What Does It Mean to Manage Up?

5 min read
Jun 10, 2020


For the most part, employees expect to take direction from their managers. But anyone who’s ever worked for a boss who is disorganized, scatterbrained, or simply overworked knows how difficult it can be to figure out exactly what’s expected of them.

First of all, these aren’t necessarily the traits of a bad boss, but rather the temporary condition of someone who is all over the place (this could happen to the best of us).

After all, managers are also human and need help with decision-making and day-to-day executions.

When your manager is spectacularly swamped — or, like a significant majority of other bosses, simply disengaged — tackling your job responsibilities can be a bit tricky if for no other reason than you might not know precisely what they are.


If you find yourself in such a situation, you generally have two options. You could grit your teeth and try to endure the uncertainty. You could also try your hand at “managing up,” a concept that’s generated increasing attention over the last several years.

Not only can it help out your manager and cultivate a working relationship with them, but it can also pave the path for some serious career development for you.

Let’s take a deeper look at what it all means.

What It Takes to Manage Up

Quite simply, managing up refers to doing whatever you can to make your boss’s job easier by essentially managing your manager. As the Harvard Business Review points out, managing up includes a combination of:

01. Communicating your priority and seeking feedback

Establish a two-way dialogue with your manager and share your priority on a regular basis. Take some time to put together a brief summary of your last week and a quick plan for the next week.

Adopting a lightweight tool like Coach helps facilitate the conversation while keeping your manager in the loop. A quick face-to-face meeting can also work and help you cultivate a good relationship. However, this isn’t always easy — especially if you have a difficult boss. So evaluate everything before you pick a solution.

It's impossible to over-communicate. By actively communicating the progress you’re making, you'll be able to spot roadblocks early on and get things done faster.

02. Being able to anticipate your boss’s needs

Does your boss routinely scramble to put together a PowerPoint presentation for a monthly team meeting due to having a heavily packed schedule?

If so, volunteer to take over that responsibility.

Whenever you’re able to take a small task off your manager’s plate or unburden them by getting around a major pending assignment, they’ll most certainly appreciate you for a job well done and remember it when giving performance reviews.

03. Understanding what makes your boss tick

Once you get to know your boss, you’ll be able to communicate more effectively with them. If, for example, your boss hates communicating via email and loves to talk in person, you’re going to have to go over to their office when you have something important to share.

In other words, you need to adjust to the communication style that your manager prefers. After all, it is all about making your manager’s job easier.

Accommodate your boss’s work style as much as possible. It won’t go unnoticed and will help you create a better relationship with them.

04. Knowing the right way to discuss problems with your boss

Do you have a problem with the way your boss manages the team? Do you have some bad news to share? Is one of your coworkers dropping the ball? Do your team members have too much work on their plates to the point it interferes with their work-life balance?

You certainly don’t want to insult your boss’s managerial style. But you can’t let problems fester out of control.


When bad situations materialize — or, better yet, when you anticipate them brewing — let your boss know in a polite and helpful manner. They will appreciate your initiative.

However, be mindful of the company culture and remember not to overstep your boundaries while offering your honest feedback — one of the dos and don’ts of managing up.

05. Learning how to be a well-rounded source of help

When you establish a trusting, positive relationship with your boss, they may start turning to you for help whenever the need arises. Figure out the areas that your boss struggles with most frequently, and do your best to position yourself as someone who can always pick up the slack when needed.

The easier you’re able to make your boss’s job, the easier your own will become.

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The Undeniable Benefits of Managing Up

As highlighted earlier, managing up doesn’t only benefit your boss. When done right, it creates a win-win situation for both parties.

Let’s take a look at a few of these benefits:

01. Establishes positive employee-employer relationships

As I’ve already discussed above, managing up — whether helping a new manager or someone from the higher-ups — can help you improve your relationship with your supervisor.

They’ll notice your hard-work, applaud your proactive efforts, and with some luck, begin to trust you with important tasks that could help you develop new management skills.

02. Boosts employee engagement

Let’s get one thing straight: Managing up itself is a catalyst for employee engagement.

By definition and logic, employees who are actively engaged would be motivated to take this step, right?

However, here’s the interesting part: A culture of managing up could, in turn, help boost engagement levels — resulting in a more empowered team.

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03. Increases productivity levels

Last, but not least, improved engagement levels, coupled with employee-employer relationships built on trust, would automatically result in higher productivity levels.

Final Thoughts

Remember, managing up doesn’t involve being a suck up. That’s easily detectable and, despite your best intentions, may do more harm than good to your relationship.

But by managing up effectively, you’re bound to get on your boss’s good side. Not only will they respect the effort you’re putting into making their job easier, they’ll recognize your forward-thinking capabilities and keep you in mind the next time a promotion opens up.

And, of course, your own job will become more enjoyable as well.Retention Report



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