“Managing up” is the notion that employees nurture the relationship with their bosses in order to get the best result for themselves, and the organization.
However, managing up is tricky business. Too much attention to managing up may compete with the job at hand—getting a specific project executed in time and on budget. Project managers also have to “manage down,” and orchestrate the efforts of others to reach organizational goals.
“You want to be described as indispensable,” says Rosanne Badowski, co-author of “Managing Up: How to Forge an Effective Relationship With Those Above You” and a former executive assistant to Jack Welch at General Electric. “Doing what you can to make your manager’s job easier will not only help them do their job, but you will be considered a valuable asset to your manager and to your organization.”
So how do project managers work well with their bosses? Here are six principles to managing up, and make yourself a valuable contributor:
- Know your boss’s work style. Does she like detailed reports or broad overviews? Does she want information delivered face-to-face, by email or in a word document? Is she analytical and prefers facts and data, or likes her facts rolled into the context of a story? Pay attention to the preference, and then adjust your style accordingly.When I was filing stories by email in the mid-1990s, over those 2800-baud modems, there was no guarantee that my entire document would make it. So I called my editor after each email to see if the manuscript arrived. My busy editor made it clear that she did not appreciate those follow-up calls, so I stopped.
- Communicate like your boss. If your boss likes daily emails, send them. If your boss wants a once-a-week summary, then do that. If you convey information in the manner a manager prefers, she’s more likely to retain it. Looking for clues? “A good way to figure out what your boss wants is to watch how she communicates with you. She’s probably doing it the way she likes best,” says Penelope Trunk in her blog post, “7 Ways to Manage Up.”
- Know what matters to your boss. Understand how your boss is dealing with his higher-ups so you can avoid inadvertently complicating his work flow. If he tells you that he’s buried under a pile of performance reviews, give him the space he needs to do work, or ask how you can help—rather than interrupting him with a series of questions, or more requests.
- Don’t surprise your boss. Keep your boss informed on the projects you manage. If your boss is the type that doesn’t want to get into details, find a way to give enough detail so that when something goes bad and you need help, your boss can deliver.
- Learn how to say no to your boss. Say yes to the things that matter the most to your boss, and no to everything else. If your boss asks you to do something that you don’t have time for, talk about priorities. Clarify that you want to make sure you finish what is most important, and this will probably result in some no’s to the lesser projects.
- Talk about solutions, not problems. Be proactive by looking for issues as they develop and then head them off with solutions. Your boss will appreciate you for all the “problems” that never reach her desk.
Tim Clark is a partner and senior analyst with The FactPoint Group, a market research and consulting firm. He also once worked as a reporter and columnist for CNET’s News.com, Inter@ctive Week and Advertising Age.