Managing up is a skill that’s especially useful when you’re remote working. Here are the nine key skills to develop.
Managing up is a useful skill for any employee at any level, but when you’re working remotely, it’s even more important. Knowing how to manage your manager will help to build trust, reduce misunderstandings and improve your working relationship - even if it’s good to start with.
And if you feel that you’re at the bottom of the rung at work, don’t think that you’re not a manager. You
are a manager - of your own manager! They just don’t know it yet.
Working remotely can bring extra challenges, such as:
Developing your managing up skills can make work life easier and more enjoyable for yourself and your manager, so here are nine ways to skill up:
Taking the initiative to manage your relationship with your manager is key. Recognise that it’s a two-way process and you’re responsible for your part of that relationship. Sometimes it’s easier to be passive with your line manager, and to react rather than to respond to your manager’s personality or requests. But if you take that responsibility for your side of the relationship, you’ll feel a sense of ownership and a greater sense of control.
Take the initiative to have a video conversation with your manager to agree about how you work together, what’s expected of you, and how and when you’re going to communicate. Talk through the priorities and what happens if you hit a problem. This will clarify your entire work process and show your manager that you’re tackling issues in a serious and strategic way.
What lies at the heart of good managing up skills is taking the time to understand your manager’s responsibilities, priorities and difficulties. During your conversations, ask open questions to gain a better understanding of the issues that are challenging for them.
Understanding your manager’s pressures and what their own manager expects of them will help you work out how you can help your manager achieve what they need to achieve. There’s nothing wrong with asking, “How can I make your job easier?”. When you better understand your manager, you can create a positive, on-the-same-side working attitude that will build trust for them and more freedom for you.
Don’t disappear on them. It’s easy to be invisible if you’re working remotely. Update them regularly, to keep them informed and to show that you can work well with little supervision. Check how often they’d like updates, and stick to it.
If you hit a problem, don’t let it fester. The earlier you raise it with your manager, the better. If remote working issues are making difficulties that will affect your performance, think through some solutions rather than present your manager with the problem. Everybody likes an easy life, and if you’ve shown that you’ve considered how you can resolve the issue already, your manager is more likely to trust that you’re looking to solve the issue proactively and productively.
If your work is guided by two managers, there’s a risk that the priorities they set will compete - which is stressful for you and a barrier to streamlined working. If they’re not talking to each other, it’s your job to make sure that they do. Let them know that you’re very happy to undertake the work, but you need them to decide between themselves which of your tasks takes priority.
No one’s manager is perfect, so expect that yours will cause problems for you from time to time. Perhaps they are sending you too many emails, or changing their minds too often, or not abiding by your agreed ways of working.
Learning how to give difficult feedback to someone higher up the management chain than yourself can be a challenge, but if you prepare for it and don’t make it personal, it’s much easier.
Use the sandwich method - good news/bad news/good news - to frame your conversation. Pick a good time to talk - one that’s not fraught with deadlines or pressures for you both. Open the conversation with something they are doing well or which you appreciate, then explain the issue and the impact on you or your performance. Ask for their input, and discuss what the resolution would look like, then end with another positive comment. Don’t forget to email to confirm in writing what you’ve both decided, and give them good feedback if they’re taking steps to solve the problem.
If your manager is doing something well that makes your life easier, acknowledge it. Everybody likes praise, and recognition works both ways. Appreciation is motivating, and your manager is likely to feel as much validated by your recognition as they are from their own manager. This will add positivity to your relationship, and also train your manager to continue the good behaviour.
When you start to purposefully manage up, you will feel more in control of your work life and more confident to approach and manage interpersonal relationships well.