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How to Manage Your Boss: Five Tips for Managing Up

~ By Duncan Haughey

Mature businessman and businesswoman with graphs in meeting at an office desk

To succeed in business and project management, you need to manage your boss. This practice is called managing up. It means developing a working relationship that allows you to understand the world from your boss's perspective and gain benefits for you both. Without this understanding time can be wasted, misunderstandings occur, frustrations develop and can lead to career suicide in the worst cases.

Here are five tips for managing up.

1. Understand Your Boss's Perspective, Priorities and Agenda

What are his or her likes and dislikes?

Try putting yourself in your boss's shoes and looking at the business from their perspective.

Your priorities may not be their priorities, so find out what theirs are. What is important to them, and necessary to meet their organisational goals? It doesn't mean your priorities are unimportant; they're just not the ones that concern your boss, so don't be surprised if they are off their radar.

Is your boss late to meetings or working flexibly? You may find your meetings with the boss are at the bottom of their priority list. Meetings may start late, be postponed or even cancelled. You could be forgiven for viewing this negatively, or thinking your boss finds what you are doing unimportant. It's harder to postpone or cancel client meetings, so this may be the reason. You will need to persevere to get time in his or her diary.

Tip: If your boss hates people being late to meetings, make sure you arrive early, well-prepared and ready to start.

2. Discover Your Boss's Strengths and Weaknesses

What can you do to help?

We each have our strengths and weaknesses, including your boss. Perhaps he or she is not good at creating and tracking budgets; an area in which you can offer to provide some help. This support frees up his or her time and enables you to strengthen your relationship with him or her.

Tip: Ask for feedback on the work you have completed for them, and look for areas where you can improve and add greater value.

3. Learn Your Boss's Preferences

How does your boss like to work?

Adjust your working practices to fit with their preferred ways of working. It can be irritating when the people you work with always seem to be at odds with you.

Some people are happy to have impromptu meetings around the water cooler while others prefer formal agenda meetings booked in advance.

Is your boss an Agile or Waterfall style person? For some people, the idea of Agile Project Management fills them with horror. They fear they will lose control and projects will fail. They want to see everything thoroughly documented and planned before work starts in pure Waterfall style.

Match the way you work to your boss's preferences to avoid any stressful clashes and differences of opinion.

Tip: Try to make your boss look good, by meeting deadlines, producing quality work, staying on budget and responding to issues quickly.

4. Remain Loyal, Honest and Trustworthy

Are you backing your boss or talking behind their back?

You may not agree with everything your boss says or does, but it's important for the team that you give them your backing and remain loyal, honest and trustworthy. In return, you should expect to receive your boss's support.

The boss sets the ways of working and direction for their team. The team is responsible for following the leadership and example the boss sets. That's not to say you can't challenge them or ask for clarification. If you strongly disagree with your boss's vision for the team, then consider whether it's time to move on.

Tip: Going over your boss's head should be a last resort. Make sure you approach them first with any issues or concerns unless they are doing something illegal or likely to lead to a lawsuit.

5. Work Together to Achieve Goals

How is your career progressing?

Your boss may be the single most important person in your career. It makes sense to manage them in a way that helps you both.

Your boss can influence your future career prospects and help get you where you want to be. Talk to them about where you wish to go in both the short and long-term. Ask them to help you get there.

Tip: Falling out with your boss may well hinder your career prospects. Avoid this by following the advice in this article.

Summary

Put yourself in your boss's shoes and look at the business from their perspective. Discover areas of difficulty for them and offer to help. Adjust your working practices so to align with your boss. Give the boss your full backing and work together to achieve your career objectives.

It may not be part of the core curriculum, but managing your boss well will help both of you achieve your goals and avoid sources of conflict and irritation. Remember, managing up is not sucking up; you are looking to achieve mutual benefits for you and your boss.

What are your personal recommendations for managing up? What works best for you?


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