7 ways to manage up


Managing up is the best tactic for getting more interesting work, more responsibility, and more sane work hours, because your boss is the one who can give you this stuff.

Some people think managing up is brown nosing, but in fact, a lot of it is about humanizing the workplace. Managing up is about you caring for your boss, and the result will be your boss caring for you. Here are seven ways to make that happen:

Know what matters to your boss. If your boss is a numbers person, then quantify all your results. And know which numbers matter most to him. All numbers people have their pet line items. If your boss is a customer-is-first kind of guy, frame all your results in terms of benefits to customers. Let’s say, though, that you are working on a project that is impossible to frame in terms of the customer. Then ask yourself why you’re working on it for a customer-oriented boss. It probably isn’t a high priority for him, so it shouldn’t be a high priority for you.

Say no. Say yes to the things that matter most to your boss. Say no to everything else and your boss will appreciate that you are focused on her needs. Remember that your boss doesn’t always know everything you’ve got on your plate. So when she asks you to do something that you don’t have time to do, ask your boss about her priorities. Let her know that you want to make sure you finish what is most important, and this will probably mean saying no to the lesser projects.

Talk like your boss. If your boss likes daily e-mails, send them. If your boss wants a once-a-week summary, then do that. Convey information to your boss in the way she likes so that she’s more likely to retain it. Be aware of detail thresholds, too. Some people like a lot and some people like none. A good way to figure out what your boss wants is to watch how she communicates with you. She’s probably doing it the way she likes best.

Toot your own horn. Each time you do something that impacts the company, let your boss know. Leave a voicemail announcing a project went through. Send a congratulation e-mail to your team and copy your boss, which not only draws attention to your project success but also to your leadership skills. Whatever the mechanism, you need to let your boss know each time you achieve something she cares about.

Lunch with your boss. If all things are equal, your boss will cater to the person she likes the best. So go out to lunch and talk about what interests her. Connect with her by asking her for advice on something about work. If you are very different than your boss, work hard to find common ground in your conversations. Everyone has common ground if you hunt hard enough.

Seek new responsibilities. Find important holes in your department before your boss notices them. Take responsibility for filling those holes and your boss will appreciate not only your foresight, but also your ability to do more than your job. (The trick, of course, is to make sure you do not shirk your official job duties while taking on more.)

Be curious. Remember to make time to read and listen. Then ask good questions. You will make yourself more interesting to be around, and you will elicit fresh ideas from everyone around you. Your boss will feel like having you on the team improves everyone’s work, even his own, and that, after all, is your primary job in managing up.

44 replies
  1. Alexandra Levit
    Alexandra Levit says:

    Penelope, this is great. I think that the key to saying no to your boss without looking bad is not to say no – exactly. You are right on when you say that instead, you should tell your boss about your competing tasks, and ask her to help you prioritize. This is also a viable strategy when another senior person who is not your boss asks you to help with a task you don’t have time to do.

  2. CrankMama
    CrankMama says:

    I was recently a boss and you’ve summed up what boss-types appreciate brilliantly. It’s an absolute pleasure now to be in a role where I get to try and please MY boss… And now that I know what to do and I can sense his appreciation…it’s a fabulous reward.

    Well said!

  3. KHavel
    KHavel says:

    We have all read the posts and articles which cover the basics on moving up the ladder, but your post really hits home with me. These are the types of things career-minded workers should be thinking about and doing.

    Good leaders can smell “brown nosing” a mile away and in most cases, it won’t get the worker anywhere. You have laid out exactly what people need to do to please their boss, show their value and inspire confidence in their abilities.

    I hope you check out and add comments to our career blog at http://www.spherion.com/careerblog.

  4. Tim
    Tim says:

    Well and good for bosses who are competent, but what if you’re dealing with someone who I can chartiably call “an incompetent boob”?

    * * * * * * *

    Very incompetent bosses are not that difficult to manage because you can either do all their work, and get management bullets on your resume, or go around them, becasue they have no sense of office politics, and convince their boss to deal with them. The people who are most difficult to manage are the only minorly incompetent ones. But tenacity will work — as long as the person is not malicious.


