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Managing Up: What is It and Why Do It?

We have all heard of managing up, but what does it mean and how do we do it? Throughout March we will discuss this elusive topic to hopefully create a shared understanding of what managing up is, why is it important and approaches you can take to do it successfully. In this first post, we will discuss what managing up is and why it is important, which will lay the foundation for future posts about strategies and approaches.

What is Managing Up?

Stop reading for a moment, close your eyes and ask yourself that question. What words come to mind? How would you define it? Why would one manage up? What does it look like in action?

Now that you have your own picture in mind, let’s discuss what managing up is NOT. Managing up is:

  • NOT supervising or overseeing your boss
  • NOT going above your boss’s head to have your voice heard
  • NOT evaluating or judging your boss’s management or leadership style
  • NOT about changing or developing your boss into a better manager or leader
  • NOT about challenging decisions or actions your boss takes

OK, so what is managing up? Managing up IS:

  • Managing your relationship with your boss
  • Developing and cultivating a productive working rapport with your boss
  • Learning your boss’s management, leadership and communication styles and preferences
  • Increasing your awareness of your own work and communication style and preferences
  • Adapting and aligning the work styles of you and your boss to form a productive working relationship centered around mutual growth and understanding, work productivity and career development

If we manage up successfully, we create a strong relationship with our supervisor that allows us each to have our work needs met and encourages each person to learn and grow.

Why is Managing Up Important?

Now that we have some framing for what managing up is, why is it something we should care about?

Not all supervisors are created equal. Some have formal training, and some do not. Some are more task oriented, while others are more relationship- and team-building oriented. Some may be very present and attentive to our work, while others may encourage autonomy and a self-driven team.

Essentially supervisors are humans, just like us, and susceptible to all the complexities that make up any one of us. They have strengths along with areas that need growth and development. Further – and whether we like it or not – we need our supervisors. They have a significant impact on the work that we do, the relationships we make, our career advancement and our quality of work life. Having a strong working relationship with our supervisors can make or break our success and satisfaction in our jobs.

Consider the following questions:

  • Who cares more about your career, you or your boss?
  • Who cares more about your job satisfaction, you or your boss?
  • Who is impacted more by your career development, you or your boss?
  • Who is impacted more by your job satisfaction, you or your boss?

Hopefully, both you and your boss care about your career and job satisfaction, but you might find you care a bit more than your boss does. Both you and your boss are likely impacted by your career development and job satisfaction, but you may find that you are impacted to a greater degree.

So, should you care about managing up to create a strong relationship with your boss? I will leave that to you to decide. If you do care or at least think you should care, we will get into many approaches and strategies throughout March to help you better understand your boss’s style and how you can work successfully with them to get your work and career needs met. If you want to join us on this exploration, please take the next week to reflect on the questions below to be fully prepared for next week’s post, where we will dive into key principles and dynamics about managing up.

Reflective questions for the week:

  1. How would you describe your supervisor’s communication style? How would you describe your communication style? How do those styles interact together in your working relationship?
  2. How would you describe your supervisor’swork style and preferences? How would you describe your own work style and preferences? How do those styles interact together in your working relationship?
  3. How would you describe your supervisor’s work priorities? How would you describe your own work priorities? How do your priorities (similar or different) interact in your working relationship?

Luke Wiesner is the UC Merced Conflict Resolution Coach , a private resource for staff members who are interested in having a partner to support workplace challenges or conflicts. This service is voluntary, and you can partner with the coach by yourself or with fellow university employees.