Tips for Managing Up

by: Lauren Broussard, Co-Founder, The Memo

My mother first taught me about managing up. That isn’t what she called it, of course, but when I got my first job, she’d tell me stories about her career. She'd share how she went from working in the basement at her company to getting promoted to a number of different roles, and the little things she did to get there. She'd regularly give me suggestions on how to be great at work, and how to get the most done with (or in spite of) whatever boss I had.

So what is managing up, and what does it look like? In short, managing up is managing your manager. It’s gaining an understanding of who it is you’re working for, and figuring out how to work together to achieve results. A former colleague would describe it as “anticipating the needs” of your boss in a way that allows you to move the ball forward on a project or goal -- whether or not they are aware that they were actually the ones holding the play up.

The way you manage up can sometimes depend on what type of boss you’re working with. In many cases, we don’t have much control over who our boss is, but one thing we do know for certain is that no matter who they are, they are a human being with flaws just like us. You might be faced with a first time supervisor, who doesn’t yet know what they are doing (see: me in my first management role); an unorganized manager; an indecisive boss; a well meaning, but ineffective manager; or a downright terrible boss. These are just a few examples. Managing up, and getting to know your boss will help you know things like the best time to approach them with a question, or the best way to articulate your needs to them (i.e. do they prefer a direct approach or something different?)

When you are effective at managing up, your manager will undoubtedly learn something from you as well. In an interview in Forbes, Mary Abbajay -- the author of the book Managing Up -- offers some other good reasons for managing up:

  • It allows you to “practice navigating and influencing people who approach work differently from you.”

  • It gives you the opportunity to discover some do’s and don’ts of management -- you can see what kind of manager you would (or wouldn’t) want to be.

Managing up helps you to be more responsible for the trajectory of your own career. And if you’re a manager, welcoming your team to manage up can help both you and them. I have been so grateful for the people on my teams who managed up (thank you!)-- they made my job easier, they allowed me to see blind spots I wasn't aware of, and I was better able to understand and advocate for their needs.

Last month, we discussed this topic in our slack group. Our group had both employees who had managed up as well as managers who had team members that were managing up. Check out the conversation there, and add your thoughts! What are your best tips for managing up, either as a manager or an employee?