How do I manage up?

15 July 2019
4 min read

Let’s first define managing up … Managing up is about arranging and communicating with those individuals who are directly accountable for your work outputs. These individuals are in a superior position in the chain of command than yourself. How you can manage their expectations, time and input to achieve your desired outcome is “managing up”.

Who needs to manage up?

During your career, or even a project at some point, you will need to manage up. You could be a new starter managing up to a mid-level manager, you could be a CEO or Partner managing up to a Board of Directors.

My experience

Early on in my career and in most people’s careers, I learned to manage down. This skill is initially difficult, however one that is eventually mastered with practice and room to fail and fall over.

On the contrary, managing up is a much harder skill to develop due to the limited safe space to do so. Innately the task that is managed down is of lower importance than the nature of a task being managed up. Consequently, if the task managed up falls over, the repercussions are usually higher, for example, a lost client or opportunity, lower quality final product etc. In contrast, the consequence of poor management down may be much lower such as the lower level employee having to redo the task, or the manager having to patch up the task.

I had a very defined style and was rather rigid, in that no matter the task, the importance or the individual I was managing up to, I would adopt the same level and medium of communication, provide the same product and put the same amount of effort in the same areas. In many cases this would produce the desired outcome, however in some cases the end result would be an adverse outcome.

After some self-assessment as to why the adverse outcome occurred, I realised this was a result of the individual having a differing management style and medium of communication. This style didn’t adapt to my style and my style didn’t adapt to theirs, thus generating an unaligned product.

In the cases where I had a positive experience and outcome, I would achieve this because the individual I managed up to would be the same type of communicator as me or could adapt their style accordingly.

My learnings

My learning is that managing up is a much more difficult skill than managing down and I believe that this is due to many businesses promoting people due to their technical skills rather than for management skills. To compound the problem, many new managers then receive little or no training before being appointed to their new roles. This results in two things; the first being unsettled staff and the second being managers with insufficient management skills.

While specific strategies depend on the individual situation, consider the following approaches:

  • Get to know them – the most important aspect to managing up is to understand how that individual would like to be communicated with and treated. Do they prefer to be communicated with constantly or do they just want to know when you need assistance or input? Do they prefer an email for their reference and consumption when convenient for them? Or do they prefer to discuss over the phone?

  • Look at the precedents – when you are starting to manage up look at the precedents set by your manager. Are they continually asking for more information than you provide? Do they call you to respond to your email? This should be a sign and something to learn from as to how they would like to be managed.

  • Adjust your style – once you get to know the manager and note the precedents, you can adjust your style of managing up accordingly. The ability to adjust your style will serve you well and improve your value as a resource. You will enhance your ability to work productively and positively with other individuals across different levels and teams within and outside your organisation.

If you or your organisation would like to have a deeper conversation in relation to managing up, please reach out to our Audit and Assurance team.