Managing Upwards with Laura Pycraft

Published by mpume on

In every setting, developing, and maintaining working relationships is important. The same applies in the workplace. Developing and maintaining effective work relationships with your superiors is quite important in one’s career. Some managers may be bad leaders – managers who just don’t value your work, or they belittle you in front of colleagues, or may be in some cases the boss is just incompetent, and they have no idea of what they are doing and project their shortcomings on you.  Whatever the scenario, whatever the situation, it’s your responsibility as the subordinate to take the bull by its horns and learn to manage up in your place of employment.

Defining Managing Upward

As usual, I sought help from a subject expert. I spoke to Laura Pycraft, a Talent Expert, no not the recruitment kind of talent. Laura’s about helping people grow themselves and manage their businesses, careers and achieve their personal goals. According to Laura, managing upwards is a set of behaviours and skills that people can utilise to improve the relationship with their direct line manager and sometimes their managers a step above that. In other words, it’s the ability of the employee taking control of their relationships with those they report to rather than letting things “slide”. You need to have useful skills and tools to know how to manage up. Mind you, managing up is something you have to practice, and not everyone can generate such skills on their own. Managing up can include managing your colleagues, your boss, or your boss’s boss, but primarily, the focus is on your direct superior. Should you fail with your direct manager, you can then look outside and see how you can use the same skills to improve your relationships with those above your boss.

Some reasons why you may not be able to win managing up with your current boss…

As with all human beings, we all have our own issues, life happens to everyone. So sometimes, you may not be able to manage up your manager for  one or several reasons.

For example, you may be dealing with someone who is going through their own issues in life , they could be struggling with their own anxieties, insecurities, or personal ambitions. Sometimes the relationship could reach a point where your efforts become toxic and harmful in that it takes up your personal time, space, affects your emotional being, so you end up just walking away.

Or you get to a point where you feel, you don’t care to put in extra effort, you adopt an attitude that says it’s no point working to improve your relationship with your boss.

Difference between managing up and sucking up to your boss…

Well, sucking up is a manipulative tactic.  when you suck up to somebody you are altering your behavior and you know your words/ communication is aimed at manipulating somebody into seeing you in the way you want to be seen, your efforts would usually verge on dishonesty and sometimes can go into the realm of being dishonest.

Managing upwards is more about you taking control of a relationship  with another professional in a healthy way and you doing it in a way that achieves value for both parties. So with sucking up, often the manager actually isn’t getting as much value out of the relationship as they think they are, and they are more so just being manipulated to feel comfortable.

Sucking up is self-centered , your needs come before others. With managing up ,you are actually putting in a lot of effort to understand your manager;  what they need , what they value and what the company values are and how to make your manager look good.

Thin line between managing up and being overbearing…where to draw the line!

When you start to manage up a lot of the tactics revolve around insights into what your boss really needs. So, some people might struggle and sort of automatically think the boss needs constant communication to keep the boss up to date.

The onus is on the person to look further and reevaluate their actions, yes it may make you feel better that you are keeping your boss abreast of things but is your overboard communication  actually helping your boss and making their job easier or are you making yourself feel better?

A lot of the time that understanding can be built by well thought out strategic communication from the onset.  It’s communication where you sit down with your boss and be vulnerable and authentic with them and say you want to do well for yourself but also understanding that you are a team, it’s not a one man’s show. You talk and understand how you can both work well together without being in each other’s ways and causing discomfort.

How to manage up effectively

  1. Be proactive

Being able to avoid unwanted surprises and make your boss’s life easier is something every manager  values. The last thing your manager wants is to find out that an important matter fell through the cracks. The more you can anticipate problems as well as your manager’s needs, the more confidence and influence you will build.

  1. Respect your superior’s time

In order to manage up at work, learn the best times to engage with your boss and schedule your meetings around those times. Rather than you knocking on your boss’s door whenever you have a question, schedule a weekly one on one and address your issues then. Have an agenda for your meetings, document action items, and follow up accordingly.

  1. Speak up when it is required

If you want to receive good performance reviews, and good opportunities for your career growth, mastering the process of managing up at work is essential.  Remember that the relationship with your boss is two-way, so don’t hesitate to provide feedback when needed.

  1. Understand your manager’s style

One of the important ways to manage up at work is to get to know your boss. You need to learn and understand your boss’s work style. For example:

* Are they easily approachable or not?
* Do they enjoy collaborating, delegating, or micromanaging?
* How often do they want updates?
* Do they take their time to process things before they decide?
* How do they prefer you communicate with them?
* Is it via email or text? Are they intuitive or not?

Skills to manage up effectively

  1. Learn how to communicate, listen, and observe!

As you interact with your boss, try to identify what’s behind their words and behavior and the values that are fundamental to them. This will assist you to understand who your boss is as a person and it will enable you to align with them.

  1. Be comfortable with disagreeing constructively with your boss.

Always show respect and understanding, but also, you must demonstrate that you care about achieving optimum results for the business.

  1. Be solutions oriented, not a reporter of problems

Instead of bringing problems to your manager, try to come up with potential solutions to help your manager out. It also shows proactiveness on your part.

  1. Do not take your relationship with your manager for granted

Granted, we spend quite a significant amount of time with our managers at work, and like any significant relationship, it really requires proper care and regular reflection.


Managing upward is the skill of communicating as often as necessary in a way that helps your boss /manager achieve their goals. Like any worthwhile business skill, managing upward takes time to develop. Communicate the way your manager thinks-other bosses like to read while  others prefer to listen. Use their tools of choice. Establish what your manager values- you’re wasting your time working on a big project if it doesn’t align with your boss’s goals. Help your manager become more effective by evaluating their strengths and build on them.


Categories: Experience


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