How to Successfully Manage Upwards

An employee should learn how to manage upwards, so they can navigate the relationship with their boss in order to make themselves an indispensable resource and get ahead in their career.

To be able to manage upwards means going above and beyond assigned roles to include those that will ease the boss’s work. Managing upwards shows initiative, desire and ability to take on more challenging work.

However, it can be fraught with things that are out of an employee’s control, such as; the possibility of alienating colleagues who are also integral to career success, the boss’ personality and whether they are able to communicate effectively and let an employee know what they need.

In this article, we discuss what you can do to successfully manage upwards. First, here’s what you should do:

Take the time to understand your boss

In order to successfully manage upwards, you must understand your boss on a wide spectrum; from their personality, to their leadership style, their communication style and even their goals.

Knowing these will help you better anticipate their needs, know when to approach them with a new idea and so much more. You might make certain mistakes in the process but be resilient and don’t give up at the first sign of pushback.

Research their role

In addition to understanding your boss, understand their role. Learn what is needed from them on a day to day basis and how they fit in with the company goals and strategic objective. In this way, you will be better able to offer assistance that will help them succeed. This will in turn help you succeed.

In some companies this information will be easily available, or the boss will give an update in a meeting on what everyone, including them, needs to do; this is your time to suggest taking just one thing off their plate. In other companies and with less forthcoming bosses, you might have to do a little research. Ask colleagues, former employees or search the internet.

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Understand what matters most to your boss

When managing upwards, be careful not to squander your time and energy on tasks that rank very low on your boss’ priority list. You might feel that task A is the most crucial when it is indeed task B that the boss needs done in order to get from one level to the next.

At the same time, learn what metrics he or she uses to measure success. Some bosses will rate you based on peer feedback, while others will rely on hard numbers. Familiarise yourself with how they measure success and work with that in mind.

Be proactive

Success at managing upwards leans heavily on being proactive. See a gap that could be filled and offer to fill it without being asked. Or propose a whole new initiative that hadn’t been thought of before. The ability to be proactive will help you build trust with your boss and put you top of mind for when something more challenging comes up.

Being proactive sometimes means acting fast and at a moments’ notice. This doesn’t mean surprising your boss. As we said in the first point, understand your boss. Communicate to them and get their go ahead if necessary, before you act.

Respect your boss’ boundaries

Just because you are working to make the boss work easier doesn’t mean that you should have access to them at all times. Instead, write down what you would like to discuss and schedule at a one on one meeting with your boss. This will give both you and the boss enough time to prepare and handle your other obligations.

Be bold

Sometimes, you will have to rely on your intuition to make certain decisions. Be bold and take calculated risks. It will require you to speak up with an idea or point out a better alternative. Understand that your ideas will not always be green lit, but your boss will recognise your initiative.

Do try and solve problems but being bold also means having the courage to own up when something is getting out of your control. Don’t try to keep it quiet and hope it will go away. Bring it to the boss’s attention so that it can be solved sooner rather than later.

Have a calendar

It is not uncommon to have more than one boss and want to make a good impression on each of them. After all, they may all have an impact on you getting to the next level in the organisation. These might be a line manager, the CEO and even a valued client. In this case, have a well-documented calendar so that nothing slips through the cracks.

Now, here’s what to avoid:

Don’t be a YES person

It is tempting to want to agree with your boss all the time in order to please them. But going along with a plan you know is wrong or saying yes to something you know will fail will make the boss, and yourself in turn look bad. Remember, managing upwards is about helping your boss look good.

How to Successfully Manage Upwards

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Don’t trample on teammates

Don’t fall for the trap that you need to shove others out of the way in order to get the boss’ attention. In a competitive workplace, you will find that you are not the only one trying to succeed by being valuable to the boss. Play fair and let your skills speak for themselves. Undermining other employees in your quest to get ahead could backfire.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew

There will undoubtedly be pressure to prove yourself with your boss but approach managing upwards with care. When you offer to do something, be sure that you have all the resources, including the time to do it. If you end up not delivering, it will make you look unprepared or worse, incompetent.

In Summary

Being able to manage upwards is a good way to grow and excel in your career. Some employees have used it to successfully earn promotions. Others have proven themselves so indispensable that when bosses change jobs, they insist on taking them along.

Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald is a freelance writer with a pen that is keen for entrepreneurship, business and technology. When he isn't writing insightful articles on employee engagement and corporate culture, Gerald can be found writing for a number of media outlets.