  5. anil jha
    anil jha says:

    There are boosses who do not want to any others
    suggestions,but execeptions are there for good
    bossess also.
    Where they give total freedom to achieve the desired result but takes onus if something goes wrong.

    Anil jha 02nd Aug, 07

  6. Shelley
    Shelley says:

    I’ve been told/recommended to “Manage Up” with my boss. The problem is she doesn’t like me (I’ve been told this to my face by her) and she’s never been a manager before! As a result of our issues and her sly tactics to make me look bad and discredit me, I feel I cannot trust her and it’s very hard for me to respect her as well. Does managing up work in this situation? To be honest, I don’t “feel like” being nice to her and making her life easier, catering to her needs and filling in for her weaknesses.

  7. Jonathan Singh
    Jonathan Singh says:

    In response to Shelley’s post – Not managing-up will lead to a bad performance review at a minimum. You have the uneviable task of breaking in a new and difficult boss. It is not uncommon for new bosses to be insecure and to discredit people. Some of them live under the fear that they will be fired and replaced by one of their subordinates. It is unprofessional that the boss told you that they didn’t like you but it is also insightful. It tells you that they are a ‘feeling’ centred person according to myers briggs (see http://www.myersbriggs.org). Find out what principles the boss holds then try to reflect those principles in your communications with her/him. From time to time you will have to be brave and use “I statements” to correct poor behaviour from the manager. View these as education sessions but be careful not to provide too much upwards coaching as this will prove counter productive. Lastly be open to coaching from the new boss and make yourself vulnerable. Ask for advice and guidance on occassion. This will cause the boss to invest in you and tie you together more. In summary try following some of the advice on this page and things might improve. For more specific advice on managing up in this situation visit my site and tell me more about it.

    • A. Irie
      A. Irie says:

      Managing Up has been the most important career advice that I’ve gotten this past year, or maybe in my life. I’m a grad student, working on campus, and working in a part-time internship. It has been quite difficult to work with my manager; she would give me 20 projects to work on for the semester but every two weeks would throw in a new one. Also, she challenged me to be way more extroverted than I’m use to, which is good. However, I often felt like I was working FOR the other staff instead of working in a team, which I had been use to. In past jobs and internships, I could communicate with staff much more easily and the relationships were two-way. After reflecting and speaking with advisors/mentors, I’ve learned that I have to manage up, go beyond what’s required, and adapt to the environment. I’ve only starting practicing this philosophy and it’s still hard sometimes, because I am in grad-school, which means I don’t have the extra hours or energy to go above and beyond most of the time. However, I am communicating with my manager as she desires now (print-outs, reminder emails, and daily summaries), helping the staff more and meeting one-on-one with them, and what I have loved – we are prioritizing my weekly responsibilities, which gives my some sanity. I definitely recommend people following this advice.

