How do I learn to manage up?
March 13, 2010 10:41 AM   Subscribe

tips and resources for "managing up?"

i like my job, my team, my coworkers, and my VP.

in-between me and my VP, there exists a director. nice guy, wants to be everyone's buddy...which means he does as little as possible to manage, plan, skirts responsibility, avoids confrontation or advocacy for his team. he's always johnny-on-the-spot when [major brand client] calls and wants a contact @ our co., but unavailable when his team is in the line of fire or resourced inadequately for a project.

i'm new to this experience. how do i turn this frown upside-down?

(anon because a few coworkers are on mefi, thanks)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I've heard good things about "The 360 Degree Leader"
posted by rhizome at 11:06 AM on March 13, 2010

Good summary PDF of managing up here.
posted by midatlanticwanderer at 11:18 AM on March 13, 2010

Get everything in writing. Email him summaries of your conversations, and what he has told you to do. Email him your concerns. Never trust anything that is not in an email.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:35 PM on March 13, 2010

Coming in to second what Admiral Haddock says. Keep good written documentation of everything you do, and keep good written documentation of all your interactions with director guy. If you have an electronic calendar of appointments and things, make sure it is backed up/archived. If not, make note of stuff in a paper planner as backup. If you are not doing regular status reports or project reports in writing, then be especially careful to personally document what you are doing daily and what you accomplish at work. Also, if there are issues with projects, or issues with inadequate resourcing, make sure you have informed him in a straightforward way in writing about them. Definitely this: Email him summaries of your conversations, and what he has told you to do. Do that for any in person or phone conversations. These written summaries don't need to be long, but you need to have a good record of everything.

The reason to do this is that, in my experience, people like "nice guy" director can perceive people like you as a threat, and are both notorious for taking credit for the work of people like you, and also for blaming people like you for their own professional screwups.

Also, be careful to be professional to him, and also to be professional in how you talk about him, either to clients, to those that work above him, or those that work under you.

Props to you for keeping this anonymous here, and keep that type of discretion going in all your interactions with him or about him.
posted by gudrun at 1:24 PM on March 13, 2010

At the moment I report to 4/5 people on a range of different projects. And whilst they all have different styles, priorities and preferences they all like me to manage their expectations (being realistic about timeframes etc), they like me to consult (positioning it as this is the issue, this is what I propose to do about it do you agree...) and then they genearlly leave me to it as I tend to deliver what I promise. I also make a point of seeking informal feedback and ask them if they have any expectations I'm not meeting or if there is anything else they would like me to do.

But our culture is very much about the team delivering a project and they will all give credit where it's due and they will back me up/protect me when not quite like your boss..........

If I was working for your boss I'd probably still do much the same of what I do now - understand their expectations, do my job well (by the sound of it you'll do a fair bit of his as well) and ensure that I communicate plenty. But I'd also ensure I get their buy in to any and everything that may come back to haunt me, preferably backing up the verbal communications by emails whenever possible to cover my own back.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:47 PM on March 13, 2010

The key to managing up is the written status report. Frame it as something YOU want to start doing in order to help you do your work better. No manager in the world can ever say "no" to a status report for that reason. High level reports, listing projects, bullet point status, key milestones, and an overall project status (best expressed as yellow/green/red because nothing makes executives understand your goddamn status report as when everything is RED). Even if it's just a few lines in email every week.

And then, document, document, document. If you have a conversation with him, whether a formal meeting or in the hallway, send him and anyone else relevant an email saying, "I'd just like to reprise our conversation" or "Just so I have a record so I don't forget" - again, this is absolutely appropriate and thoroughly professional and won't look like anything much.

At meetings, offer to be the person who takes notes (unless you're leading the meeting, and then offer chocolate/bribe/barter with a coworker to take notes for you). Take notes and circulate to everyone who attended. Again, standard business practice, no one can ever take issue with you for *taking notes*.

Those three things have been enormously helpful in managing up because it generates a paper trail that makes it tough for an absent boss to be totally absent.
posted by micawber at 12:01 PM on March 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'll second the status report recommendation for managing one's own progress...but out of curiosity, isn't this just passive when it comes to "managing up"? I've had a manager who asked us for status reports and really never acted on nor read them.
posted by SeƱor Pantalones at 12:21 AM on March 15, 2010

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