Modernizing Managing Up - Part I: What Really Does it Mean?

Sarah is the head nurse of the pediatric department. Her department has raised some issues regarding a particular bedside concern and she has been trying to reach out to the nursing manager for weeks now. She has sent a detailed email which, she spent hours composing and has not received a response. In their recent departmental meeting, she was able to briefly discuss the issue but her plea has not gotten the support she wanted. She feels that more trivial matters have had more attention. In the past she fumbled when face-to-face with the nursing manager, especially when asked for information she could not readily answer. She thinks that her colleagues have had better luck. “If only there’s a better way of telling her,” she mutters.

Her best friend, Jane, who is executive assistant to the head of the research department, is one of those lucky in their jobs. Although her superior is known to be a tough boss, Jane seemed to be getting along well with her and worked for her more than five years now. Jane has had ‘bad days’ in the office but confides to Sarah that issues are resolved within a few days. In fact, the time their office reorganized, Jane's boss retained her services and worked with HR to give her a raise.

One memorable day, Jane was even thanked for being such a great help! That term, Jane's boss received recognition for her management skills. Jane felt accomplished too because of the positive reinforcement she received. She thinks back to an earlier time when her superior was known as a ‘terror’ boss.  Jane wonders if the software program that was implemented around the same time, ManageUP may have promoted a more professional albeit demanding leadership style.

However, Sarah wonders how she copes in the workplace ‘with style’. Jane has only one answer for Sarah, “Learn to manage up.”

Managing Up: What is it and What it’s Not

To some people, managing up means ‘cozying up’ with the boss, or being a ‘sucker’ who is willing and ready to be grilled. Some say it destroys your self-worth by giving in to every whim and desire that your boss requires. But it is not.

What does it mean to manage up? Managing up is learning how to enhance the work of your direct superior by understanding their personality, attitude, and working styles. A Harvard Business Reviewarticle on managing up suggests that first you need to understand the type of manager you have:  

  • Brand new
  • One that works in a different location
  • Insecure
  • All-knowing or indecisive
  • One that gives you conflicting information
  • A hands-off manager
  • A person who isn't as smart as you
  • Long-winded
  • A manager that's actually on a board of directors

Once you have determined what type of manager you have there will be certain nuances or challenges that will come with each type. Don't make the mistake of treating these different types the same or communicating with them in the same way.

However no matter what type of manager you have, these manage up skills are universally important:

  • The ability to anticipate your manager's needs
  • Understanding what makes them tick or what makes them unhappy
  • Figuring out how to be a great source of help for the achievement of organization goals without political maneuvering

Managing up also allows you to obtain the resources that you and your department need to achieve it's goals. People who have exemplified managing up have a healthy, efficient and productive working relationship with their direct superiors. There is mutual trust and respect that makes goals a lot easier to achieve. Jane is the epitome of someone who has mastered managing up.

Managing Up is a Must for Everyone in the Workforce

If you think that managing up is just for the staff, you have it all wrong. Everyone reports to someone higher in the hierarchy.  This means that managing up is not just for those that are in the majority but also for leaders as well. Learning about how your boss works, and understanding his or her leadership style should then be universal skills of all employees in healthcare.

Are you working as a supervisor in your unit? Imagine having people under your watch who are all like Jane. Imagine what your team can accomplish. With managing up skills, challenges are easier to overcome and the morale of your team increases.  However managing up is not as easy as it sounds?

Challenging the Current Managing Up Practice

Although the potentials of managing up are staggering as mentioned above, learning to manage up is not as easy as it sounds. For one, you will need to have a lot of awareness: of yourself, your boss, your co-workers, the job you are in and the goals that you are working on. Some other basic skill sets you will also need to hone are:

  • Communication and collaboration skills
  • Ability to assert yourself without appearing bossier that the boss. 
  • Influencing effectively; your manager, upper management and your peers
  • Making sure your priorities align with your managers
  • Ability to create standard procedures, so that everyone understands how tasks will get done

Making managing up a universal skill for the work force is indeed a challenge.  Even if workers receive training on these skill sets, management is faced with the problem of overseeing the progress of their staff. Not everyone learns at the same rate and the development of each employee in this area can take a lot of time.

In Part II of Modernizing Manage Up,  I will explore some factors in the workplace that can inhibit or slow the efficiency of managing up and will describe how technology can fill the organizational gaps and truly modernize the concept of managing up in healthcare.


"What Everyone Should Know About Managing Up" by Dana Rousmaniere, Harvard Business Review