leadership development

Managing Up: What It Means & Why It’s an Important Leadership Development Skill

Employees, management, and organizations benefit from managing up. Influencing and supporting your superiors achieves mutual goals and advances your career.

Jai Chaggar

Director of Customer Success at Together

Published on 

May 6, 2024

Updated on 

Time to Read

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Intelligent employees understand their role isn't just about delivering results; it's also about effective communication strategies, relationship building, and leadership alignment with those higher up the organizational hierarchy. This concept, known as managing up, has become increasingly recognized as a critical skill for career advancement and success.

If you can master the skill of managing up, you will significantly improve your ability to build trust, gain support, and advance your career. This article focuses on strategies and tips for those wanting to manage up, including real-life examples and questions to consider before embarking on managing up activities.

What is managing up?

To manage up isn’t about sucking up to the boss or pandering to idiosyncratic personalities and unreasonable requests. It's also about something other than identifying your manager's shortfalls and trying manage or compensate for them. And it's not about going above your manager's head to report to a higher authority. 

Managing up is essentially the art of proactively influencing and collaborating with your superiors to achieve mutual goals and objectives. It involves understanding your manager's priorities, communication preferences, and working style and aligning your efforts accordingly. It's about supporting your bosses to be the best they can be while allowing them to see the best you can be.

By mastering this skill, you can not only build trust and rapport with your supervisors but also gain their support, recognition, and advocacy, ultimately propelling their careers forward within the organization.

Examples of managing up

Here are some real-life examples of managing up scenarios that demonstrate effective communication strategies, relationship building, professional development, and leadership alignment:

  • Advocating for resources or support 

Scenario: John wants to propose a new strategy to his manager, Sarah, but knows she prefers to review detailed information at her own pace.

Approach: Instead of scheduling a meeting, John prepares a well-documented proposal outlining the new strategy, including research, analysis, and potential outcomes. He then sends it to Sarah for review, allowing her to absorb the information and provide feedback on her own schedule.

  • Seeking feedback from supervisors

Scenario: David, a project team member, encounters a roadblock that threatens to derail the project timeline. He wants to bring it to the attention of his supervisor, Tom, and propose alternative solutions to mitigate the impact. He knows Tom’s time in the office is limited because he has to drive long distances daily to share in caring for an ailing parent. 

Approach: David arranges a phone call with Tom while he is driving. David demonstrates his proactive approach to problem-solving by addressing the issue, proposing potential solutions, and seeking Tom's guidance. He shows his commitment to project success and his own professional development while demonstrating empathy and strong team skills by scheduling the call to fit Tom's personal circumstances. 

  • Providing progress updates

Scenario: Jessica is leading a cross-functional project team, and her manager, Mary, needs to stay updated on project progress without frequent meetings.

Approach: Jessica sets up a system of regular progress reports, either weekly or biweekly, depending on the project timeline. These reports can be brief summaries highlighting key achievements, challenges, and next steps. By providing Mary with regular updates in a format that aligns with her preferences, Jessica ensures that she remains informed without the need for frequent meetings.

Why is managing up important?

Managing up is a critical skill that benefits both individuals and organizations by:

  • Increased visibility and recognition: Employees who manage up effectively showcase their initiative, problem-solving abilities, and commitment to organizational goals. This heightened visibility can increase recognition from higher-level stakeholders, positioning individuals as valuable organizational contributors.
  • Career advancement opportunities: Building positive relationships with higher-level stakeholders can open doors for professional development and career advancement. Managers are more likely to consider individuals who demonstrate leadership alignment, trust, and valuable contributory skills for promotions, challenging assignments, and leadership roles within the organization.
  • Improved communication: Managing up encourages open, transparent communication between employees and higher-level stakeholders. By understanding their managers' preferences and priorities, employees can tailor their communication styles and effectively convey information, leading to more precise understanding and fewer misunderstandings. 
  • Enhanced collaboration: Effective managing up promotes collaboration and teamwork across different levels of the organization. Employees foster a culture of collaboration, professional development, and collective success by aligning their efforts with organizational objectives and supporting their managers' goals.
  • Alignment with organizational goals: Managing up ensures that individual goals and actions are aligned with broader organizational objectives. When employees understand their managers' goals and priorities, they can better contribute to achieving those objectives, ultimately driving organizational success.
  • Increased employee satisfaction: Employees who feel supported by their managers and clearly understand expectations are more likely to feel satisfied in their roles. They manage up to foster a positive work environment where they feel valued, respected, and empowered to contribute to the organization's success.
  • Higher employee engagement: Engaged employees are more committed to their work, demonstrate higher productivity, and are likelier to go above and beyond. Managing up facilitates meaningful engagement by allowing employees to contribute to decision-making, share ideas, and take ownership of their work.
  • Organizational success: When employees effectively manage up, it leads to better alignment of individual and organizational goals, improved communication and collaboration, and increased employee satisfaction and engagement. These factors collectively contribute to organizational success, driving innovation, productivity, and competitive advantage.

Questions to ask before managing up

Several questions should be considered before engaging in managing up activities in order to approach the process with clarity, purpose, and effectiveness. Knowing the answers to these questions will strengthen your relationships with higher-level stakeholders while advancing your own career goals.

  • What are my goals and objectives in managing up?

Clarify your personal goals and objectives for managing up. Are you seeking career advancement, professional development, support for a specific project, or alignment with organizational goals?

  • What are the priorities and expectations of my supervisor or upper management?

What are supervisors or upper management focused on achieving, and how can you support those efforts?

  • How can I align my contributions with the organization's strategic initiatives?

How do your skills, expertise, and projects contribute to the organization's overall goals?

  • Who are the higher-level stakeholders I have access to and what do they influence or control?

