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Soft Skills: Managing Up

Managing up Soft Skills

The relationship that you have with your boss is one of the most important aspects to your career success, along with achieving greater fulfilment. Unfortunately, not everyone has positive interactions with their supervisor. Indeed, in a McKinsey study, researchers found that 75% of survey participants stated that the most stressful aspect of their job was their immediate boss. The study also confirms that bosses and supervisors play a big role when it comes to employee happiness. Relationships with management are a top factor influencing employee job satisfaction.

I know that many of you understand that it’s intuitively obvious that having better supervisor relationships will lead to higher job satisfaction. However, we all know that to be healthy we should eat right and exercise routinely, but how many of us do? We know what we should be doing, but few of us do it. Similar to your health, having a bad relationship with your supervisor can affect you on a daily basis. It can impact everything from how you perform the work you do to your overall well-being. These impacts have long-term effects. So, I think it important to discuss strategies to enhance supervisor relationships. One strategy or series of strategies that has been suggested by many career specialists is termed “Managing Up”.

Many career/employment professionals have concluded that the approach of “Managing Up” enables you to improve this relationship. This term does not involve going above your manager’s head to a higher supervisor or attempting to “direct” your manager. It also does not mean to avoid work, rebel, kiss up, or try to one-up your manager. Instead, managing up is an attempt to be the most effective employee you can be. As a result, this creates both value for your boss and company. Ultimately, the key goal is to develop a positive and productive relationship.

There is one characteristic that singularly defines a supervisor-employee relationship: power. A supervisor has more power than an employee, and this differential should not be ignored. It is here that effective strategies are required, because when it is all said and done, your manager is going to have the final say in many work initiatives such as critical decisions, processes being implemented or projects being developed. This is where skill development is vital. Skills that include communication, influence and self-insight are extremely important.

The Harvard Business Review defines Managing Up as “Being the most effective employee you can be, creating value for your boss and your company.” Ultimately, managing up attempts to nurture your manager’s sense of trust and confidence in you, and it serves as a relationship builder.

Here some key ideas to implement strategies for managing up:

1. Intention and Responsibility

2. Understand Your Boss

3. Self-Awareness

4. Clear Expectations/Boundaries

5. Enhance Communication

Intention and Responsibility

The first step in managing up is taking responsibility for the relationship. This decision must be made intentionally. Unfortunately, many employees never take on this responsibility. There are a million and one books that provide advice on how to be an effective leader. This overabundance of leadership information promotes the singular message that it is the sole responsibility of the supervisor to manage the supervisor-employee relationship. However, this is not the complete truth. Your boss may make final decisions and have a dominant impact, but you still have influence. This influence is critical to your success because it will affect your job resources, career growth opportunities, level of trust and autonomy, along with financial rewards.

It’s important that you intentionally implement strategies to grow and expand this influence, while recognizing that certain actions have the opposite effect. To effectively manage up, you must increase your level of influence, by identifying and acting on opportunities to grow it. See the relationship as a co-partnership with your supervisor, while avoiding excessive pressure, over-responsibility and guilt, for managing all or part of your work.

Understand Your Boss

The easiest way to get your manager to care about what is important to you is to first understand them. Learn your manager’s goals and priorities, and align your work with their needs. Ask key questions such as “What’s important to my manager?”, “How do they like to work?” and “What can I do to make their job easier?”

Career specialists recommend you gain in-depth knowledge of a manager’s personality, preferences, and goals. It’s important to understand vital areas, which can include knowing your manager’s ideas of success, core values, type of workstyle, preferred methods of communicating and past career experiences that influenced him or her. Engage with your boss frequently, having in-depth and quality discussions. Gaining knowledge of your manager’s working style, pain points, management challenges and larger organizational vision is key, as you can better align yourself to meet your manager’s expectations.


For a manager to achieve his or her expectations and goals, they must be able to find the right person for the right job. Knowing and communicating your strengths and weaknesses can greatly assist your supervisor. By communicating your strengths to your supervisor, it will allow him or her to assign the appropriate tasks and projects.

Determine ways to optimize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. A discussion with your manager will help you get increased insight, along with gaining an understanding of mutual expectations. It will also set conditions and limitations to goals, with regards to whatever can be realistically achieved. 

Clear Expectations and Boundaries

To attain value for your manager, you will need to help him/her reach specific goals. In other words, it’s important to know what specifically your boss needs from you. Determining job expectations is extremely important, as it ensures that you are working towards a specific outcome. Without clear expectations and defined measures, you will not be able to prioritize daily responsibilities, understand what initiatives are critical or understand your progress.

At the same time, it is also vital to express your own expectations to your supervisor. These expectations may come in the form of your own goals, or they may be expressed in terms of boundaries and limitations. Expectations will also show up in terms workload, timelines and overtime hours. If your manager has specific goals, then it needs to be understood that goals require time, energy and resources to achieve. Your professional life depends on how well you communicate both your aspirations and boundaries.

Enhance Communication

Underlying all of the forementioned strategies is the skill of communication. When it comes to communication it is important that you understand you manager’s preferred communication channels and style. Channels of communication are specific methods such as email, meetings, reporting, one-on-one discussions, etc. It is essential that you communicate to them in their preferred channel.

Communication styles are the different approaches that people use to express their thoughts, feelings and opinions. These communication styles are multifaceted and include verbal and non-verbal communication, such as body language and facial expressions. Entire volumes of books have been written on communication styles. However, it does not take research studies to prove that stronger communication abilities can positively enhance relationships.  

Pay attention to how your manager communicates and attempt to understand your boss’s “style”, determining the specific ways and approaches your boss prefers to communicate. In the end, when you are able to properly analyze your manager’s style you will find that it will greatly enhance the relationship, as there is a strong link between communication abilities and employee satisfaction. Always seek ways to improve communication, becoming stronger at listening, influencing, negotiation and resolving conflict.

Kerryn Joseph Wayow is a Career Counsellor from Pinnacle Plus Career Services. The companyprovides support to career searches for both adults and youth, especially with gaining greater career clarity and career development. If you are having challenges or difficulties figuring out your next career move, career counselling and/or an effective career development process can assist you in creating, planning and achieving your goals.

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