Making Your Manager's Job Easier: What is Managing Up [+3 Examples]

Managing up helps make work easier for you and your boss. Most importantly, it can help you unlock new opportunities to advance your career. Here is a comprehensive guide on how managing up works and its benefits.

The Meetingnotes Team
February 27, 2024

Employees look up to their managers for directions on what to do. However, a manager may not always be in a position to fulfill all the responsibilities towards their employees, including directing them on their day-to-day duties. This can leave the employees feeling stranded and confused about what to do next. This (and other problems) can be solved through managing up.

Managing up helps make work easier for you and your boss. Most importantly, it can help you unlock new opportunities to advance your career. Here is a comprehensive guide on how managing up works and its benefits.


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What Does Managing Up Mean?

Managing up is not a new concept. Numerous self-driven employees do it whenever necessary without giving it a second thought. However, the concept has gained more popularity and become more refined in the recent past.

Essentially, managing up entails helping your boss with their managerial responsibilities to make your work (and their work) easier. It entails being self-driven and doing whatever is required of you without much supervision.

Unfortunately, people have varying interpretations of this explanation, and this has resulted in many misconceptions about what managing up means. The most damaging misconception about managing up is that it entails overseeing or supervising your boss. This concept creates friction in the workplace, as you would essentially be undermining your boss. While your intentions may be good, your actions could be ruled as insubordination, damaging your career.

It is important to respect the hierarchy of power within the organization. Fortunately, this guide also covers the dos and don'ts of managing up in detail in the sections below.

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Examples of Managing Up

There are dozens of ways to manage up. Here is an overview of three of the most common examples of managing up to give you a clearer perspective of how this concept works:

1. Communicating Your Priorities & Seeking Feedback

One of your manager's main responsibilities is assigning you tasks. So, what would you do if they forgot to give you clear and specific directions on what to work on? Managing up requires you to assign yourself the tasks that you would expect the manager to assign you.

Communicating your priorities entails briefing the manager about what you will be doing for the next working cycle (a day, week, or month). It is important to brief your boss as soon as you assign yourself tasks and wait for their approval before proceeding any further.

While assigning yourself priorities is better than not working as you wait for the manager's directive, it can cause confusion in the workplace. For example, someone else could be working on your self-assigned tasks. Such mistakes shouldn't happen under the manager's watch – they shouldn't happen under your watch, either. Communication ensures that everyone is on the same page about what to do.

2. Anticipating Your Manager's Needs

Ideally, you should know your manager well enough to anticipate their needs. For example, is your boss grumpy or clumsy without their morning cup of coffee? In this case, it would help if you got them their favorite flavor of coffee when coming to work in the morning.

Anticipating your manager's needs can help you make the workplace a more conducive environment for everyone. For example, handling some of the tasks your manager doesn't like doing (such as developing PowerPoint presentations) would free up their time. The boss could use it to fulfill their other responsibilities towards you, thus making your work easier.

3. Identifying Your Manager's Communication Preferences

Does your manager like certain communication channels better than others? For example, they may prefer speaking via the phone because it is quicker and easier than corresponding via email.

Your manager may take time responding to your communication if you use a channel they don't like. However, you can prompt a quick and positive response by simply adopting their preferred communication channels and styles.

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Best Practices for Managing Up

There are many counterproductive and potentially damaging misconceptions about how managing up works. This is why studying and understanding the concept is advisable before practicing it.

It is also advisable to develop your managing up strategy based on a set of best practices. Here is an overview of seven fundamental rules on how to manage up:

Communicate Regularly

Managing up will often require you to go beyond your scope of roles and responsibilities. Communication is important in any setting, including when you are going about your usual routine. However, it is especially important when managing up because your actions may be confusing or disruptive to the boss and your colleagues if you don't give them a heads-up.

For example, consider a situation whereby your boss hasn't assigned you tasks for the coming week, so you decided to set your own priorities without asking for their feedback. The boss could have assigned someone else one of your self-assigned priorities, and your action could disrupt the other person's work.

Know & Understand Your Boss

Everyone (including your boss) has a unique personality that affects their personal and professional lives. Their personality is an integral component of everything they do, including how they manage the workplace. For example, managers who distrust digital communication would prefer their employees to schedule one-on-one meetings instead of communicating via email.

Managing up entails helping your boss with their work. However, your help could become counterproductive if it doesn't suit your manager's needs and preferences. This is why it is important to take some time to study your boss and understand their personal and professional likes and dislikes.

