How Managing Up Can Advance Your Career

Published: Dec 12, 2016

 Networking       Workplace Issues       
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Once upon a time in my professional career, a co-worker confided in me that she was extremely stressed, not only due to her own work, but because she had to “manage up” our supervisor.

I actually didn’t understand the term at the time. The idea of managing up actually means to stretch yourself just a bit further, going above and beyond the duties of your job description and doing all you can to make your supervisor look good.  I had just assumed, based on how my co-worker was complaining, that it meant she was expected to do our boss’s work, in addition to her own assignments. I had seen her take notes for our boss at meetings and complain that she always had to remind our boss of meetings and deadlines. That seemed like a pain in the ass, and I wanted no part.

So, I stayed under the radar, going above and beyond when it came to my own work until I was called into my boss’s office one day. She was angry with me for knowing about a project she was working on and not anticipating her needs for said project.

“Jon, I like you and you do a great job here, but,” she started, instilling fear in me, as the word “but” when used after a compliment is never a good thing. However, she changed my mind on the matter when she continued to say, “You really need to learn how to manage up, especially with me.”

I was shocked, because I didn’t expect my supervisor to tell me that. She went on to explain how I had information she could have used for the project she was working on, and added that she was facing a number of deadlines and hadn’t thought about my ability to contribute until it was too late. However, she felt that I should have volunteered that information, having had knowledge of her project.

I was confused at the time and a little stressed, because I remembered my own co-worker’s thoughts on managing up. I decided to do a little research into the term to see why I should take on additional work outside of my own bubble. Obviously, if your boss asks you to do something, you should do it, but this additional stress of managing up may not be worth the hassle. Should I start looking for a new job?

The truth of the matter is, the idea of “managing up” is not a hassle at all. It may actually enhance your current job and prepare you for a better career path in the future. Here’s how:

Building Trust With Your Supervisor: Part of managing up is helping to shore up your boss’s weaknesses and that may mean taking notes during one of their meetings or reminding them to follow-up on a topic or meet a deadline for a particular presentation. And it may mean doing some of the work for them when they have more pressing matters to deal with. But when you help make your supervisor’s life a little easier while making them look good in the process, you develop a trust. Your supervisor can now count on you, which will enhance your experiences at your company. The key is to get the job done right, so, if you are going to manage up, commit to it — don’t half-ass it. Your reputation is on the line.

You Get to Work on Better Projects: Sure, the projects you work on can be challenging, rewarding, and fun, but your supervisor’s projects are going to be much more interesting and high-profile just because of the nature of his or her job. These kind of high-visibility projects offer tasks and challenges that, if successfully completed, will not only boost your profile in your current company, but also offer the kind of experience you want on your résumé when looking for an even better job along your career path. You can only get this type of exposure if you have a strong relationship with your boss, so take some initiative and reap the rewards. 

You Learn to Adapt: Your way of doing things is not the only way to perform specific tasks. When you manage up, you need to get used to your manager’s style of work; their perspectives on different tasks; how they communicate; what they like to know and when they want to know it; and their overall management style. In addition to helping you anticipate your manager’s needs, it’s also an opportunity to learn from your supervisor. Your boss didn’t get their position by accident, so pay careful attention to every detail, adapt to his or her needs and see what you can add to your own toolbox along the way. 

Better Performance Reviews; Positive References: In sports, it’s great to earn money, but if you’re not playing to win a championship, then what’s the point. The same thing can be said about any career choice. If your eyes are not on the prize, then what are you even doing? You want that promotion. You want that title. And the best way to get it is to earn the respect of management. When you can earn the trust of your supervisor, anticipate their needs, make their lives easier, and make them look good, you will receive a positive performance review. This can help you get that raise, but more importantly, help you advance at the company if a better position becomes available. And if you want a better title elsewhere, a positive reference from your boss goes a long way in helping you land your next, more high-profile job or the one after that.

Despite what my co-worker apparently thought, and my own misunderstanding of the phrase, “managing up” is actually not a bad thing. It represents opportunity. You just have to be ready to seize the moment when it presents itself.