Managing up: How to get the most from your boss

Consider what, how, and when you communicate with your manager to build a more constructive relationship.
Managing up

Developing a good relationship with those in positions of authority and influence is vital to our daily happiness and long-term success.

You have influence over how well your relationship with your manager works, and you can and should take ownership of it, especially if you are part of a large team who are all competing for the boss's limited time. It takes just a little thought and effort to get started. Here are some tips for successfully managing up.

Start talking. Trust and the ability to communicate effectively are the foundations of good relationships. But we can quickly fall into patterns of behaviour that may not be very helpful. A common pattern is not wanting to raise issues or concerns that we think may be difficult or place us at a disadvantage in the relationship. Falling into this trap can compound problems, so make sure you're clear on what your boss expects from you, and seek regular feedback on how you're doing.

Base your understanding of what your boss expects on facts, not assumptions. If you're not sure about something, ask. If you're getting mixed messages, clarify them.

Set out your needs clearly. Don't wait for your boss to initiate a conversation. When you ask for help or information, be clear about what you need, why, and by when. When you discuss a situation, give your manager a summary of the problem. Describe the alternative solutions you have explored. Make recommendations if you can. Then state what you need from him or her. In other words, make it as easy as possible for your boss to help you.

Think about context. Your boss will be juggling responsibilities, some of which you won't know about. Think carefully about what your boss needs to know about you, your challenges, and your successes.

Is it relevant and of interest to your boss, right now? Can it wait? If you can't resolve the problem on your own, arrange a conversation when it suits your boss. Don't leave it until a crisis point.

Avoid surprises by scheduling regular meetings to keep your manager up to date. Find out what's forthcoming and how you can help your boss. By showing an interest in areas of his or her job that don't directly affect you, you'll signal that you're aware that he or she has other responsibilities and are willing to help with them.

Work with, not against, your boss. You and your boss should work toward a mutually beneficial relationship. A good manager provides guidance, wisdom, experience, and support. Your role is to learn, do a good job, and support him or her.

Anticipating problems, finding solutions, and doing a little bit more than is expected will help both of you progress.

Take responsibility for your contribution to the relationship. Being proactive, considerate, and careful in what, how, and when you communicate with your boss, you should soon find that you develop a relationship that benefits the organisation, each other, and your career.

Jackie Fitzgerald ( is a UK-based coach who specialises in helping professionals fulfil their potential.