You’ve probably heard the term “managing up.” It’s a pretty simple concept: You help your boss improve their performance. For technologists who report into a non-technologist manager, this is especially important, as the success or failure of a project may hinge on how well you can guide them through technical workflows they might not fully understand.
Those who succeed at managing up (it depends a lot on your "soft skills") can build a very healthy relationship with their manager, which can pay significant career dividends. If you’re just starting out your career, keeping the following tips in mind from the Ultimate Guide to a Successful Technology Career.
Key Steps to Managing Up
In the early stages of your career, your boss and your boss’s boss can be important factors in your evolution. Perform well, and they’ll likely give you more and more responsibility. But this relationship is the very definition of a two-way street. Just as your boss is supervising you, you’ll need to manage them.
So how can you master the art of “managing up?” Here are some key steps.
- Ask what your boss is trying to achieve. Make sure you’re included and read in on strategy as much as possible.
- Determine what your boss wants the team to do. What does team success look like through their eyes?
- Which metrics and goals are most important?
- What are their pet peeves and what tends to make them happiest?
Answering these questions can help you get an understanding of what makes your boss tick, helping you guide them when necessary. This, in turn, will help you manage your workload and ensure you are focusing on the most important priorities.
Analyzing your boss’s workload can be helpful as well. If your company has embraced hybrid work, for example, that can lead to exponentially more complex schedules. An overloaded manager appreciates when you figure out ways to streamline workflows, perhaps by taking on more responsibilities yourself. If they’re detail-oriented to the point that it’s impacting the team’s dynamics, it’s important to communicate that in a productive, blameless way.
Communication (perhaps even over-communication, especially if you’re working hybrid or remote and thus not present in the office most of the time) with one’s boss is key to managing up. Try hard to make promises you can keep, and then do your best to fulfill them, or learn and improve from the experience when you can’t. In turn, your manager could become a key player in your career advancement. Your mentor can provide valuable advice about this often-delicate process.
Above all, remember: empathy and patience are key. It might take some time to build an effective relationship, but don’t lose heart.