How to manage your manager

Three tips for managing up.

How to manage your manager

Managing your manager, or “managing up,” is a tricky concept. It sounds simple enough: You’re working to ensure your boss is seen in a positive light at all times, even if you have to finagle a few things. That’s all well and good until your finagling turns into office politics, kissing up or looking out for number one. It’s all fine and dandy until your boss realizes you’re managing HER and not just her calendar, her budget, or whatever your job is to really manage.

How do you find that delicate balance between being a giant kiss-up and an evil puppet master? How do you manage your manager in a way that’s actually helpful to them and the organization?

Here are three tips to help you out.

Help the boss with weak areas

“To successfully manage your manager, you must understand their limitations, and help them address those limitations, without them feeling self-conscious about it,” says Jeremy Goldman, founder of Firebrand Group, a digital consultancy. Goldman says his best employees make his life easier by helping with his weaknesses — his is scheduling — and they do it for him seamlessly with minimal direction and hassle.

You may even be able to help with bigger issues than scheduling, proofreading or organization. “Find out what keeps your boss up at night,” advises Morag Barrett, author and CEO of HR and leadership consultancy Skye Team. Whatever those issues, projects or roadblocks are, have an honest conversation about them and offer to pitch in.

Be proactive with communication

I have experience working with a very hands-off manager, says Christy Haussler, host of the Brick and Mortar Reporter podcast, a show for entrepreneurs in the small-business community. To deal with her hands-off manager, Haussler is very proactive about communication. “I will be the first person to let her know of a screw-up within my department. If she has to ask me about something, I consider it a failure on my part. As long as I keep her proactively informed, there isn't much need for reactive explanations.” Don’t let your boss be caught off guard. It will reflect negatively on you both.

Take advantage of technology

Megan Osinski, marketing director at a small pet company in Los Angeles, says she uses a checklist-based application called Asana to make sure my manager gets everything done. “I add new things in every morning for myself and my manager and when the task is completed you just check it off. With this app I can also make deadlines so it's very helpful in letting everyone know what has to get done first.”

Project management tools such as Basecamp, or Osinski’s favorite, Asana, can be accessed by multiple staff members so everyone is on the same page with their priorities and yours. It’s easy to tell if a co-worker is particularly swamped when you see their name on an excessive number of projects. Apps are great, but even something as simple as syncing your calendar with your manager’s can make life easier for both of you. If you hear her making plans for a meeting next week at the same time as the annual conference, you can easily remind her and avoid a misstep.
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