Managing Up

I was pleased when Geri asked me to write a guest post about managing up. I think it is an important skill that everyone should cultivate, regardless of job level or industry. The following post skims the surface–I look forward to any questions or comments you may have so we can expand the conversation.  -Jen

One of the most important skills any professional can have is that of “managing up,” or Managing Your Manager. While the idea of managing the person who is supposed to manage you may sound contrary, you can also think of it as a beneficial outcome to communication, demonstrated professional integrity, and good consulting skills.

Managing up also is a form of visibility, or presence. As workplaces and teams span locations and more of us work remotely, it is important to remain visible in a positive way. Being top of mind (and showing how responsible, consistent, and good your communication skills are) is a great way to get considered for successively more interesting or challenging projects. Plus, you’re helping to ensure that your manager isn’t caught off-guard when it comes to you or your projects, and that often translates to more latitude (or less micro-managing).

What is it, really?

Managing up will sound like your boss is going to get more out of it than you will. In the short term, that’s probably true. A big part of managing up is to help your manager look good by keeping him apprised of what’s going on with you, your projects, and the team. The benefit to you is that people appreciate it when their staff–or teammates–help them look good. You get the benefit of people wanting you on their teams and the good professional reputation you’ll build in the process.

  • It is a tangible demonstration of your professional integrity. In his book “Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing”, author Harry Beckwith states, “Invest in and religiously preach integrity. It is the heart of your brand. The heart of a service brand – the element without which the brand cannot live – is the integrity of the company and its employees. The value of any brand rises or falls with each demonstration of the company’s integrity.” (p. 155). In this case, rather than thinking of the “company” brand, think of it as your personal brand–the value of your brand rises or falls with each demonstration of your integrity. Giving your boss a heads-up when something didn’t go well, reporting what you have been and will be working on (without it being required), and telling the truth are all demonstrations of personal integrity.
  • Your manager should always be able to answer the question, “What is Judy/the team/the department working on?”. By proactively providing this information, you are helping your manager to look good to his/her peers or boss – and that’s always a good thing.
  • Your manager should never be caught off guard by hearing project news from someone else. Especially if it’s bad news! If something transpires that may result in a call to your boss, make sure he or she hears about it first from you, and not when they are cornered in the company cafeteria or restroom. It may be very uncomfortable to deliver bad news to your boss, but it’s guaranteed to be even less comfortable if they hear about it from someone else–and look uninformed or not in control of their staff/team in the process. By hearing about it before having to have a conversation, they can be better informed and prepared for any conversations that may arise–or have the opportunity to be proactive and nip a potential issue in the bud.
  • Managing up isn’t just for the little guys. This is one skill you’ll always need – everybody has a boss, even if it’s the Board of Directors.

How do I do it?

You might be wondering how this managing-up thing works and how it’s accomplished. Here are a few suggestions based on my own time-tested practices:

  • Provide a weekly status report, even if one isn’t required. Especially, in fact, if one isn’t required. It can be a simple email or one-page document that lists:

– What you accomplished that week

– Any issues or roadblocks

– What you’re working on in the coming week

  • Provide an as-needed update, especially if something significant happens relative to a project. If good or bad news comes up for a project, let them know right away–no need to wait for your weekly status report.
  • Keep it short. The point isn’t to over-burden your managers with minutia. If they want more information, they’ll ask for it.
  • Keep your tone professional. Managing up isn’t about competing with others, it’s about being professional and helping your boss to look good.

Here are a few examples from my own experience and that of friends:

  • “Hey, Jane–I just had a meeting with the stakeholders from Underwriting. They were not happy with the process we’re suggesting for (whatever).” (As business analysts, this will happen, probably more than we’d like it to.)
  • “Hey, Jane–I just met with Customer Service – they were really pleased with ….” (Stop in and deliver some good news, too – especially if something goes better than expected.)
  • “Hi, Stan, here’s some info you’re going to need. You don’t need to go over it now, but you’ll want to have it on hand.” (This was from a friend who works in a contentious engineering environment. After a meeting, he dropped off crucial numbers at his supervisor’s desk. His supervisor was then prepared to deal with the irate visitor he had thirty minutes later.)
  • “Do you have a minute? I was just in a meeting with Art from Accounting and I really lost my patience with him. I want to let you know before you get a phone call.” (Awkward? You bet. But not as awkward as getting called into your boss’s office after s/he gets a phone call from Art or Art’s manager. For best results, be sure you take responsibility for your actions, and let your manager know what you plan to do to remedy the situation. Or, ask for suggestions on the best way to deal with the individual. No matter what sort of jerk the other person may be, you will always look good by taking responsibility for yourself and behaving professionally, which is to say, not whining or blaming.)

Managing up takes some discipline and some courage. You will find that it improves your personal brand and over time is well worth the effort. This is a long-term career investment; get started today!

6 thoughts on “Managing Up

  1. Laura Brandenburg

    Hi Jen, This is a really important message. Oftentimes as employees we feel we are so little in control, but we can control a lot of the messages our managers here and put them in a position of confidence and awareness. As a manager I valued these sort of quick updates and the employees who took the time to give them. There is no worse feeling as a manager than getting caught off guard by something that has happened from within your team’s domain.


  2. Shireen Regal

    Hi Jen,
    I am a firm believer in “Managing Up” – although I’ve never quite labelled it that in the past. All of us are managers at some point in our careers – whether we get the title to go with it or not. And as inelegant as it may sound, if there is one person you need to ‘impress’ – one person that influences the work that you do – it’s your boss and “managing up” allows you to build a strong, productive working relationship. Thanks for the article. I’m looking forward to more discussion around it.

  3. Karie Price | Real World BA™

    Such a great message to get out there! This will go a long way to build trust and strengthen your reputation as a valued team member. And this applies to the manager you report to as well as the project managers you work with. I always let my managers know that I will err on the side of over-communicating with them but that is because I never want them to be blind sided by anything. And I agree that sharing both positive and not-so-positive updates are equally valuable. The positive updates reinforce when a process or procedure is working and your customer is happy; but the not-so-positive updates give everyone a chance to proactively address the issue before it turns into an even bigger problem.

    Thanks, Jen, for starting this conversation!


  4. DougGtheBA

    Well I’ll be damned…there’s actually a name for this action! I’ve been doing this for some time because I felt it made sense and it helped my manager, but I had no idea that there was any formality about it all.

    I would add though there is another facet to this that more closely aligns to the reason that I do it. In my situation, the manager is in desperate need of assistance to properly manager a team that has floundered due to lack of guidance under this person’s leadership. So, we on the staff were faced with continuing to struggle as a result of poor leadership or we could become part of the resolution and help to craft a manager that would serve us well. We chose thee latter and provided advice on how to engage us …the staff analysts..what is important to us, what we actually do, what we need to succeed, where or value lies, etc…

    The result after a year has been a dramatic change in the manager’s ability to manage. Things aren’t perfect by any means but much better and we analysts are not trying to find the nearest exit.

    Thanks so much fort this enlightenment!


  5. Mario Solundo

    Great article! I have always been struggling with my boss about reporting. I come from a technical background where all my tasks where by tickets and the outcomes were obvious. When I moved to BA role I started struggling in reporting my weekly outcomes. Although I felt I was doing great job I did not fill the recognition for that since I was kind of on shadow. Some people including my mentors always asked me to “sell myself” which was kind of in contradiction to my humble education of letting others value what you do. With this article I was able to shift my perception. I have started implementing your advice believing that one day I will be posting here my comments on the results I have ripped.

  6. Nathan

    Thank you for this tip I will use it to increase communication between me and my manager or collaborating with a project manager.

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