What Is Managing Upwards at Work and Why You Should Do It

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What Is Managing Upwards at Work and Why You Should Do It

Managing upwards is a skill that focuses on using the traits of a good manager to help employees bring out the best in themselves. It makes day-to-day tasks easier for both the employee and the manager. Managers are a work in progress, on a learning curve, and have numerous demands on their time and attention. It is important to recognise that management is a two-way street, and mastering the skills of managing upwards can make work life more rewarding and improve career prospects.

Showing initiative and leadership skills is necessary to advance the corporate ladder, especially when securing a management position. Striking the right balance involves showing your boss that you can take charge, be a team player, be independent but keep them informed, and show confidence and ideas without appearing to be talking down or insubordinate. Navigating this balance means managing up, a key skill that serves leaders and direct reports at all levels. By recognising that management is a two-way street, employees can help their managers facilitate their progress and have their best interests at heart.

What Is Managing Upwards and How Does It Work?

Managing upwards involves understanding your manager’s habits, strengths, weaknesses, and relationship with them to anticipate their needs. It also consists of providing help with work tasks when necessary and being honest about their professional capabilities or career aspirations.

Managing upwards is about creating value for your boss and guiding you to be the best employee possible. Every relationship, even one defined by power, still requires input from both parties and a healthy degree of give-and-take. In this case, the boss manages, and the staff member manages upwards.

Managing upwards works differently for different types of leaders. For example, an efficient executive assistant (EA) may have more power than the boss, managing their calendar to ensure the boss’s success. However, understanding what matters to your higher-ups and orienting toward what helps them succeed should guide your approach to managing up.

Why Should You Manage Upwards?

There are several reasons why you should manage upwards; they include the following: 

#1. It improves communication and productivity

You will be able to interact with your manager in a way that is understandable to them if you take the time to become familiar with their personal interests, personalities, and professional experiences. This eliminates the possibility of misunderstandings and enables you to perform to the best of your abilities at work.

#2. It inspires coworkers to do the same

When you go out of your way to help your manager, make a connection with them, and discuss your requirements with them, you send the message to those around you that it is acceptable to do the same thing. You may increase productivity and improve department-wide communication by encouraging your teammates to take on more managerial responsibilities.

#3. It helps to build strong relationships with your manager

If you have just recently begun working for a new organization or have been assigned a new manager at your existing place of employment, managing up is an essential approach for getting to know your new manager and learning how to collaborate well with them. It also helps you develop critical questions about their preferred management style and their expectations of you on your first encounter with them.

#3. It allows you to learn and take on new job tasks

Being proactive and asking your manager to take on extra responsibilities or for assistance in managing their workload is an important part of managing up. This allows you to gain new technical or interpersonal skills, as well as the chance to learn about the various positions that are available in the workplace.

#4. It enables career progression and professional development

Managing up can help you stand out as a hard-working employee, increasing your chances of being considered for a promotion. It also provides opportunities for professional development.

#4. Encourages you to take control of your job and career goals

Instead of relying on your manager to enforce productivity and professional goals, managing up encourages you to speak with your manager about what you want to achieve in your current job and career. This allows you to gain self-confidence and helps your manager learn what motivates you.

#5. Improved Relationship with Your Manager

Managing upwards effectively can lead to a more positive and productive relationship with your manager. This can increase trust and a better working environment.

#6. Increased Productivity

Understanding your manager’s communication style and work preferences can enhance your performance and deliver better results. This can lead to increased productivity.

#7. Development of Leadership Skills

Taking on more responsibility and completing more advanced tasks is essential for developing leadership skills, such as problem-solving, decision-making, and strategic thinking.

#8. Increased Value to the Company

Being a more productive and positive employee can improve your value to the organization. This can lead to better career prospects and a more fulfilling work life. 

How Do You Effectively Manage Upwards?

Several ways you can manage upwards are 

#1. Understand your workplace priorities.

Understanding your workplace priorities helps you decide when to voice demands to a manager and when to prioritise others’ needs. For example, you may have suggestions for improving the digital filing system, but your department is preparing for a significant product launch. The Product Team has a lot of work to complete, and they need to communicate with your boss to make crucial decisions. In this situation, continue with the assigned task and write down your ideas for discussion with coworkers during less hectic times. This allows your manager to consider your proposal. Recognising higher priorities helps maintain workplace efficiency, another benefit of doing so.

#2. Be transparent about your goals and professional needs

Employees need to let their managers know about their professional goals. This way, managers can better understand their strengths, areas where they can improve, and long-term objectives. This information helps managers decide which tasks to assign and who to mentor based on what they hear and talk about. This is important for managing things well and making progress.

#3. Communicate concisely to promote understanding.

Effective communication is crucial for managers, who often have a lot of work to complete daily. Instead of drafting lengthy emails, convey your query or requirement at the beginning and ask for feedback conveniently. This ensures your manager understands the message and encourages them to engage in further discussions.