  8. Manuela
    Manuela says:

    what about a boss that isn’t interested in what or how you work as long as it’s done? a boss that doesn’t actually care what you do or how you work? my boss likes to be as little as possible involved in what I do, openly states that he doesn’t want to know what my work entales. There are no meetings, ever, not weekly monthly, or yearly. last year he even signed off our review on his own, no communication what so ever. What matters to him is to be left alone, for us to do our work and not involve him, or at least as little as possible. And definitely not involve him when the going get’s tough, or his status is required. If you communicate success you are cut down, or belittled, or the outcome is being belittled. I tried over the years to communicate with him, face to face as well as in writing, have made him aware of success we’ve had, or he’s been advised by his boss of positive feed back about me from people that worked with me. I’ve tried hard to be interested in what he’s interested in, however, I can’t afford to “play” on the share market and haven’t got the time to even follow the share market as my working day is too full as it is. Lunch with my boss is impossible as I am “just” an employee and our bosses have lunch together, you do not break into that club. All our bosses are male, and although I (being female) have worked my entire working life (22 years) with majority male workers, I’ve never experience such anti female behaviour before. I’m not asking to be treated differently, I just want to be “treated as an employee, part of the team” but it’s like kindergarten again, where I have girlgerms. I’ve asked for new responsibilities when the work load was down, but always just got data entry tasks from my colleague. Was even told by the boss that he perfers an employee of another department to fill in a questioner for him, because he isn’t sure if my english abilities are good enough (my first language isn’t english). Which becones the question on why I was given the job in the first place, if my abilities are in doubt and why I’ve been in the job now for 6 years and have never caused any problems for the company or my boss. My boss is very hot an cold, it’s like he holds out the carrot, but pulls it away when I get to close or to good. How am I to manage up if I have no way of actually knowing how my boss works, thinks, or what he likes, when it changes at the drop of a hat? I’ve read in one of the other comments that good leaders smell a brown noser, well then none of these manager are good manager, cause they love to be brown nosed. Any advice is greatly appreciated.

    • Rita
      Rita says:

      Sometimes it’s impossible to please a person that is set in their ways. If possible I would go through the chain of command with your frustrations.This is not always a failproof solution also. Even though you might be told everything is confidential, things have a way of getting out especially when higher ups are connected and then you become the fall guy. I’ve been in both situations, so if at all possible find out how close your boss is to his boss before you proceed.

  9. Joe S
    Joe S says:

    Dear Comrade Lenin,

    Thanks for your excellent leadership. I know Trotsky will say I’m just “managing up,” but I know that you’re extra special and just what the Soviet Union needs. I enjoyed our long lunch yesterday and the time we spent sharing tales of our family and my wives who are still living.

    By the bye, Lenny, could you just let me take a peek at that file you keep of “People Who Talk Bad About Uncle Joe”? I think that if I can just “reach out” to some of these folks, so to speak, I can correct the error of their lives–er, I mean ways. I promise I’ll give it right back.

    And those rumors that I plan to take your job when you retire–pure myth. As my sales presentation to the kulaks showed, I only want what’s best for the Soviet people.

    By the way, I want you to meet my new Human Resource Chief, Penelope. She’s just over from the States with some exciting new personnel ideas. They can be applied to any situation, no matter how morally depraved–and as long as Penelope gets her fee, she doesn’t care. I like that girl. She reminds me of my first wife, whatever her name was. And I just spoke to Adolph in Germany and he says that he’s “cooking up some good ideas” based on her input. I can’t wait to see the recipes!

    Well, see you at the Trotsky Ice Pick Bar and Grill tonight. And text me 24-7 with any work orders!

    Your faithful subordinate,

    Joe Stalin

  10. Mark
    Mark says:

    My boss with a lack of better words is an a walking paradox. I have tried everything I could to help educate him about his own duties and responsibilties. But he fails relentlessly. Then he blaims it on me.

    I have gone around him to his boss and his response was to pretty much put up with it. In a nut shell he is affriad to say something to him becuase my boss has a bad temper!


  11. joel
    joel says:

    I hate to say it but if you are working in a field that you are passionate about – you will already be doing every single one these things.

  12. Glen
    Glen says:

    This article should have been named “7 ways to be an ass-kisser”. I don’t think Penelope has the right idea of what managing up really is. Nor do I think she has experience dealing with different types of personalities. I would avoid all of this advice.

  13. Helen
    Helen says:

    I completely agree with Glen. Ive seen this managing up from the other side and most of the people get promoted but have no managing down skills – result: the office bully who gets away with it because the boss supports them but has no idea what theyre like

    If you read other life skills advice you are supposed to be true to yourself as no one can relate to a fake. Managing up however appears to fly right in the face of that.

  14. sotavento barcelona
    sotavento barcelona says:

    of course like your web-site however you need to check the spelling on several of your posts. Several of them are rife with spelling issues and I find it very troublesome to tell the reality however I’ll definitely come again again.

Comments are closed.