Managing Up

3 Rules To Managing Up


If you are an employee looking to get ahead at your current job, you need to start managing up.

Related: Unhappy With Your Career? Manage Up!

Here are three rules to successfully working with those who can help your career. Managing up is not difficult and the benefits are worth the time and energy it takes to master it.

3 Rules For Managing Up

Managing up is not manipulation either. It’s simply understanding how to create an exchange that is mutually beneficial – and this kind of exchange cannot occur without trust between both parties. Which leads to the first rule of managing up…

Rule #1: Get to know your manager’s personal and professional agenda.

To manage up, you must embrace the idea you are selling your professional services. It’s time to act like a salesperson, and great salespeople take the time to learn about their clients’ histories, experiences, perceptions, and subsequently, what it might take to shift those perceptions. I emphasize the word “time” because many of the professionals I work with come to me after making the initial mistake of not getting the detailed information they need to manage up.

A great salesperson is actually a really gifted teacher, someone who patiently and creatively navigates pupils, enabling them to arrive to the right conclusions on their own. Yet, everyone knows teachers can’t make this happen for their students without first determining what it’s the students need to be made to understand.

Thus, understanding our managers to the point it enables us to know how to get what we want means doing our homework. Here are just a few questions we should be seeking the answers to:

  • What is my manager ultimately trying to accomplish and why?
  • What does she value most, both personally and professionally?
  • How have past work experiences impacted her professional goals?
  • How is she planning to make her mark on the company?
  • What role does she envision me playing in her master plan?

That last question is most important because the answer tells us what our manager thinks we’re capable of. How can we begin to convince managers we can do more without first knowing what they perceive our limits to be?

Doing extensive research on our manager not only keeps us busy, it provides us with a gold mine of information we can use to help connect our own professional goals to that of our manager’s. And we all know presenting evidence-supported, win-win strategies produces some of the best and fastest results.

Yet, while the “everybody wins” approach is a solid start to being heard and respected by management, we must now explore another sign of a truly successful salesperson, and the next key element to managing up – knowing when NOT to press the sale.

Rule #2: Building a long-term relationship yields more than a self-serving sale.

The most impressive, unforgettable salesperson isn’t the one that closes the big deal. Rather, it’s the one that upon listening to the needs of its client, conveys their product or service actually isn’t a good fit, and then tries to help by suggesting viable alternatives. Now that’s someone we can trust and respect – someone who’s honest opinion we would seek again.

The value in thoroughly exploring the what, why and how of upper management is we may also get a “heads up” as to why some of our ideas might not work as this time. Is pushing a personal agenda worth jeopardizing our credibility? It’s easy to get caught up in the sale of our professional services, especially when we are dissatisfied on-the-job.

But even when we want something, we must recognize our managers may not be able to meet those demands right away.

The timing might be off, or the right pieces might not be in place. And, like that unforgettable salesperson, it’s the employee who recognizes and graciously accepts what can’t be at the moment, and who willingly goes back to the drawing board to come up with another plan that gains the respect of management.

Now, before you say, “but management is too self-absorbed and busy to even give me the time of day,” or, “why would I bother when my boss doesn’t listen to me or respect my opinions,” let’s take a look at the final key element of effectively managing up that has quantum leaped the careers of many professionals I know: a willingness to speak their language.

Rule #3: An appreciative, tactful, and understanding nature is valued by all.

The best salespeople are engaging communicators who care seriously about what they say and how they say it. The old cliche, “You get more flies with honey than vinegar,” is paramount to managing up. If you are a professional looking to get ahead, then learning to speak to management on their terms will be your ticket to success. Let me share a story.

I was recently speaking to a group of managers who had to hire a lot of younger professionals in the last year. Their first comment to me: how inconsiderate these new employees could be when expressing themselves on-the-job. One manager even shared a story of how when she made an effort to commend and recognize a new employee’s efforts with a creative token gift, instead of a “thank you,” the employee said, “that’s corny” and gave her a disdained look.

I don’t care how old you are or how long you’ve been a manager, getting that reaction from your efforts is like a kick in the stomach.

More importantly, it puts up a wall of defense up between the two parties. Why should a manager respect us if we don’t treat them with respect? We may not like their approaches, but lets at least give them credit for trying.

I know how impatient and frustrating it can be for employees on-the-job (the show, The Office comes to mind), but affecting change requires diplomacy – the choosing of words wisely. The desire for greater teamwork, leaderless organizations, and an emphasis on meaningful one-on-one interactions are just some of the concepts employees believe will improve a workplace. Yet, the very success of those initiatives rests on highly effective, positive communication. So, why not start by setting the example?

Before you speak, put yourself in the shoes of today’s seasoned manager and imagine what it must have been like to work over the last twenty years. If you can’t muster some sensitivity for their plight, then look at it this way: The disconnect between older management and younger employers is not going to go away.

Some day, the current crop of younger professionals will be responsible for the workplace, and the new generation entering behind them won’t be satisfied with what they’ve done with it either. That’s the nature of progress – never being satisfied. I must admit, after years of hard work, and working only with what was available to me at the time, I don’t think I’d appreciate folks brand new to the workplace bluntly telling me how I’ve messed it up for them, would you?

Progress only works when ALL parties learn to effectively communicate with one another. It’s not just management’s job to listen to the desires of it’s employees; it’s every employee’s job to find the right way to engage management in dynamic, productive conversations.

