That said, there’s a fine line between being proactive and overstepping your boundaries. Avoid taking on tasks that belong to your manager or a coworker. If you’re unsure, communicate your willingness to take on a project, making it clear you’re there to help – not to step on toes.

9. Be trustworthy

Managing up isn’t just about looking good or making your job easier. It’s about fostering a mutually beneficial relationship built on trust. Building trust comes from proving yourself to be reliable, honest, and committed to acting with integrity.

10. Be feedback-focused 

View constructive criticism as an opportunity for growth, and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback if your manager doesn’t proactively offer it. They’ll see that you have a desire to improve and grow, and you’ll gain a better understanding of their expectations. When appropriate, don’t be afraid to offer some constructive feedback of your own to make your relationship and outcomes the best they can be.

11. Don’t be afraid to move on

A good manager will recognize and appreciate your efforts to manage up. But some managers are more challenging to work with than others, whether they’re micromanagers, poor communicators, or simply have a personality that clashes with yours.

If you run into this challenge, try extra hard to see things from their perspective. Keep your communications respectful and solution-focused, and clearly document your work in case misunderstandings occur. 

Managing up is a worthwhile skill to develop, even in the face of challenges. But bad bosses do exist. If you consistently find yourself facing extreme difficulties and your good-faith efforts to adapt seem to be hitting a brick wall, it might be time to consider other options within the company (or elsewhere).

How can managing up benefit you?

There’s almost no employee-manager relationship that managing up can’t improve. Most savvy workers will find that this strategy pays off in both the short and long term. Here’s how:

Develops your career

Managing up is excellent for career development. When your manager recognizes your value and commitment, you will likely see better performance reviews and bigger merit-based pay increases. You’ll also have a better shot at promotions and increased opportunities to work on more fulfilling projects.

Creates a positive work environment

A strong relationship with your manager fosters a more supportive and enjoyable workplace, reducing stress and increasing job satisfaction for you and your boss.

Enables better communication

Regular, open communication with your boss can improve your overall work experience and make management easier for both of you. Strengthening your communication muscles will also benefit your other relationships, from coworkers to family and friends.

Increases your visibility

Many people find that managing up increases their visibility across the company, which can make a big difference when new leadership roles open up. Learning to manage up will teach you valuable leadership skills, such as communication, problem-solving, and strategic thinking, preparing you to step into a management position when the opportunity arises.

Collaborate better with Tempo

Managing up isn’t just a strategy for getting ahead; it’s a way to foster a more productive, harmonious, and growth-oriented work environment that helps you deliver key results. Understanding your manager’s priorities, communicating effectively, and demonstrating initiative will build a strong partnership that benefits your entire team.

Tempo Strategic Roadmaps can help. Strategic Roadmaps simplifies the project management process, creating a visual roadmap that breaks down organizational silos and helps the whole team stay on task, making it easier than ever to satisfy stakeholders – and your boss.