The Do’s and Don’ts of Managing Upwards

11 April 2017

What is upward managing?
Upward managing is simply the people management of your manager and anyone else more senior to you. At first, the concept may seem a bit intimidating but it’s wholly necessary for an effective working relationship and will do wonders for your career.

Here are some do’s and dont’s to help set you on the right path for success.

DO get to know your manager as a person
On a personal level, talking about people’s hobbies and personal likes is a sure way to warm a person up for more serious conversation topics. The feeling that someone knows a bit about you also makes that person seem more trustworthy and approachable. On a professional level, try to establish your manager’s working habits. Do they prefer emails instead of meetings? Do they like quick deadlines or longer and well planned ones? Don’t assume! Are they an introvert or an extrovert? These require different approaches altogether. Figure these things out first and adapt your behaviours towards that person accordingly – it’s never one size fits all.

DO get to know your manager’s priorities
What does your manager notice above everything else? What is she ultimately trying to accomplish at your company? Get on board! One of the biggest communication errors between employees and their managers is getting their priorities straight, because we each value different things. If 2 people are given the same task list you can bet each person will complete the list in a different order of preference. Point is, you can pay attention to all the detail you want, but if you aren’t delivering on your manager’s priorities this will be noted above everything else. Establish (or simply ask) what her priorities are and when they change. Find out where you come in best to support that.

DO take responsibility and accountability for your work
Your manager has to complete all their tasks and ensure you are doing yours, all whilst being chased about overall team performance by senior management. It’s therefore important that you take accountability and responsibility for the tasks you are given to do. You should have weekly meetings with your manager to highlight what you have and haven’t completed and why, including progress reports and causes for inevitable delays. Take steps to always have an explanation for your state of progress. Knowing that an employee has all their tasks in hand (whether complete or not) is the most important thing to a manager. It’s better that you provide an update on work before they chase you for it - even it it's only a 'why' you haven't done something.

Also remember that a relationship is a two-way street, so if there are any issues between you and your manager, don’t be afraid to get practive and set up a private meeting to make the first move.

DON’T be afraid to disagree
One of the most liberating things you can realise in your career is that your manager isn’t always right nor is their way always the best way! Rather than just being a ‘yes’ person and getting bogged down with tasks that aren’t necessary or being done effectively - say something! Take the lead in the job you do. A good manager should welcome the feedback! At best, you’ll be able to negotiate doing things in a way that suits you and be seen as someone who brings fresh ideas to the table.

DON’T push back on your manager without explaining your reasons
Regarding the above point, saying ‘no’ sometimes is healthy, but you have to watch how you do it or you’ll look lazy. Managers don’t like being told ‘no.’ Steer clear of the word ‘No’ or ‘I can’t’ or ‘I won’t.' Dive straight in with your alternative solution with the 'how' and 'why.'

DON’T lie
Your manager is your manager because she is more experienced than you. Point, is you will get caught out. They’ve done it before, they know the tricks and you can spend months or years building trust and lose it in a second. Worse, it may encourage micro-management of you and foster an unhealthy working relationship.

DON'T get involved in office politics
Whilst it may be tempting to share something juicy with your manager to form a 'bonding conversation' or get involved in juicy issues about the office yourself, being involved in office politics can make you look like a gossip, distrustful and come back to bite you at a later date. People love to hear gossip but never trust a gossip!

What upward management tricks have worked for you? Tell us about them in the comments feed!

Catherine Campbell, Projectus Consulting.