For example, we’ve all got questions, but it’s how we frame them to managers that can make a difference. Opening up conversations by saying:

“I am really interested in finding a way to make a greater impact, but I need more information. You have a lot of experience that can help me see the big picture. I need your perspective. Can we set up some time so I can ask questions and get the kind of feedback that will help me?”

This is one way successful young people are connecting with their managers. Give your manager the chance to share how they got their workplace battle scars. Some day, you may want that chance too. More importantly, articulating the reasons for our questions in this fashion is the smartest way to get management off the defensive. Instead of assuming we’re questioning their authority and secretly criticizing their decisions, they’ll understand that we’re just looking for answers that will help us do our job better. ‘

In summary, adjusting our approach to communicating with management is part of the give-and-take necessary for successful partnerships. Nobody, especially managers, want to work with someone who conveys an “all about me” attitude in their efforts to get ahead. We all know there’s no “I” in team, but smart professionals know thinking and subsequently phrasing their thoughts to reflect a “we” versus a ‘me’ mentality is the quickest way to get respect from higher-ups. Ensure your communication with managers showcases a comprehensive view of everyone’s needs, and you’ll be seen as both wise and worth more than your years.

Now tell us, what have we missed? Do you have any comments or additional rules for managing up? Please share them below.

This post was originally published at an earlier date.

Related Posts

Poll: How Bad Is Your Boss At Managing?
How To Be The Ideal Employee For Any Company
11 Great Employee Qualities: Do You Have Them?

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

J.T. O'Donnell

Job Search & Career Expert. Syndicated Speaker & Author. Wife. Mother. CEO of CAREEREALISM Media. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.


  1. Wow thank you. This topic is absolutely great. I needed this and it came just a the right time.

    We have a change of management in our company, a change of structure and lots of politics. I seem to fee like a very big fish put in a small bowl. For some reason it feels like a race or competition with the new manager and colleague yet I feel like I am the only one left sharing and caring about the company’s vision let alone the work Etiquette. I have been feeling miserably drowning and have been seeking the best way to table my growth in the company and the way management seem to perceive me and my position.

    My job description and the actual duties, time, travels and the team I grow compared to other colleagues in supervision position. All these are sensitive topics that I wish to table in a positive manner.

  2. Ok so I’m not going to complain. Everyone hits bumps and lumps in their jobs. I’m only looking to progress. How do employers view open university degrees. The other’s can be very expensive and my children and I don’t have a lot. But I need to improve my CV. Can you please give me perspective?

  3. Having been both an employer/manager and an employee, I have seen both sides of how communicating (or failing to do so effectively), can impact both the internal morale and a company’s success.

    I guess we can’t have too many reminders that even in situations or poor or non-existent communication between management levels, all we can do is consistently and professionally communicate with those around us to foster a respectful work environment.

    Thank you for sharing.

  4. Loyalty: Building staff loyalty is not difficult but it is a two way street. Employees respond to the leadership and fairness you demonstrate
    Basing motivates on what works best not only for the team but company as well. It is when all departments are on the same team can we contribute to the overall direction of the company visions.

  5. I have personally experienced the pain of a disconnected micromanager (she was a project manager, I was a public affairs liaison at the time)who had no idea of why I was writing so many news releases, as requested by her fellow management team. She insisted upon looking at them before I sent them to public affairs, and her way of dealing with something she didn’t “understand” was to ignore all of my work. When I would ask her why she wasn’t looking at them, she would tell me that she didn’t think that the events I was writing on were important and/or her e-mail ate them. Made me look extremely unprofessional to her colleagues. She eventually asked them to run all of their requests by her before giving them to me. That was a disaster, because she would “forget” to give me the assignments, and then ask me where the stories were! Not a mind-reader over here…

    Currently, I work for a much smaller company headed by someone who is absent from the everyday happenings – he has no interaction with the 10 people in the call center that are his bread and butter, and his five-person management team spends a good deal of their time talking about what a blast they had at So-and-So’s party last night. This disconnect is poisoning the workplace.

    How are you supposed to get to know your management when all they will talk about is their hangover in the morning, and in the afternoon, the party they plan on attending that night? (And won’t talk to you about the company goals at all, as if you aren’t a part of the team that makes it happen.) How are you supposed to understand the agenda of those who will text you in the middle of their meeting “What are you doing? You should be in the office waiting for me to give you assignments!” and you’re in the field interviewing for a story one of her fellow managers asked you to write?

  6. It all boils down to communication. But what if your manager(s) do not communicate well? Or not at all? Or worse – not with YOU!? I have known people who HAVE tried communicating with management in regards to what they want. It ends up a guessing game with the employee becoming frustrated because management fails to communicate what they REALLY want!

    I know of such incident where an employee was asked for his opinion. Management would blankly state that “I don't want that, try again” THREE TIMES!!! Never did managemtn give a clue of what they wanted until the very end – then it blew up in their face.

    Another incident when a lower manager gave warning to upper management of impending “doom” – for 7 years, each time upper management ignored him. That was until “doom” finally came knocking on the door! Upper management started in blaming the lower manager of not notifing them of the situation. Then the lower manager pulled out his e-mails detailing the warnings over the 7 years! Now upper management is called to the carpet!

    The point is that communication goes both ways!!! You can communicate all you want with your management but if they don't communicate back then you are just having a monolog – not a dialog!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *