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Be your boss’s best ally: develop an effective working relationship with your manager

Learning how to “manage up” can help boost your career, while keeping you and your supervisor happy

It’s hard to find a staff member at any level in an organization who hasn’t complained at one time or another about having to manage up. But instead of viewing it as an hinderance, managing up can actually be an advantage. 

Broadly speaking, the term refers to understanding a boss’s needs and position, so an employee can help ease their workload by going above the call of duty—for the mutual benefit of them both. “By managing up you make an investment that pays a handsome dividend in satisfaction and self-respect,” writes Roseanne Badowski, author of Managing Up: How to Forge an Effective Relationship With Those Above You.

If you’re finding it challenging to work with your supervisor, here are some expert tips on how to manage up:

1. Be empathetic 

“People often forget that most bosses were never taught how to be good managers,” says Beverly Flaxington, a coach, corporate consultant and professor at Suffolk University in Boston. “They might have been asked to do things they don’t feel capable of doing.” Instead of getting frustrated, Flaxington recommends acknowledging the possibility that they are struggling or feeling threatened. “This is important because it will shift the way you communicate with them,” she adds. 

2. Learn to adapt

A mismatch in behavioural styles is one of the main reasons for a lack of connection between employees and their bosses, says Flaxington. An employee might like to go through spreadsheets in detail, while the boss might just want to hear the highlights. So if a senior is forced to sit through long explanations it may not go over well. “If the employee can start communicating in a way that is more respectful of the boss’s style, that will change the dynamics of the relationship significantly,” she says.

3. Think before acting 

Flaxington says many people believe their boss should accept all their demands without question—from asking for a raise to pushing them for action on a co-worker who keeps calling in sick. “But before telling your boss what they need to do, try to put yourself in their shoes,” advises Flaxington. “They might be looking at the business impact of your request and not want to get involved in a drama where people aren’t getting along. So make sure to frame your request in a way that is useful and beneficial to them.” 

4. Champion pro-activeness 

To set up a good dynamic with your boss right from the start, it’s important to take an active approach to managing your own performance expectations, says Chandra Drevjany, owner of CareerMark and co-founder of Check in with your manager regularly and adapt the plan actively. If the company doesn’t have such a system, set performance goals for yourself. “This proactive approach can be very useful in helping you to manage up,” says Drevjany.   

5. Seek solutions

Whenever you meet with your manager about an issue you’re facing, have two or three possible solutions in mind. “If you keep coming to your manager with problems but never offer any solutions, you will become the problem,” says Drevjany.  

6. Respect hierarchy  

If you have a question you would like to discuss with someone at a higher level than your boss, you should always ask first if it’s OK, says Drevjany. In the same way, even if you think you are better at certain tasks than your boss is, keep it to yourself. “Often, people think that if they just let the cat out of the bag about their boss’s weaknesses, senior management will see how smart they are and promote them. But it never works that way,” warns Flaxington.


Do you want to become a more effective manager? With CPA Canada’s webinar,  Influencing for Impact: The four influencing styles for managers, you’ll learn how your managerial style can influence your staff’s performance and development.