Managing up

Managing up is about how to manage your boss. Why do you need this skill and how is it done?

Do the preparation task first. Then read the article and do the exercises.

Your boss, and your relationship with them, has a big impact on your working environment and sense of job satisfaction. But although learning how to manage your boss is an important professional skill, it is one that is not often discussed. This article explains what managing up means, what the benefits are and how to do it.

Nicole loves many things about her job – she loves the responsibilities she has, she gets on well with the members of the team she is leading, and she appreciates the working environment she has. The only thing that keeps her awake at night is worrying about her boss, Peter. 

Peter joined the company as manager of Nicole's department only four months ago. He had previously been working as a manager in a different industry and is less familiar with his new business environment. Methods that he used before are not going down well with members of this new department and an atmosphere of resentment is building in the team. Nicole feels Peter is not getting the best out of his team and thinks his lack of background knowledge about the business is leading to poor decisions. 

So what could Nicole do? She could:

(a) join in the gossip against Peter,

(b) complain about Peter to his managers,

(c) do nothing and hope that Peter quits his job, or

(d) manage up.

Options (a) and (b) might create more tension and build an even more negative working atmosphere, and option (c) is likely to cause Nicole to feel frustrated and dislike her job. Fortunately, there is a proactive option that Nicole can take: she can choose to manage up.

Managing up is the process of managing your manager. It involves learning how to work well with your manager and developing a positive relationship with them. It does not mean falsely flattering your boss or manipulating them to do what you want. It is more about putting yourself in their position, understanding their needs and then using the skills of a good manager to help support them. 

Author of Managing Up, Mary Abbajay, suggests that people with difficult bosses first need to let go of the anger and replace it with empathy and understanding. By trying to put ourselves in our bosses' shoes, we are able to better understand their challenges and their choices. Then from a place of calm, we can try to identify and prioritise the problems. What skills do they lack as a manager? How could they make better decisions? Are there differences in working styles and how do they affect the team?

Once we understand the issues, we can then think of strategies to manage up. For Nicole, this might involve finding the right way to communicate these problems to Peter. Or it could mean providing him with the information he needs and helping him to see the talents of the people in the team. Managing up could also mean adapting her working style slightly to fit her manager's. And in some cases, it might even involve taking on more responsibilities and covering for the manager in areas that they need help with.

Most importantly, the skill of managing up is about developing a healthy and positive relationship with your boss. Not only will this allow you to better understand their values, their goals and their point of view, but it will also open up communication channels so that they feel like they're able to come to you for support. You're not just helping your boss by doing this. You're also developing important professional skills, creating a more positive working environment and taking positive steps for your own job satisfaction and career.

Nicole's story reflects many of our realities. In fact, one study showed that 65 per cent of workers would choose a new boss over a pay rise. However, with the skill of managing up, we can all try to make our workplace a more satisfying and enjoyable one. What's more, it's a good opportunity to improve our own management skills and career prospects in the process.



Worksheet95.33 KB

Language level

Intermediate: B1
Upper intermediate: B2

Submitted by jogrereco on Fri, 26/03/2021 - 18:14

Best regards. In the following sentence, first line of the text: Your boss, and your relationship with them has a big impact on your working environment and sense of job satisfaction. Is it correct the direct object "Them"?. Should it be "him" or "her"? Is it probably making reference to an imaginary subject "bosses" in plural, and not to the singular "boss" just mentioned? Thanks very much.

Hi jogrereco,

It is correct! It's common to use plural pronouns (they/them/their) to refer to a single person if the person's gender is not known or not relevant.


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by I am on Fri, 15/01/2021 - 16:44

I suppose most helpful advice is: 1) understanding your manager 2) imagining yourself in your boss place (especially in difficult situations) 3) helping your boss

Submitted by Abbas Yaqoob on Sun, 05/07/2020 - 00:21

Yes, this most important techniques to create good relationship with your boss. thanks a lot for this information

Submitted by Nief Osman on Fri, 19/06/2020 - 22:03

Indeed, The concept of Managing up is useful tool that help all workers to susses in future path work. You have to be aware with all the challenge face by your manager ,which is the platform of Managing up. My advice to all professional; Always try to let your direct supervisor is SMART by sharing comprehensive information ,and that will help him to take correct action and analyses the situation.

Submitted by ishernandez on Fri, 12/06/2020 - 04:50

Yes, I think that one of the most important thing to do to improve the relationship with my new manager, is to talk about the ways in which actually the activities and process are carrying out after exchange opinions not only with the manager but also involving all the members of the team, it could create a good relationship and improve the techniques of word or implement a new ones to meet the goals.

Submitted by senes19 on Tue, 09/06/2020 - 14:27

As far as I have based on my experience it is the most important thing that doesnt allow to break up their confidence. In addition we should continue to explain clearly our opinions about job. This attitude make our more credible. Also finally helping, stopping gossip and working hardly are vital points i think.

Submitted by Alina Polevaya on Sun, 24/05/2020 - 08:40

1. Stop gossiping 2. Do your best and even more 3. Help your boss. If he is not accepting, do it slowly. 4. Tell your boss how the organization works 5. Don't deliver gossips from colleagues to the boss
Online courses
Learn English online – with the world's English experts