Know what help you can expect from your different stakeholders. Do they influence the areas you wish to progress in, can they introduce you to those who do, or do they have skills and experience you can benefit from?

  • What communication channels or methods are most effective for engaging with higher-level stakeholders?

What communication strategies should I employ to engage higher-level stakeholders? For example, do they favor face-to-face meetings, email updates, or other forms of communication? 

  • What challenges or obstacles might I encounter in managing up, and how can I address them?

What could hinder you from managing, and are there ways to address these challenges and overcome barriers to success?

  • What are the potential risks or consequences of managing up, and how can I mitigate them?

Consider the potential risks or consequences of managing up, such as overstepping boundaries or misaligning organizational goals. How can you mitigate these risks while still advocating for your needs and contributing to organizational success?

Ten ways to manage up

By implementing these ten strategies, individuals can effectively manage up, strengthen their relationships with supervisors, and position themselves for success and advancement within their organizations. 

  1. Build rapport and trust with supervisors through open communication and active listening.

Rapport and trust are the pillars of relationship building and the first steps to effectively managing up, so:

  • Foster open communication strategies by being transparent and honest in your supervisor interactions. Share relevant information, updates, and concerns openly and respectfully, and
  • Practice active listening skills by giving your full attention to your supervisor during conversations. Show empathy, ask clarifying questions, and demonstrate that you value their input and perspective. 
  1. Seek regular feedback and guidance from supervisors on performance and career development.

Regular feedback is invaluable for personal and professional growth, so:

  • Proactively initiate feedback from your supervisor on your performance, projects, and areas for improvement. Schedule regular check-ins to discuss progress and receive guidance on career development goals.
  • Take action on the feedback provided to demonstrate your commitment to growth. Implement suggested improvements and track your progress over time.
  1. Proactively communicate goals, achievements, and challenges to supervisors to ensure alignment and support.

Effective communication is key to ensuring alignment between individual and organizational goals. Consider:

  • Setting clear goals that communicate your short-term and long-term goals to your supervisor and align them with the organization's objectives.
  • Highlighting your achievements and challenges in achieving your goals. This ensures transparency and allows for timely support and intervention if needed.
  1. Offer solutions or suggestions for improvement when presenting concerns or issues to supervisors.

Never present concerns or issues without also being prepared with potential solutions. Be sure that:

  • Instead of just highlighting problems, you propose practical solutions or suggestions for improvement. This demonstrates your proactive mindset and problem-solving abilities.
  • You present multiple options or approaches for addressing the issue, allowing your supervisor to choose the best course of action.
  1. Take initiative on projects or tasks aligned with organizational goals to demonstrate commitment and initiative.

Taking the initiative is a hallmark of effective managing up. Be sure to:

  • Identify opportunities to contribute to projects or tasks aligned with the organization's goals and priorities.
  • Take ownership of your work by setting high standards, meeting deadlines, and seeking ways to add value to projects or initiatives.
  1. Anticipate the needs and preferences of supervisors to provide timely and relevant support.

Being ready to meet your supervisor's needs before they know them will demonstrate your foresight and commitment to supporting your supervisor. Be sure to:

  • Familiarize yourself with your supervisor's working style, preferences, and priorities. Adapt your approach to provide support that aligns with their preferences.
  • Anticipate upcoming deadlines or challenges and offer assistance or resources proactively to reduce stress. 
  1. Advocate for resources, opportunities, or changes contributing to personal and organizational success.

Demonstrating commitment to personal and organizational success will let your supervisors know they can rely on you. Consider:

  • Present a compelling argument for resources, opportunities, or changes to benefit yourself and the organization. Provide data or examples to support your request.
  • Demonstrate your proposal's impact by showing how it aligns with organizational goals and contributes to improved performance or outcomes.
  1. Foster positive working relationships with colleagues and team members to create a supportive network.

Relationship building with colleagues and team members is essential for success in managing up. This involves:

  • Collaborating with, supporting and encouraging your colleagues. Build positive relationships based on trust, respect, and mutual support.
  • Networking by cultivating relationships with colleagues across different departments or teams to expand your network and access additional support or resources when needed.
  1. Continuously evaluate and adjust managing up strategies based on feedback and changing circumstances.

Managing up is an ongoing process that requires adaptability and flexibility. Be sure to always:

  • Regularly solicit feedback from your supervisor and colleagues on your managing up strategies. Use this feedback to identify areas for improvement and make necessary adjustments.
  • Stay informed about changes in organizational priorities, leadership dynamics, or team dynamics, and adjust your managing up strategies accordingly.
  1. Engage in mentoring relationships with supervisors or senior leaders to gain insights and support career growth.

Mentorship relationships and mentorship programs can provide invaluable support and guidance for career growth. You could consider:

  • Seeking out mentoring relationships with supervisors or senior leaders who can offer insights, advice, and support for your career development.
  • Being open to learning from your mentor's experiences and perspectives. Use mentorship opportunities such as mentorship programs offered by your organization to broaden your skills, knowledge, and professional network.
  • Make use of technology such as Together’s mentoring platform to manage mentor-mentee relationships effectively through its templated mentorship programs and mentoring tools.


In conclusion, to manage up is paramount for success in today's workplace. By understanding the nuances of effectively collaborating with superiors, employees can not only bolster their own career trajectories but also contribute significantly to organizational success. The strategies and tips outlined in this article provide a roadmap for navigating managing up, from building rapport and trust to advocating for resources and fostering positive working relationships. 

By applying these principles in their daily interactions with higher-level stakeholders, individuals can enhance their visibility, recognition, and career advancement opportunities. By embracing managing up, employees will cultivate thriving professional relationships and achieve their full potential in the workplace. Furthermore, leveraging resources like Together for mentoring relationships can accelerate career growth and amplify the benefits of managing up. So book a demo or try it for free now. 

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