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The Do’s and Don’ts of Managing Up, According to an HR Expert

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Your relationship with your boss can determine just about every aspect of your job—including your workload, job satisfaction, and overall career prospects. Given the power differential, much of those things can seem out of your control. That’s where “managing up” comes into play: Managing up is the process of actively managing your relationship and responsibilities with your boss.

As Amy Drader, a management consultant and owner of Growth Partners Consulting, recently wrote in a blog post, “Managing up is about maximizing the most important relationship you have at work, the one with your manager.” It doesn’t mean sucking up, but is about developing a productive rapport with your boss, learning their management style, and actively aligning your work style with theirs to make a more productive working relationship. As Drader writes, “Employees have a lot of power in making choices and taking actions that positively influence the relationship with their boss and thus, improve their satisfaction.”

How to manage up effectively 

As Drader suggests, there are some specific actions that can help improve your relationship with your boss. These ‘do’s’ of managing up include gaining a sense of their preferences so that you can adapt your style; asking clarifying questions and confirming what their expectations are; and offering a sincere thank you when appropriate.

These recommendations can be especially critical if your boss lacks management experience, is unorganized, or has a heavy workload, as they are probably struggling just as much as you are. If this is the case, managing up can help make things easier for your boss, and by extension, you.

What to avoid 

Managing up is about creating a better, more productive relationship with your boss. As UC Merced conflict resolution coach Luke Wiesner wrote in a blog post, there are a number of strategies to avoid, which include not overseeing your boss; not going above their head; and not trying to change their management style.

As Drader also advises, it’s also important not to take things personally—especially if you have a boss who is a micromanager—and you should avoid neglecting your own needs, which can happen if your relationship with your boss is especially difficult. “Depending on the boss, managing up might seem frustrating, labor intensive, or like serving a boss’s ego,” she says. “But look at it a different way by putting yourself in their shoes. What would it be like to work with someone who adapted their style to yours? Pretty good, right? You likely will feel a greater sense of trust because they ‘get you.’ This is the heart of teamwork and collaboration which is exactly what managing up seeks to achieve.”


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