Cultivate & Maintain a Close Working Relationship

Managing up will lead to an even closer working relationship with the manager. This further emphasizes the importance of understanding your boss's personal and professional likes and dislikes.

Prioritize the Manager's Priorities

You can assign yourself tasks and consult the manager for feedback and approval. Your boss can approve or reject some of the priorities, and their decision is usually based on their priorities. This is why it is prudent to prioritize the tasks your boss would assign you over other tasks you would prefer.

Be Responsive

Because managing up entails forming a close working relationship with your manager, you should expect them to call upon you whenever they need someone reliable to handle special or urgent tasks. They expect you to be there whenever they need you, so always be quick to respond.

You will also need to be flexible, as you may need to shift from what you are doing to handle the manager's current priorities. Being responsive will make your manager trust you more and strengthen your working relationship further.

Be Reliable & Resourceful

Managing up will often require you to go out of your way to get the job done. For example, you may be required to perform tasks that are outside your job description or work overtime. This requires you to be resourceful, creative, and have good problem-solving skills.

Be Organized

Managing up requires you to go above and beyond your official scope of responsibilities. It often involves handling more work and working more hours than is necessary. It can be a delicate balancing act, which is why you should have excellent organizational skills. It is also advisable to use tools and technologies to help you schedule your tasks and organize your work.

Focus on the Bigger Picture

Managing up will benefit your career in multiple ways, as discussed below. However, that shouldn't be the main goal of managing up strategy. Instead, you should focus on helping the manager achieve the company's main goals – your career goals will advance as you help advance the manager's and company's goals.


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Why is Managing Up Important?

Managing up is beneficial for everyone involved, including you, your boss, your colleagues, and the company. More importantly, it can help advance your career faster than other tactics would.

Benefits of Managing Up

Managing up has dozens of benefits for everyone involved. Three of the most notable benefits include:

It Keeps You On the Manager's Good Side

The manager's attitude towards you can considerably impact your overall experience at the workplace. For example, a difficult manager can make the workplace feel tense and uncomfortable – imagine working while looking over your shoulder to see if the manager is watching. In contrast, working would feel enjoyable if your manager was friendly and supportive of most of the things you did.

Managing up entails developing a positive, close working relationship with your boss. It entails offering help to the manager whenever they need it. Your manager will be appreciative of everything you do for them, and this will help you stay on their good side.

It Gives You More Control & Ownership over Your Work

It is essential to be self-driven to manage up, and self-driven people usually don't appreciate close supervision of everything they do. While you cannot stop your boss from supervising your work as closely as they want, you can prove to them that close scrutiny is not necessary by managing up. After all, why would they need to supervise everything you do if you are undertaking more necessary tasks?

Close supervision can make you uncomfortable and potentially compromise your productivity. In contrast, getting more control and ownership over your work will make your job feel easier, more comfortable, and more rewarding. It will also empower you to work harder towards achieving your career goals.

It Helps Make Work Easier for Everyone

Managing up helps make work easier for the manager by reducing their workload and improving their overall experience at work. While it seems like you would be doing most of the extra work, managing up also makes work easier for you by giving you greater control over what you do. It also makes work easier for your colleagues by helping ensure that the manager keeps everything moving smoothly.

How Can Managing Up Benefit Your Career?

No one wants to be stuck in a dead-end job in their career or at their workplace. Managing up is one of the most valuable skills you can have for your present job and your overall career. It can help advance your career in the following ways:

Improving Your Productivity

Managing up entails doing more work than you should and delivering good results on everything you do. Essentially, it entails being more productive than the manager expects. Productivity is one of the qualifications for climbing up the ladder at the workplace and in your career, and your increased productivity will not go unnoticed.

Expanding Your Skillset

You will often be required to go beyond your skillset to help your boss with some of his work when managing up. For example, handling the boss's PowerPoint presentations on their behalf will equip you with public speaking skills and teach you how to present yourself in front of professionals in a formal setting. More notably, some of the manager's leadership skills will rub off on you through your close relationship and keen observation.

Managers are often required to be resourceful and have well-rounded skills in other niches besides leadership. An expanded skillset gives you a better shot at a managerial position, a major milestone in any career.

Standing Out

Standing out from your colleagues gives you a better chance of being noticed and considered for a promotion. Managing up entails doing tasks that other employees wouldn't be willing to do without direct supervision. It also entails being there whenever your boss needs you. Essentially, you become the go-to person for the most important tasks at the workplace, making you stand out in a positive way. It is important to find a modest way to take credit for your work so that the boss notices it.

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