Managing Up: Boss Relationships

The term, “managing up” may be new to you, but if you are successful in your career, you may already be a master at this skill. Managing up refers to an employee being astute enough to understand and respond to the demands facing his boss and even his bosses’ boss.

Often, administrative assistants are masters at managing up. That’s why it is not uncommon to see strong working relationships between senior level managers and their assistants. These administrators have learned to anticipate and react to demands facing their managers sometimes even before the managers are aware of the demands themselves.

Don’t assume that this indicates a subservient or somehow dysfunctional relationship. It does not. Successful employees at all levels of an organization can be skilled at managing up. Further, don’t assume that managing up is a form of manipulation. It’s not. It’s just good business. If you are aware of the demands placed on your management, you can anticipate how your work can support meeting those demands, and you can focus your energies on the most important work.

You may wonder why you should spend time and energy making your bosses’ life easier. Think about it. If you are regarded as the person who knows what’s going on, who can be counted on in a crunch, and who is loyal to your management, you can expect to be valued for these characteristics as well as for your ability to master the nuts and bolts of your job. If, on the other hand, you are the source of problems, disconnects and issues for your manager, even if you are technically competent, you will be a less valued employee.

Another component of managing up has to do with excellent communication skills. A person good at managing up knows when to inform the boss and when not to bother him with details. What you don’t want is for your boss to be blind-sided by an issue you should have told him about. Generally, these issues are those with legal implications or potential for repercussions outside your department or area. Conversely, if you over-communicate with your boss, he will become sort of immune to your messages, not unlike the old “boy who cried wolf” story. Unless your workplace norm is to report every interaction you have, limit your reporting to the boss to what he needs to know to be reasonably informed about significant issues or problems.

So how do you gain this skill if you are not currently good at it? There are certainly no schools or classes to learn how to manage up. But you can observe those in your work place who are clearly masters at doing this and even discuss it with them. You can ask a colleague talented in this area what she does to make sure she’s on top of not only her work load, but the work load of her management. You can ask to attend meetings you don’t currently get involved with. You can educate yourself about tasks and requirements outside your area of expertise. And perhaps most important, you can make sure you understand the needs and challenges your business is facing in general. If there’s a competitor on the horizon, learn about their business. If new regulations or laws are threatening how you do business, become conversant with them. You get the idea.

If it has occurred to you that these actions make you more valuable to your business, you are right. If you have asked yourself why you should provide your business with a more valuable employee, you are on the right track. Downsizing, right-sizing, reorganization, and even corporate sales are here to stay. I would guess that you want to be here to stay as well. By learning your business, not just your job, you become capable of managing up. But you also make yourself a more valuable employee and one who will be more likely to survive the upsets which we all are likely to experience in our work lives today.



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