Managing upwards describes the two-way conversation of management, that is, subordinates can influence their own workload and their manager’s workload in the same way the manager can.

Closely aligned with emotional intelligence, managing upwards requires a relationship of mutual trust and respect based on a commitment to common goals.

The benefits for both parties are significant.

The subordinate can relieve the load of the manager significantly and meet his needs more effectively.

The manager can make more effective decisions and provide better support for the subordinate’s needs and objectives.

Management is a two-way street, and effective managers need to maintain and develop good relationships — not only with their teams but with their senior managers too.

As a business leader, you will also need to be able to exert influence upwards — whether directed towards an immediate superior or a wider senior team — to drive and deliver appropriate organisational policies.

As well as influencing direction, managing upwards effectively can help to alleviate pressure on both sides by managing and aligning expectations and reducing the incidence of management by interference.

Where do you start?

Form a thorough understanding of the person to be managed or influenced.

Appreciating what motivates, disheartens or even frustrates the individual will help you to understand his priorities.

What defines his working style?

Under what circumstances is he likely to feel pressured? What are his expectations and the scope of his role? Does he have any burning issues?

Put yourself in his shoes.

Confirm what it is he wants, as this will bypass common misunderstandings and enable you to successfully meet and surpass his requirements and expectations.

One of the most important things for managing upwards successfully is understanding the context your boss works in — such as the priorities, pressures, strategic drivers, key measures and performance indicators that define success (and failure) for him.

Understanding these factors allows you to identify the kind of information and action that best supports your boss.

When you are proactively meeting your boss at his point of need, this naturally leads to an increase in your credibility.

On one hand, this means being given tasks with more responsibility, and on the other, more attention to the advice that you provide.

You can learn a lot about your boss’s context from watching him interact with others, especially his peers and superiors.

Understand yourself

Effective upward management requires a good understanding of the strengths that you bring to the table and how they complement your boss’s strengths and weaknesses.

Do you share a common passion for strategic thinking?

Are you able to navigate effective solutions to challenging relational problems?

Knowing your abilities allows you to identify and contribute to the issues and challenges facing your boss.

Be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses, as how you behave in the relationship is just as important as what makes your manager tick. It is also the part which you exercise greatest control over.

Contemplate your personal style of management and gauge whether you have any obstructive personality traits.

Conversely, you may have attributes that will smooth the path of the relationship, so identify them and utilise them fully.

Relationship building

Having acquired an understanding of your manager and yourself, it is time to develop the practical side of the relationship.

This should extend to being fully conversant with and sensitive to his timetable.

For instance, do not present your best ideas 24 hours before a board meeting, as he will be preoccupied with the next day’s agenda.

You should also have determined whether your boss is a “reader” or a “listener”.

Management guru Peter Drucker claims all managers fall into these two categories.

“Readers” prefer information presented to them in report form so they can study it methodically, while “listeners” would rather have the information presented orally.

Create an environment of mutual respect. If you know your boss has weaknesses or even dislikes certain aspects of his job, you can offer to take on or share those duties.

Above all, keep the lines of communication between you open and lively to ensure you stay on side and share priorities.

Manage the relationship

Managing your boss really means “managing the relationship” you have with your boss.

You can’t control his actions; all you can control are your own actions.

When there is a conflict in a boss-employee relationship, the best employees usually are the first to leave. But if you can’t leave right away, develop coping skills.

Try to deal skilfully with the situation and avoid career-limiting moves like setting up a crisis situation between you and your boss, lying to him or deliberately withholding important information.

Article by Prof Sattar Bawany, chief executive officer of the Centre for Executive Education (CEE) and Strategic Advisor of IPMA. CEE offers executive coaching and leadership development programs that help professionals develop the skills and knowledge they need for success in their industries. For details, visit or e-mail