Managing Up is a Necessity, Not a Contingency


It was my first job out of graduate school and I was working for a well-known company that allowed my mother to boast of her successful daughter. Meanwhile, I was working 60-80 hour weeks fielding the requests of four different managers and product areas, and giving it my all with very little feedback one way or the other. My days were spent in quiet companionship with dual computer screens and employee databases in a tireless effort to prove my diligence and worth.

You can imagine my shock when my performance review came back negative.

Sure, I had my grievances. However, looking back, my situation was due to my inability to appropriately manage up.  Too often we manage up when problems arise, and fail to make it a regular part of our practice in setting expectations with those who guide and direct our work.

Effectively managing up is as simple as helping your managers (and team members) understand what you need from them and gaining their confidence in your abilities by creating trust and accountability. Most managers aren’t malicious, but you may be dealing with one or more of the following:

You have a new manager

You have a verbose manager

You have a taciturn manager

You have an absent manager

You have a retiring/transitioning manager

And the list goes on. Regardless of the type of manager you have, it is your role to remove obstacles - real and perceived - and create trust.

Time to Build Trust

According to a recent statistics, the majority of managers would not recommend their employees to a friend. This illustrates a disparity of trust in most manager-employee relationships.  To become integral to your manager, you must earn their trust.“10 ways to get your Boss to Trust you Completely,” an article published by Cleverism, provides several recommendations for building trust with your manager.

Honor Your Boss’ Time

Managers report that the biggest obstacle to effective management is by far time – or lack thereof. I find the quickest way to show value and demonstrate trust is helping your manager regain time.

That 1:1 meeting you haven’t had with your manager in 6 weeks? Create an agenda of the most important topics of discussion and asks you have of your manager. Follow up with action items and deliverable dates. Sure, you are busy, but chances are your boss has quite a bit of facetime scheduled with other stakeholders, leaving very little time for each individual contributor. Making the most of limited time makes your discussions fruitful and your manager will thank you.

Prove that You are Trustworthy: Be Timely

I’m not just talking about punctuality (but please do be on time, it sends the message that you are eager, prepared, and value the time of others). Show up at the right place, at the right time, with the right solution. Having the ability to anticipate your manager’s needs and create timely mechanisms becomes essential to showing your ability to command.


Under-promise and over-deliver. Make sure your manager knows what you are working on and give yourself plenty of time to do it. I work with a highly responsive team, and sometimes it is that extreme responsiveness that backfires on us and sets us up to fail, as we can’t always uphold that standard 24/7.

Cleverism recommends padding deliverable timetables by 25%. While this may seem counter-intuitive (and manipulative to boot), ensuring you have a buffer to produce great results and making sure your manager stays in the loop about them, sets you up to be timely, predictable, and dependable.

Managing up is Good People Management

When you can effectively set expectations, keep your manager in the know, and help them complete deliverables, you become a partner. Learn from a younger me; It did not matter how hard I was working, I could not communicate my efforts and rationale to my management team. They simply didn’t have the insight into my work to trust me. While gaining trust may be a multi-pronged process, these three time-tackling tenants will get you started to building a positive, mutually beneficial relationship with your manager and supervising partners.

For more extensive insight and practice, our Management Challenge covers the core competency of Building Trust via setting clear expectations, enabling employee motivators, feedback & coaching, and being present.

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