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  • Writer's pictureSarah Butler

Managing Upwards: How to Gain the Respect of Your Boss & Advance Your Career

The connection you have with your manager can have a significant impact on your job and your happiness. Since powerful people often have a lot of demands on their time and may need to supervise a large amount of people, you must be the one to invest time in building solid relationships with them.


Having strong and meaningful relationships with the people in charge will enhance your job satisfaction, create a positive work environment, and help you achieve your personal career goals.


So how can you gain the respect and recognition of your manager to give you a greater chance of securing the best projects, better your promotion prospects, get a pay rise, and improve your overall happiness at work? Read on…


Why do I need to manage my manager?

Ideally, we would all be recognised for our skills and knowledge only. However, the reality is perceptions and judgements cloud objectivity. Most often our managers are too busy performing their own jobs, dealing with the machinations of office politics, and managing upwards themselves (if they are savvy) to invest very much time and effort into individual team members.

Your manager just wants you to make their life easy and help them look good by assisting the team to reach its goals, objectives and KPIs.

Your manager may not be a great manager - in fact, they may not even have been given their position because of leadership and management skills; often managers are given their titles because they are very skilled technically and not necessarily emotionally.


Your manager will be time-poor, have many projects on the go at once, and have lots of working relationships to manage. You may not even get along with your boss or think they do a poor job at managing. Factor in that you may only be physically in the same workspace a day or two a week nowadays and it becomes even harder to shine and be recognised. This may also mean you fall a long way down their priority list but it is essential they are at the top of yours.


Managing up is not about 'sucking up' to your boss. It's about learning techniques and strategies to facilitate a productive working relationship that positions yourself as the natural deputy to your manager and an indispensable part of their team.


Accept that your manager is your manager

Your relationship with your manager may not be so good or you may feel that they don't have the necessary skills to be in their position. You may be overly ambitious and feel like you should be in charge. You may even disrespect the lines of authority and attempt to circumvent them, refusing to acknowledge their power and authority over your work. This can cause tension, disharmony and even conflict. If this is the case you are unlikely to 'win' and it may even derail your career. An organisation is not going to support an employee that is damaging morale, creating issues and overstepping bounds.


If you believe you could do a better job than your boss, the wisest thing to do is check your ego. Remember that your manager might have certain skills or experience that you don't or you haven't recognised. Accept your situation, be professional and start managing up to prove your worth to your boss.


Techniques & strategies for managing up

So now you understand the importance of managing your manager, here are some proven methods that can be easily implemented in your working day.


Be an expert at what you do

The best way to gain your manager’s trust is to be an expert at what you do. This means that you have a thorough and comprehensive understanding of your job’s scope and purpose, as well as the best and most efficient ways to accomplish that work.


Whether you’re an engineer, salesperson, accountant, administrative assistant, or other occupation, being an expert at what you do means more than being technically exceptional at your job it also includes that you:

  • Know your company’s mission and your job’s role in achieving that mission

  • Are familiar with your company’s competitors and industry and how your organisation is differentiated from the competition

  • Know your company’s product or service offerings, quality standards, and financial projections

  • Have a good understanding of your company’s culture and how it defines success

  • Have the ability to cooperate, network and collaborate with all areas of the organisation

Identify your manager's style and adapt

Looking at what attributes your manager values and praises in other people is a simple and effective way of developing some of those characteristics for yourself. Ask yourself some of the following questions to assist:

  • Does your manager prefer information delivered as an executive summary or with a high level of detail?

  • How does your manager like to communicate? For example face to face, email, phone, instant messenger or video call? Adapt your communication channels to suit.

  • How does your manager act with their own manager - this may give you clues about how to conduct yourself.

  • What tone or level of formality does your manager communicate with? Match it and take yours one notch up so you don't sound overly familiar.

  • What do your colleagues do that elicits praise or negative feedback from your manager?

  • Does your manager make decisions by themselves or want input from the team? Don't offer your opinions if they are not welcomed, that will cause irritation.

