‘Managing up’ might feel like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, but there’s no sorcery involved, just a strategy that anyone can learn. Managing up is the process of consciously working for the mutual benefit of you and your boss. If you have a boss who makes that seem as attractive as dental work, then here are some suggestions that might just help.

According to a US survey, nearly twice as many Americans would be happier at work with a better boss than a pay raise. People are often promoted on the strength of their technical expertise rather than their managerial skills, and not all newly-minted managers are given the support they need to make the transition.

In working with your boss, whether they’re new to the job or a seasoned player, some options are beyond your control. Forget trying to reboot their personality. The best strategy relies on using communication to reframe things.

According to Mary Abbajay, author of Managing Up: How to Move Up, Win at Work, and Succeed with Any Type of Boss, a mutually beneficial relationship is a better approach than simply seeing things in terms of power. Abbajay says this is because “in a relationship, everybody has agency.”

Perhaps you and your boss get along fine. Even so, there are two of you in the relationship and managing your end of it might benefit from a little TLC. In reframing your relationship with your boss, whoever they are, you can find all the advice you need in our Learnflix eLearning course on Managing Up which focuses on three specific steps you can take.

 1) Laying the groundwork

Rather than examining personalities, yours or theirs, better to improve the communication between you. Who are you communicating with? Get to know your boss from their perspective. What are their priorities, challenges and expectations? By understanding the bigger picture, you’ll be better prepared when you communicate with them. By learning to speak your boss’s language, you’re more likely to place your concerns in context, and they’re more likely to hear you.

When you’re ready to speak to your boss about your working relationship, what should you be looking for? Bruce Tulgan, author of It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss, believes that in managing up, employees need four essential things from a boss:

  • Clear expectations
  • The skills needed to perform the job
  • Honest feedback
  • Recognition or rewards

2) Building the relationship

It will help to swap notes with each other on the best way to communicate. Your boss might prefer you to approach them more often than you usually do, or less. They might prefer direct conversations or emails or something else.

Build the relationship by being specific. You might be happy to do the tasks required of you, but when something else comes along your boss needs to know about the clash of priorities. It’s not that you’re rejecting one thing or another, it’s just that you want clarity in managing the challenges you face.

Of course, communication allows for positive suggestions too. Sharing your ideas with your manager helps to develop trust, especially if those ideas speak to the challenges they face.

3) Be the solution

Between them, these communication suggestions will strengthen your position. By striving to be the person who takes the lead on a new project, or who handles a problem or difficulty, you’re making your boss’s life easier. Play it straight. Personal comments, kissing up or trying to gain the upper hand are likely to be counter-productive.

A better alternative is to make yourself known as a stellar employee who gets things done.

Working hard and offering solutions to challenges that you and your boss may share responsibility for will make communication easier still. The goal is a positive relationship. Once you’ve got that, perhaps you will have pulled the rabbit out of a hat after all.


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