#4. Complete in-depth research before presenting an idea.

To convince management of an idea, it is crucial to have proof to support the concept before offering it. Researching beforehand can help address initial queries and provide sufficient knowledge for them to decide whether to explore the idea further. Use questions to help a manager realise the potential benefits of a concept, such as asking questions about their perceptions or alternative options.

Assuming that managers may understand your work tasks differently than you do when developing questions or ideas, clarify your verbal or written messages to them. Use examples of your daily job duties to help them understand what you need to do your job well. Doing this, you can help them know what they need to do their job well and make informed decisions about exploring the idea further.

#5. Balance speaking about work tasks and personal life.

Keeping a positive and professional relationship with your manager while also trying to connect with them is essential to managing. To accomplish this objective, you must allocate equal time to discussing business and personal matters. For instance, after you have questioned your manager about something connected to work, you could inquire about their weekend or how their family is doing.

#6. Speak with your manager about your obligations and availability outside standard work hours.

To effectively manage your job, it’s essential to inform your manager of specific times after work or weekends when you won’t be available. This helps establish boundaries, learn about your personal life, and improve communication. If you need assistance, inform your manager. Additionally, communicate any difficulties or queries regarding your position’s responsibilities. As your boss is responsible for multiple people, you must take the initiative to gather the necessary information to perform well in your role. 

#7. Evaluate their management style and Learn to empathise with your manager.

By viewing your manager as a person and not just a leader, you can create more meaningful connections and offer assistance when they have much to complete. Empathy can be developed by considering the motivations behind their attitudes or behaviours and visualising how you would react in similar situations. Analysing their managerial style can help you understand which style best suits their actions. After working under a manager, you can learn helpful tips for interacting with different types of management, which can improve your working relationship with them at your workplace.

#8. Ask your manager to define your job and their expectations.

You can demonstrate your ability to manage up when interacting with a new boss by conversing with them about how they define your work within the greater context of the firm and by directly asking them about their expectations for you as an employee. Managing up is a form of managing upward. Suppose you are aware of the expectations your manager placed upon you. In that case, you will be in a better position to communicate effectively with them and to make contributions that are significant to your job function.

#9. Be honest when they ask for your feedback. Take advantage of one-on-ones

Being honest when a manager asks about performance, workplace culture, or procedures is crucial for effective management. It allows employees to identify areas for improvement and will enable managers to express ideas for improvement. One-on-one interactions provide a more extended conversation with management, often through performance reviews. Employees can inquire about job responsibilities, future advancement prospects, and recent workplace adjustments. They can also express any ideas or concerns they may have with their management during this time. Therefore, making the most of one-on-one interactions with management is essential.

What Are the Negatives of Managing Up?

Managing upwards is a strategy that involves consciously working for the mutual benefit of yourself and your boss, understanding your boss’s position and requirements, and making yourself known as a stellar employee by exceeding their expectations and needs [Source 1]. While this strategy can lead to increased trust, improved relationships, and more opportunities for career progression, there are also potential negatives associated with it.

  • Misalignment of Personal and Organizational Goals: One potential negative of managing up is that it can lead to a misalignment of personal and organisational goals. Suppose an employee’s motivations are more selfish and must be aligned with the company’s objectives. In that case, it can lead to the employee becoming a politician, even if they are helping their boss succeed.
  • Damage to Credibility and Trust: Consistently making mistakes, such as having the right idea but the wrong situation, timing, or delivery, can damage your credibility and erode trust, making it more difficult to manage upwards in the long term.
  • Potential for Overstepping Boundaries: Managing up can also lead to the potential for overstepping boundaries. Suppose an employee becomes too involved in their manager’s career development or personal life. In that case, it can lead to a blurring of lines between professional and personal relationships, which can be problematic.
  • Difficulty in Adapting to Different Communication Styles: Different managers have different communication styles, and being unable to adapt can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts.
  • Potential for Burnout: Managing up can also lead to burnout if not done correctly. If an employee constantly tries to please their manager or exceed their expectations, it can lead to stress and burnout.
  • Risk of Being Seen as a Politician: If an employee is seen as using managing upwards as a way to further their career at the expense of others, they can be seen as a “politician”, which can lead to resentment and conflict within the team


While managing upwards can have many benefits, it also has potential negatives. It’s important to balance the need to manage upwards with the need to maintain a healthy work-life balance, avoid overstepping boundaries, and be aware of potential conflicts and misunderstandings.


Is it better to manage up or down?

Managing up or down is subjective and depends on the individual’s organisational role. Both are crucial skills for managers, with the best managers balancing both to support their boss’s success and align their personal and organisational goals with the company’s goals. 

Is managing up a soft skill?

Managing up is a soft skill that requires communication, teamwork, and adaptability. It involves understanding managers’ preferences, supporting career development, and promoting fair treatment. Employers highly value these soft skills for professional success.


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