It’s not just the work environment and work quality that defines how well you gel in an organization. The relationship with your manager or supervisor plays a vital role in how you are perceived in the overall organization and how much you enjoy your work.

Having a good relationship with your boss not only makes the job easier but also paves a better career path. However, there are bosses who micromanage, who force the employees to do overtime, and are overall, just bad bosses, the ones on whom corporate legends are spun in the cafeteria. But at the end of the day, fixing a bad boss is not the job of an employee; learning from the mistakes and filling the gaps is. That is where managing up comes into existence and plays an essential role.

Managing up is not a skill that ensures one manages the boss and fills up for the boss’s shortcomings. It simply means using the characteristics of the boss, whether good or bad, to bring out the best in you as an employee.

In this guide, we will discuss start off by understanding what managing ‘managing up’ really means, the pros and cons of managing upwards as well as some simple do’s and don’ts for managing your manager, and finally the best 6 ways of managing up.

What is the definition of managing up?

Managing up refers to establishing a good relationship with your boss. It is a career development method aimed towards the mutual benefits of both you and your manager. It does not mean undue flattery or even outright rebellion. Managing up is about opening a clear channel of communication between you, the employee, and your manager so that you are both on the same page with respect to how often to talk, should it be email, phone or in person, should you reach out to a manager only when you have a question or should you be checking in proactively.

Lauren Mackler, executive coach and author, explains managing up 101 in this video excerpt from Harvard Business School.


Managing up is all about making the best of the situation and the person you are working with, the only difference being that the person here is your immediate boss.

By actively managing up, you are helping your manager to manage you better because of better understanding and clear communication that you establish between you and your manager.

The road to becoming a stellar employee passes through managing up. The better you advocate for yourself, the better you will understand your boss and how well you fit in the big picture. Managing upwards ensures that you develop yourself by being more understanding of the boss’s requirements and her position in the organization.

How to manage up? This question is better answered after we elaborate on why we need to be managing up?

Why do we need to manage up?

Managing upwards requires a certain set of skills. For instance, you must know how to be tactful, you must be curious enough to know beforehand what can make your boss and tick and what does not, and more. However, the need for managing up often arises in one of the following situations:

  • When the boss is indecisive
  • When you turn out to be smarter or have a better answer than the boss (and she cannot take it in a sporting vein)
  • When most of the work takes place on a remote basis and thus there is a gap between you and the supervisor
  • When the boss does not communicate the work needs effectively or there is a lack of understanding your end
  • When the manager talks in a long-winded manner
  • When the boss is new to the team
  • When the boss is an insecure one and somehow perceives you more as a competitor than as a subordinate (rare but real)

In such situations, it’s a good idea to be explicitly managing up. Establishing a clear understanding and creating effective channels of communication so that both parties benefit mutually. Note that this does not mean you always agree with the boss. Disagree if you must, but know how to do it by knowing the boss’s nature and professional commitments and situations. Personal feuds should not affect this relationship.

Once you are aware of the situation when you need to gear up your managing up skills, you need to know whether you are the employee who needs to manage upwards.

What are the traits required for managing up?

Managing upwards requires a certain set of skills in an employee. You can only implement this skill efficiently if you possess the traits required for it. Here are a few:

  • Proactive
  • Solution-oriented
  • Flexible
  • Willing to take up ownership
  • Believes in speaking the uncomfortable truth
  • Knows how to navigate through boss’s difficult personas
  • Willingness to take up particularly difficult projects

Managing up is a skill that can effectively help you advance your career. This is where you can advocate for yourself as an employee, explain how you are a valuable asset to the organization, with an impeccable record of managing the most difficult situations. Managing up makes sure that you save the day when your manager can’t, but in a manner that reflects well on the whole team, thus strengthening the manager-subordinate bond instead of raising rivalries.

Managing upwards requires honesty, diplomacy, and persistence. There is no room for pretenses and flattery here. But, even with all the relevant traits and the required attitude for managing up, how can you do it in the best possible manner? Let’s find out.

What is the best way to manage your manager?

Sometimes, even with the best attitude and relevant temperament, employees fail to effectively scale up their skill of managing upwards. This happens mostly because of them not being aware of how to use their own traits and their knowledge of their boss’s traits to their advantage.

The ultimate goal is to establish an understanding so that it leads to better working and smoother procedures within and outside the team, eventually leading towards achieving organizational goals?

