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The ultimate guide to managing upwards: How can it boost your working relationships?

Learn how to build strong relationships with your superiors, communicate effectively, and navigate organizational dynamics to enhance your career and work satisfaction.

Rose McMillan · February 27, 2024
The ultimate guide to managing upwards: How can it boost your working relationships?

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For most, managing in the workplace seems like a one-way street. But this method often means that direct reports don’t explore their full potential.

When done right, managing up helps your boss improve their managing skills and better support their employees. This can help your whole team to develop, hit their targets, and improve their day-to-day working relationship with your boss.

In this blog, we'll look at what it means, why it's important, and how you can start managing upwards.

What is managing up?

Managing up refers to direct reports working proactively to build positive working relationships with management. It's about understanding their preferences and priorities as well as their working and communication styles.

It requires a set of skills and behaviors that form a mutually beneficial and productive working relationship. By understanding your boss or manager's style and needs through effective communication, you can find ways to make their job easier by standing out as a proactive and valuable employee.

What are the benefits of managing up?

Managing up creates a great working relationship between you and senior team leaders. There a range of benefits that come from having a healthy relationship with your boss including:

Enhanced communication

The first sign of effective upward management is improved communication. Understanding your supervisor's communication style helps you tailor your conversations more effectively,whether that’s through emails, video calls, face-to-face or a team meeting.

Poor communication can cause workplace conflict leading to low morale and poor productivity. One study found that large companies lose around $62.4 million per year due to bad communication, while smaller companies (100 employees and under) lose an average of $420,000.

Better trust and confidence

Every boss will have their own goals or targets that they personally need to hit. As a direct report, it can be beneficial to align with these objectives to show your interest and commitment to the success of the company.

Workers who consistently deliver high-quality work build their boss's confidence in their ability. When your boss and superiors trust and believe in your work, they're more likely to rely on you for more important tasks and responsibilities.

Career development

Managing up requires important business skills like leadership, strategic thinking, and adaptability. These are crucial for career development as they show that you have what it takes to move into a higher-up position.

Building a positive relationship with your senior team leader can open doors to new networking and job opportunities both in your organization and outside it. It also can lead to mentorship opportunities to help you hone your current skills.

Better working relationships

Everyone wants a good working relationship, whether with their boss or peers within their team. Managing up helps foster positive relationships and a collaborative environment where everyone can best understand and support one another.

Better cohesion between colleagues fosters a positive workplace culture by creating a sense of unity and shared understanding.

Recognition and visibility

When your work aligns with your boss's goals, your contribution is more likely to be recognized and appreciated. This recognition can lead to promotions and involvement in high-profile projects resulting in further career development.

Actively seeking feedback from your boss or supervisor can help with this alignment as it creates an opportunity for them to share constructive and actionable feedback. This proactive approach also demonstrates your commitment to professional improvement, ultimately boosting your working reputation.

Organizational success

Managing up helps ensure that individual efforts are aligned with broader organizational strategies. When employees feel aligned with a company's goals and strategies they become more efficient and effective workers. This leads to positive feedback which can boost their levels of job satisfaction.

When employees feel that their manager values their work they're more likely to work in a sustained way to maintain success. When a person has a good working relationship with their manager it's a win-win for both their personal and work life. Good relationships are a big part of a positive work culture and when managers value their workers it boosts their self-esteem.

Adaptability and resilience

Managing up requires staying up to date with changes in the workplace. An adaptable employee can embrace the changes required to overcome future challenges and adapt their current strategy.

Anticipating your supervisor's future needs and adapting to them effectively demonstrates resilience. This is a hugely sought-after skill that makes them a great employee.

How to manage up

Consider the needs of a manager

Ask yourself what is top of mind for your senior leaders. Are there particular goals your department needs to hit? Or is there an ongoing project that you know requires extra focus and attention?

Take a moment to consider things from your boss's point of view, like are there any priorities that you can help to alleviate their workload? This kind of assistance not only frees up more time but highlights the success of your team to other departments.

Ask questions

Think of your boss as an informational resource. Asking key questions about their role can give you excellent insight into how you can better support them as a direct report.

Timing is critical, so try and pick a moment when they're not busy or stressed. When choosing the right questions to ask, consider what it is that you need more clarity on.

An example of questions you could ask include:

  • What is your workday like?
  • What are you currently worried about?
  • What could you use help with?
  • How do my goals support yours?
  • What else can I help with?

Timing is critical, so look for a gap when they have time to talk. A good time to ask these questions is during your one-to-ones or performance reviews.

Determine communication style

Every boss is different, that's why it's important to analyze the things that make them unique. While your old boss may have preferred to communicate via email, your current one might prefer to talk face-to-face.

There are a few ways you can try and determine their preferred method:

  • Observe Preferred Channels: Note if your boss prefers emails, face-to-face, or phone calls.
  • Consider Tone and Formality: Analyze the level of formality and tone used in their messages.
  • Notice Response Time: Observe how quickly your boss responds across different forms of communication.
  • Consider preferred communication methods: Would they prefer to catch up over an email or a face-to-face discussion
  • Ask for feedback: Seek input on your communication style to adapt to suit theirs.
  • Understand decision-making preferences: Observe how they make decisions and communicate outcomes.
  • Consider personality traits: Are they more introverted or extroverted? This could play a big part in their preferred method.
  • Review past interactions: Look for patterns in past interactions and assess which were most successful.
  • Listen actively: Pay attention to language, key points, and non-verbal cues during conversations.

Foster a productive working relationship

It's not just about building a good rapport, a boss needs someone who can share ideas and collaborate when participating in group projects. Acting as a barometer for the team's current needs can help highlight the health of your department and what things can be improved internally. Highlighting these issues early can help your boss adapt and solve an issue before it becomes a real problem.

For example, you may already know that your team won't meet a set deadline, so giving your boss an early heads-up will allow them to intervene and either help or set a later deadline.

Keep a paper trail

In a world of virtual communication, conversational nuances can be easily misunderstood. Aim to summarize phone or virtual discussions in concise emails or project notes to ensure clarity.

This helps avoid any potential misunderstandings and keeps everything professional.

Identify optimal response times

Understand your boss's peak productivity times. If they're more productive in the morning, aim to address issues early on in the work day. If they're a night owl, late-night emails may be more appropriate.

This will help you get on the right footing with your managers and show that you respect their time.

Wrapping up

Fostering a good working relationship can help highlight your value to your boss. By aligning your goals and working to anticipate their needs you can manage up effectively. Happy managers are more willing to help you take the next steps in your career by guiding and supporting your work, making it a win-win for both you and senior leaders.

Communication is key in every part of an organization. Discover how to improve your communications and help both you and your manager succeed with a free 14-day trial with Capsule CRM.