Mastering the Art of Managing Up

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Every time you meet with your boss, you’re redefining your relationship. That’s a lot of pressure; if you offend them, it could set your career back. “Managing up,” so to speak, is a vital skill, no matter where you stand on the corporate ladder.

“Tech people often labor under the assumption that if they keep their heads down and do a good job, their careers will flourish,” said Bud Bilanich, a career coach and author based in Denver. “They lose sight of the fact that the world runs on relationships and they need to be mindful of how they’re interacting.”

Here are seven tips to help master the art of managing up.

Adapt Your Communications Style

Keeping your boss informed is a critical part of managing up. But how you communicate matters, too.

Take note of your boss’s communications style, advised Cheryl Marquez, a San Francisco-based interactive content manager who handles projects for major tech firms. “Some directors want to be cc’d on everything, while others only want a weekly status report or summary,” she said. “And you may need a one-on-one meeting to escalate an issue if your manager is too busy to read your reports.”

To garner support for your ideas, tailor your message for your audience. For instance, when pitching a manager with a business or finance background, make sure to emphasize the top- and bottom-line improvements in you proposal. In a similar vein, when talking to engineering managers and CTOs, emphasize the technological aspects.

Make Your Boss Look Good

Making your boss look good can boost your career. Remember, your boss won’t be good at everything. Your job is to figure out where you can provide support, fill gaps and make his or her life easier. Plus, serving as second chair is a great way to develop your strengths and gain valuable experience.

Provide Solutions, Not Just Problems

Balancing problems with solutions can position you as a positive and optimistic force in the workplace, instead of an unwelcome bearer of bad news. “I always propose a way to resolve a problem when I mention something that didn’t work during a project debrief or hindsight report,” Marquez said.

Your boss isn’t as close to the problem as you are, so he or she may not understand why the problem occurred or how to fix it. It’s your job to solve problems and learn from them.

Put Yourself in Your Boss’s Shoes

Instead of becoming frustrated with your boss’s decisions, try to understand the challenges she’s facing and realize that there’s more than one way to reach the finish line. Hone your style by noting her strengths and opportunities for improvement. Believe it or not, sometimes you can learn more from a bad boss than a good one. 

Anticipate

Don’t wait for your boss to ask you to do something, especially if you work in a collaborative environment, Marquez said. Learn to anticipate and meet your boss’s expectations.

For example, Marquez takes the initiative to conduct peer training when she’s involved with a product launch. And she’ll set up a one-on-one with an inexperienced manager to explain her choice of Web analytics metrics, without being asked.

Don’t Pout; Work it Out

Don’t sulk in your cubicle if your manager rejects your project proposal, Bilanich suggested: “Turn a negative into a positive by coming up a better idea.”

It’s All Political

Don’t think of managing up as brown-nosing or playing politics; all organizations are political. “Forging relationships with senior people is just smart career management,” Bilanich said. “And being adept at managing up gives you greater control over your own destiny.”

Image Credit: Tond Van Graphcraft/Shutterstock.com

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