How to Manage Your Manager: Tips for Managing Up

Two women in meeting for managing up

Pictured: Two women attend a meeting so the direct report can manage up/PeopleImages, iStock

When you think about managing people at work, you may picture managers overseeing their direct reports. While that dynamic is important, so is managing up, which helps you create and maintain a healthy, productive and positive working relationship with your boss. 

Managing up includes learning your manager’s work style and priorities so you can align with them. It also involves communicating project status and roadblocks, identifying potential issues and suggesting solutions to challenges. It can even include sharing constructive feedback about your manager, leadership decisions or company initiatives. 

Managing up is important in the life sciences industry in large part because of the nature of the work involved, according to Stanley Lewis, founder and CEO of A28 Therapeutics, a clinical stage oncology company based in La Jolla, Calif. 

“Because the life science product may be a life-saving product, the stakes are high,” he told BioSpace. “Therefore, the need for managing up is amplified.” 

So, what are the benefits of managing up, and how can you do it?  

Benefits of Managing Up

For employees, managing up can lead to improved communication, collaboration, performance and efficiency. As Lewis noted, “Assuming the environment is receptive and supportive of employees exercising their voice and managing up, the employees’ value to the company increases, and more responsibility and promotions can result.” 

Managers and the companies themselves can also benefit. 

“Leadership can’t know what it doesn’t know,” Lewis said. “A business that welcomes and encourages a team to manage up will ultimately enjoy time savings and multiply efficiency.” 

Tips for Managing Up

Managing up includes learning your manager’s work style and priorities so you can align with them. To get started, you can ask your boss questions such as: 

  • “What’s your work style?” For example, how do they like to collaborate with others? Do they prefer impromptu or scheduled meetings? Do they like to have dedicated, uninterrupted focus time during the day? 

  • “What are your top priorities, and how can I support them?” 

  • “How do you prefer I communicate with you?” Do they like connecting via instant messages or emails, or would they rather have in-person conversations? 

  • “How should I structure my emails to you?” Should you keep them short, provide lots of details or fall somewhere in between? 

  • “Do you prefer meeting at certain times of day or on certain days of the week?” 

Along with asking those basic questions, consider these five tips from Lewis, based on his experience as a direct report who managed up to others and a CEO who has employees managing up to him.  

  1. Start with compliments. “Everyone—especially leadership—has an ego,” Lewis said. “Take the time when things are going well to be generous with words of praise and encouragement. This will soften the leader when the time comes to share an opposing view.” 

  1. Use questions instead of statements. “Disguise the managing up into a question with options,” Lewis recommended. If you disagree with your manager’s choice, gently guide them to your preferred option, he said. “This will make the leader feel needed, secure and in control.”  

  1. Avoid being adversarial or challenging. “Winning is temporary,” Lewis said, “and over the long haul, the person with the most power may be inclined to exert that power in unfavorable ways to an employee who manages up in a confrontational manner or otherwise shows up the leader.” 

  1. Never gang up on or ambush a leader. “This style of managing up is never received very well,” Lewis cautioned. “It may be good to gather consensus on a matter that opposes a leadership decision, but it is rarely a wise decision to confront in a manner that makes the leader feel outnumbered.” 

  1. Be aware of timing. Wait for optimal receptiveness. “Leaders are people, and they have good days and bad days,” Lewis said. “Managing up is best attempted on good days, when the mood is light. Times of high stress are rarely good times to initiate managing up unless the manager is actively encouraging brainstorming or soliciting advice.” 

If you’re having difficulty managing up, Lewis advised being sincere.  

“Show how much you care before you show how much you know,” he said.  

He also recommended remembering the golden rule of treating others as you’d like them to treat you.  

“You may be the leader one day,” Lewis said. “How would you like to be managed by those beneath you in the corporate hierarchy?” 

Angela Gabriel is content manager, life sciences careers, at BioSpace. You can reach her at angela.gabriel@biospace.com and follow her on LinkedIn

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