5 Tips for managing upwards

Your relationship with your boss (or bosses) will most likely be one of the biggest influences on your career. I’m very grateful to the different bosses I’ve worked for over the years, having learned valuable lessons from them all. OK, some of those lessons may be of the ‘what NOT to do’ kind, but good to know all the same. Many of us find navigating this professional relationship can get tricky. Certainly when I run Zoomly’s ‘How to manage upwards’ workshop, it’s the one where people can be reluctant to ask questions at first – but it soon turns into a torrent of “how do I…?” and “what do I do if…?”

I think the first step in managing upwards is to get to know the person. If you’ve got a new boss, chances are they may carry out the same sort of tasks as your previous manager – and yet they can approach them very differently. And yes (you’ve probably already figured this one out), if you’ve got multiple managers, they’ve probably all got different ways of working. So you’ll need to get to know a few people.

Create a pen portrait of your boss by answering these prompts, and as you apply the insights you’ll gain, you will build a strong working relationship.

What’s their approach to deadlines?

Get this one wrong and your significant professional relationship could get off to a very bad start.

Some people like to take a planned, step-by-step approach to working towards a deadline. There’ll be interim points along the way, when they may want to check in with you on progress. There might even be a chart or checklist. Disruptions to the plan may be met with displeasure.

Is this your boss? Make sure you’re on top of progress through each of those steps, and update them along the way (preferably with a visual). Give them a heads up about disruptions – and what’s being done to mitigate their impact.

What if your manager’s the complete opposite – hurtling sideways into deadlines, relying on that last-minute adrenaline rush? (And it’s my observation that deadlines are hit just as frequently as with the previous approach.) That’s fine if you tend to view time in the same way; however notice the effect this has on colleagues and key stakeholders.

Is this your boss? It may be down to you to keep people informed of last minute changes and their impact. You may want to build more time into plans.

How do they make decisions?

Some managers need to give decisions the ‘overnight test’. Or they may ask for more information, evidence that supports (or challenges) the expected decision.

Is this your boss? Prepare ahead: build in more time to plans and most importantly, be on top of your facts and figures, ready with a few pros and cons of your own to discuss with them.

Your boss may decide in haste – and at times have to repent at leisure. Sometimes this can be frustrating. Or it can be refreshing, compared to a manager who dithers and delays. Let the outcomes judge.

Is this your boss? Again, you will need to be ready with pros and cons. What’s more, you’ll do them, yourself and others a big favour if you have some ‘If [this happens], then [that could result]’ options to help them consider the implications.

You may find this blog post useful: ‘Help! My boss ghosts me’

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’






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