What Is Managing Up?

A young woman in front of a tan wall staring upward

If you’re familiar with video games, you know what it means to “level up.” If your work life were a video game, the equivalent would be “managing up.”

When you manage up, you build a healthy relationship with your boss, cultivate a positive work dynamic, and overcome any challenges your boss creates. This is an especially valuable tool for bosses who are disengaged, unclear, highly demanding, or downright unpleasant. Because let’s face it not all managers are strong leaders. Their flaws can threaten your workplace achievements and create an ongoing barrier to success.

This is why “managing up” has become such an important concept in business. When you get in your manager’s head, build a strong line of communication, and deliver more than you promise, you can improve your career trajectory and make your time on the clock dramatically more productive.

The following managing up skills can help you overcome the shortcomings of your boss in any work situation.

Know Your Boss Inside and Out

Think of a friend, spouse, or family member that you know inside and out. You can predict their moods based on the day’s events, interpret feelings and thoughts just from a few expressions or movements, and respond to their needs before they even ask.

You need to become just as familiar with your boss in order to manage up. Though you probably shouldn’t form as intimate a connection with a professional superior as you would with your spouse, you can still become more observant in order to anticipate problems, adjust your style to fit your manager’s preferences, and ask pointed questions to deeply understand her workplace needs.

Build a Strong Line of Communication

No productive relationship can exist without a strong line of communication. Even if talking to your boss isn’t your favorite part of the day, you can solve many potential problems just by tailoring your communication habits to her standards.

Consider the following:

  • Identify whether your boss prefers face-to-face or written communication and adjust your habits accordingly
  • Share good news quick, but share bad news quicker
  • Communicate for the sole purpose of sharing a positive idea or innovative proposal

Your efforts won’t go unnoticed, even if your boss doesn’t verbally applaud your hard work. If anything, you’ll notice a shift in your manager’s behavior as communication becomes easier and more productive.

Under-Promise, Over-Deliver

It’s never good to make sweeping promises you have no hope of delivering effectively. Adjust your habits to under-promise but over-deliver so that your final work exceeds expectations.

This isn’t about being manipulative or sneaky. It’s actually about being proactive, strategic, and assertive in order to build the best results possible. You want to support your boss and maintain a reputation for being reliable, helpful and committed.

When you use these techniques to effectively manage up, you’ll earn yourself a permanent place on your boss’s good side and win the respect of those who really matter. You’ll also improve your personal experiences at work by smoothing out points of tension and striving to be the best version of yourself.

Learn how to save now and retire early: Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) Explained.