Find any differences in style and adapt yours to match or points of friction and eliminate them.


Bring solutions not problems

Don't 'manage back.' That is, if an issue arises don't just report it back to your manager and leave it with them to resolve. Come armed with possible solutions. This will demonstrate proactiveness, maturity and a commitment to resolving the problem. Even if your proposed solutions aren't used, your manager will appreciate the effort you went to in order to think the problem through and explore the options available.


Make them look good

Obvious, right? Ways to make your manager look good include:

  • Ask for help if you need it. Don't try and 'wing it' if you are struggling. Your manager will appreciate you reaching out early rather than making a mess of things later.

  • Keep them in the loop. Managers do not like surprises so keep them fully up to date. Find out how your manager likes to be updated and accommodate them. For example, they may want to be told immediately or prefer a daily or weekly update. Do they prefer face to face communication or an email or instant message? Learn what are the things that they want to be told of straight away and what can wait.

  • Meet you deadlines every time. Better yet, meet them early and allow time for feedback and revision if possible. Signal to your manager that you are progressing as planned and that meeting the deadline will be achieved - that will be one less thing for them to worry about.

  • Pay attention to the details. Ensure every task is completed to the highest standard. Ask for and openly accept honest feedback from your boss and other experienced colleagues on an ongoing basis to continually up your game.

  • Tell your ideas to your manager first. If they don't run with it, accept it and move on. Don't then seek others in the organisation to tell. You may not know your manager's reasons for not taking up the suggestion - they may have information that you don't. Telling others will just look like you are trying to undermine or circumvent your manager.

  • Demonstrate loyalty. Don't bad mouth your boss. Even if you disagree do so in private with your manager then move on and show a front of unity and agreement. Gossiping will get back to your manager and create a more toxic environment. You as the subordinate and instigator will rarely come off as the 'winner' in these situations.

  • Don't put them in a situation where they have to defend or make excuses for you. If your behaviour causes a situation where they have to defend you, their colleagues and superiors may wonder of they have adequate control of their team and its effectiveness.

Give them all the information they need

A manager's ability to make good decisions depends on having up-to-date, accurate, and reliable data from you and from the people they manage. Act as 'eyes and ears' on team projects, inter-departmental relationships, and the latest company and industry developments. Providing business-critical information to your manager makes you valuable to them. However, don't tell tales or spread rumours. If you do, you may lose the trust of your colleagues, your manager, and other important people in your organisation. Make sure your information is truthful, accurate, relevant, and timely and never hide bad news - remember that managers hate suprises.


Tell them how they can help you best

Make it easy for your manager to best manage you rather than have them have to figure it out. For example, you may work your best for a manager who can help you prioritise or provide information in a certain way so you can understand it easier. Maybe you are a morning person so negotiate with your manager to rearrange your tasks to complete the most important activities early in the day. Be assertive but not demanding. You are passing on information so you can do your absolute best for your boss - not to be difficult.


Acknowledge their own good work

Take the time to authentically recognise when they have done good work. Even though you are their subordinate they will appreciate your comments. However, this must be genuine and not just 'sucking up'. If your manager does something that really helps you ensure you thank them and let them know the positive effect it has had on you,. Like with toddlers you want to positively reinforce good behaviours - even in your boss!


Lastly, don't stop being a superstar

On occasion a manager may feel threatened if you are performing at an exceptional level and use sabotage techniques such as being highly critical and ignoring your ideas. Don't downgrade your efforts - instead let your manager know you are not a threat that you are just trying to work the best you can for them and the good of the team. Be honest, assertive and positive and don't let it affect the quality of your work.


Conclusion

The Harvard Business Review defines managing up as, “Being the most effective employee you can be, creating value for your boss and your company.”


Managing up can be especially critical when you are working with a new manager or have changed jobs. Starting your relationship off on the right foot will be beneficial if you demonstrate these actions right away.


So be an exceptional performer in your job and an outstanding employee by managing up to your manager to maximise your chances of career success and workplace hapiness.

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