Managing Up – How To Communicate With Your Boss

Nov 27, 2019

Managing up can seem intimidating. Exercising influence over people with more organizational
clout can challenge anyone. But if you want to advance in any organization, you better build
muscle with this skill.

So what do we mean by ‘managing up’, anyway? You are ‘managing up’ when you inititate
communication with your manager or anyone else higher up the organizational hierarchy, with
the goal of making a positive change. By managing up, you can share new ideas, influence
decisions, and help drive success within your organization. And higher levels of management
need your input.

The Harvard Business Review sees managing up as, “Being the most effective
employee you can be, creating value for your boss and your company.”

Here are some ideas you can use now to build your “Managing Up” tool-kit:

1. Keep Communication Open

Understanding your boss’s communication style and expectations will help you determine what
communication might look like on a daily or weekly basis. Does your boss expect daily updates,
or like to be kept in the loop on an as-needed basis? Do they appreciate a phone call over an
email? If you are not sure, consider asking them. A simple, “Is there anything I can do differently
in my communication that would be helpful for you?” goes a long way in making their job easier.
By initiating communication with your manager rather than waiting for them to come to you, you
will develop a sense of trust that serves as an important foundation for your working
relationship. This includes bringing problems and concerns to the forefront so that you and your
manager can face them head-on. This proactive approach goes a long way in avoiding larger
problems that could be more difficult to tackle.

2. Think Like a Manager – Think Big Picture

Anticipate what your boss’s thought process might be based on the situation. If bringing up a
concern or idea, you can then anticipate questions and offer solutions before they even need to
ask. Think about:

  • What impact does the situation have on your boss or their goals? What about their boss
    or their colleagues?
  • What impact might it have on your colleagues or other departments?
  • What impact do your ideas or concerns have on the team or company?
  • Does the situation have financial or human resource implications?
  • What will happen if we do nothing? What is the price of inaction?

3. If Bringing Up a Problem, Plan Your Approach

Avoid approaching a conversation about a problem when you are frustrated or feeling
overwhelmed. Rather than allowing a venting session to take hold, approach conversations
about problems in a positive and goal-oriented way. Give your boss a heads up that you would
like to chat about a concern in your next meeting. If both of you are on the same page about the
goal of the discussion, it avoids your manager feeling taken off guard, or worse, defensive.
Be mindful of the words and tone that you choose. When addressing a problem, avoid coming
off as critical or upset which could make your manager defensive. A positive and
solution-oriented approach will get your boss’s attention because it will be viewed as an
opportunity to make an improvement, rather than another issue that needs solving.

4. Bring Solutions to the Table

For every problem, bring at least one solution. Not only does this make your boss’s job easier, it
shows your value. Brainstorming a solution (even if it is not the perfect solution) shows that you
have taken the time to try to improve the situation. While it may only be the start of the
problem-solving process, it is a start in the right direction.
When at all possible, use data to back up your concern or to support your proposed idea.
Whether using internal data or benchmarking ideas against other organizations, data is
evidence. Your evidence then allows your manager to bring an idea up the chain and get buy-in.

Manage Up

By taking the initiative to communicate and bring solutions to the table, you are taking positive
action in shaping not only your day-to-day work life but also your career. By opening up a
discussion on how to improve a process, you are instigating a change that can have a ripple
effect across the organization. By taking action and offering solutions, you are seen as a doer, a
go-to employee who can be relied upon to follow through.


If you would like to learn how to manage up, a career coach can help you identify goals and
action steps to communicate with your boss more efficiently. Check out our executive coaching
services and sign up for a free consultation here.