A guide to managing up without upsetting your boss

By Gabe Scorgie

6 min read

A guide to managing up without upsetting your boss
Illustration by Maya Ramadhina

Advancing your career, climbing the corporate ladder, moving up in the world, and managing up. All these terms share some commonalities and are related to career development. Managing up is a particularly critical soft skill that helps employees advance into management positions. When done successfully, managing up benefits everyone in the organization. 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with managing up, today we’ll drill down on the topic, learn what it is, why it’s important, and how to develop the skills required to manage up effectively. 

What is ‘Managing Up?’

By definition, managing up is a way to bridge the gaps between your role and that of your boss. It involves maintaining an effective, productive working relationship with your superior, learning what makes them tick, understanding and anticipating their expectations, and being part of the solution in any given scenario. 

No matter what your career aspirations might be or what industry niche you work in, everyone wants a better relationship with their boss. Since they are the people who can make or break your career trajectory, managing up should be a priority. These are skills you can transfer to any job in any company and will serve you well throughout your working life.

Granted, not all bosses are easy to love. Some can be downright difficult or unpleasant and may cause some employees to avoid even trying to get to know them. Managing up can help you improve that relationship, establishing a solid bond that enables their workplace needs to be met while helping you develop your management skills. 

Successful managing up is truly a win-win, and not just for you and your boss. Organizationally, managing up improves productivity and morale, strengthens internal culture, reduces conflict and misunderstandings, and almost always results in greater job satisfaction as you advance your career. 

Are you ready to get started? Here are a few key points to absorb when learning to manage up. 

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Understanding Your Boss

You’re not going to love every manager you work with, but all have a particular management and work style, preferences, goals, and priorities. Understanding these qualities helps you put yourself in their shoes so you can see things from their perspective. Once you’re there, you’ll find it easy to anticipate their needs and know how they measure performance. 

What makes their life easier? What can you do to help them succeed? How do they define success? These questions may be easy to answer if you are naturally perceptive or empathetic. But if your boss is hard to read, consider asking them outright. 

Be curious. Find out their priorities, what they worry about most, and what you can help them with. Taking the time and letting them know you care about doing your job well goes a long way to establishing solid foundations in your working relationship. 

Tough bosses may be hard nuts to crack. Keep in mind they are human, too. Knowing their challenges, you may better understand why they make certain choices, opening the door for better rapport and mutual trust

Communication Strategies

Navigating workplace comms can be complicated, especially in a hybrid or remote environment. Effective communication with your boss is essential to mutual understanding. For example, you may communicate with your team members on Slack, but perhaps your boss prefers email or is more of a one-on-one person. Meeting them on their preferred platform eases communication and may improve your ability to get the feedback you need to do the best possible job. When the boss is comfortable, they are likelier to be honest and transparent with you. 

Managers also differ in terms of the information they want communicated. Are they more concerned with numbers and details? Or are they process-driven and just want the highlights? Most will want progress updates, ideally without having to ask. 

Knowing their communication style and preferences ensures you can consistently deliver on their expectations. Know when to keep them in the loop and what can wait. However, asking for guidance is never a bad idea as it keeps you attuned to evolving thoughts and viewpoints, which you can then proceed to implement. 

Managing Your Boss’s Expectations

Understanding what your boss wants to achieve is essential to managing up as it helps you anticipate their needs and manage expectations. Just know that negotiation may be necessary as not all things are possible. Priorities should be identified so critical needs are met, but saying no is okay if it compromises the quality of your work or adversely impacts your projects. 

While adaptability and agility are vital attributes, knowing how to assert yourself when the demands are unreasonable is also essential. And when the going gets tough, your ability to stay calm under pressure will alleviate stress for both you and your team, help you avoid burnout, and encourage everyone to do their best. 

Problem-Solving and Decision-Making

Problem-solving requires a proactive approach. It’s about anticipating issues before they happen and having a plan or recommendation ready to implement immediately. When you act with confidence and decisiveness and make decisions that align with your boss’s goals, you position yourself as part of the solution, helping to establish lines of trust with your boss and coworkers

The opposite of this attribute would be coming to your boss with a problem but no solution. Remember, your boss likely has other, more pressing issues on their mind, and you don’t want to be the one to add more. Presenting them with a solution to the problem is a much better alternative as it shows you have their best interests and those of the organization at heart.

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Leveraging Managing Up for Career Growth

There is something to be learned from every boss. As a star employee who’s mastered managing up, you’ll take and carry those lessons forward, leveraging the best attributes to support those above and below you. 

Career growth requires dedication, commitment, and continuous progress. Managing up is not always about gaining visibility, but it may earn you plenty of recognition as you build credibility and trust.

When you have a strong relationship with your superiors, it ensures your voice is heard. Over time, trust becomes influence, opening doors to whatever opportunity you envision. 

Ultimately, managing up is a process of developing leadership skills. Done successfully, you will continue to manage up all the way to the top of your career path, inspiring your managers to provide better guidance and feedback as you progress.

Final Thoughts

Employees who succeed at managing up will progress much faster in their careers. However, despite the fact that it involves working closely and aligning yourself with your boss’s goals and mission, it’s not about doing their job; it’s about contributing value to the organization and being able to demonstrate and communicate that value to those above you. Having built trust and rapport through empathy and dedication to elevating those above you, you display professional maturity that invites support at the highest levels. 


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Gabe Scorgie

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