How to manage up in 6 easy steps

Managing up step 1: Know your manager

This is perhaps the most basic yet most important one if you wish to be a pro at managing upwards. Before knowing what you want, gauge what the manager wants and what are the goals and priorities that have been set aside for the team as a whole. Know the virtues and vices of the manager thoroughly and use those to then create your own plan that you can pitch. Make an effort towards understanding your boss and apply that knowledge into understanding the work and creating a schedule that works best.

Managing up step 2: Clear communication

Often in the quest of acing and competing with each other, even with the bosses, employees forget to communicate. Do not do that if you wish to be effective at managing up. Clear all the blocks and make sure you establish a relationship wherein you can communicate anything to your boss without any hesitation. This includes those uncomfortable truths as well which no other employee would dare to utter.

Managing up step 3: Be a reliable resource

Hone yourself into becoming an indispensable and reliable resource, one that can be trusted impeccably. Try being your boss’s go-to person. Win that trust and then use that knowledge and skill to further your own skills and do your work in a better and more efficient manner. This includes leading new projects, offering to do tasks that are otherwise tricky, taking ownership, meeting deadlines, and being overall proactive about work. Becoming a reliable source is important if you want yourself managing upwards just fine.

Managing up step 4: Be a caring person

The lines between personal and professional are blurring. No, this does not mean that both the attitudes and incidents can be mixed. That is a deadly combination. It simply means that professional relationships are no longer cold and distant. There is an informality and casual warmth seeping in. Be a warm and caring employee who can understand the humane aspects of work and responsibilities as well as tackle the professional challenges, if you want to amp up your managing up skills.

Managing up step 5: Be solution-oriented

Managing up is aimed towards creating a solid relationship between you and your manager, in a way that it helps the manager manage you better. This in turn will hone your skills and make you adept at offering solutions. Citing problems is easy. Finding solutions is difficult. Be the person who figures out the problem but is wise and skilled enough to come up with a solution as well.

Managing up step 6: Be fair with feedback

Many are reluctant when it comes to giving feedback to their immediate seniors and managers. However, if you want to manage up in the best way possible, be clear in your feedback. It is important to let the manager know what you are thinking, where are the lags, and more, so that he or she can work on those shortcomings as well.

The first 3 steps above are things you do and the latter 3 steps are actually attitudes you bring to work and take longer to hone. While these 6 best ways to manage up are good skills to practice, you should also be cognizant of surroundings and circumstances while communicating with the manager. For instance, don’t give negative feedback in front of the team. This will certainly not improve your relationship. The key is to apply common sense with professional diplomacy to establish a good relationship with the boss. Only then will you be able to effectively manage upwards.

managing up tips

What not to do while managing up?

Now that you know how to effectively manage up, let’s discuss some minefields you steer clear of.

  • Do not try and cover up for your boss. You are not an accomplice. Your job is to understand the person and her professional traits so that both of you can excel in your career path.
  • Stay far away from office politics. Do not project yourself pompously as the go-to person of the boss, only to use known information as a gossip tool. It is in bad taste and if it becomes known to the boss, can damage your relationship irrevocably.
  • Don’t use your knowledge to manipulate conditions maliciously in your favour. This means not projecting boss’s vices as virtues or even resorting to flattery.
  • Don’t forget to set boundaries. It is extremely important. Sometimes, in the quest of knowing, two people can cross professional boundaries to tumble into a personal relationship. While that is another matter, when it comes to official ones, try not to enter that equation.

The key is to know your boundaries and know the difference between personal and professional relationships. There is no definitive managing up book that can chart out all the solutions for you. It is a behavioural skill that you need to cultivate as per the organization and your boss. Combine it with your personal skills to achieve the best results that you can, whether in terms of personal career trajectory or overall organizational growth.

Also read: Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Baby Boomer: Understanding the Multigenerational Workforce

Are you ready to embrace managing up and become a self-advocate?

As an employee, managing up can significantly boost your career path and hone your skills quite effectively. There are numerous benefits here, such as:

  • A positive and healthy professional relationship with the boss ensures you have a good work-life and not a tiring and redundant one
  • Once you know the skill of effectively managing up, your employee engagement skills improve magnificently
  • Managing up also ensures that your productivity gets a push

Managing upwards might not come naturally to you but by following the does and don’ts we discussed here, you can take your first steps in that direction. By managing up you will take your career places, help your manager to shine, and forge a stronger bond with your supervisor that will last far beyond your current role.

Do tell us about your ‘managing up’ experiences. Tag us @HarmonizeHQ.

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