The Art of Managing Up

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Everyone has a boss, and our boss has a boss. Even if you are the boss, your alter ego, i.e. your Sasha Fierce (Beyoncé fans, anyone?), is likely your boss. So we’ve all heard the term ‘managing up’. When first starting my career, this term used to confuse me, thinking ‘hold on, I’m supposed to manage my boss? Aren’t they supposed to manage me?’ Well, the quick answer is that you manage each other. Rather than ‘managing up’, I like to think of it as ‘how can I make my boss’s life easier?’ After being in the industry for a few years now, I’ve realised that making my boss’s life easier will indirectly make mine easier. It really is a win-win approach.

Although I’m still learning how to master the skill of ‘managing up’, I think it’s worth sharing a few tips as it’s a useful skill to have no matter where you are in your career. So here we go, presenting the top five insights I’ve picked up along the way:

  1. Beat your boss to it. Your boss shouldn’t have to chase you to ask where something is. From my experience, updating them and keeping them in the loop is usually appreciated (not too much of course). They should feel confident that you are taking the lead and that you’ll let them know if there are any issues. They gave you that task for a reason, help make their life easier by knowing it’s in good hands and will get done, on time of course.
     
  2. Be proactive. If and when you have down time (rare, I know), this is the time to anticipate what might be coming up next. An easy win is when your boss asks you to do something, and your response is “already on it!”
  3. Their time is precious – you think you’re busy? They have just as much on their plate as you, only their tasks are more complex. This means when your boss has five minutes to spare for any questions, this is not the time to begin wondering what it was you had to ask them. You should have your consolidated list of questions ready to fire off quickly. Yes, sometimes in junior to mid-manager roles you get stuck and can’t move forward until you get an answer from above (did I just refer to my boss as an angel?). However, when your time comes to get those questions answered, don’t miss out on your opportunity because you’re not organised. 
  4. Raise your hand when you need to – it shouldn’t be up to your boss to recognise that you have too much on your plate or that you’re getting overwhelmed. If you’re concerned you won’t meet an upcoming deadline or be able to do your best work, take the initiative to let them know in plenty of time. Work together to find a solution; this will likely be better received than missing a deadline and blaming it on the workload.
  5. Show support. Let them know you’re there. Ask if there’s anything you can help with and encourage them to bounce ideas off you. They’re human too and love to know someone’s looking out for them too.

Overall, it’s an art that definitely takes practice. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution, but keep trying until you find a groove that works for the two of you, and the team as a whole. But by creating a genuinely two-way relationship, you’ll ultimately be a force to be reckoned with.

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