How to Manage Your Boss: “Managing up” for a More Effective Team

runningIn order to be a successful project manager, there are times where you must learn to manage your boss. This is often referred to as “managing up”, and it simply means forging a working relationship where you understand and consider your boss’s perspective; doing so will benefit both of you. Without this perspective it’s likely your project will have wasted time, frustration, and misunderstanding. Managing up is easy once you understand it.

Five tips for “Managing Up”

1. Try to understand your boss’s priorities and agenda

This can be tricky because it requires you to put yourself in your boss’s shoes and see the business from their perspective. Your priorities will often be very different from theirs so it’s important to establish exactly what your boss’s priorities are.

Understanding what is important to them can clarify what they need to meet organizational goals. Don’t take it personally and think that this means your priorities are less important -they just don’t concern your boss.

An example could be that meetings with your boss are often running late and are sometimes even cancelled or postponed.  It’s easy to see this as a negative thing, but keep in mind that your boss is probably doing something else that is also important- like meeting with clients which is more difficult to postpone or cancel. Make sure you have a view of “the bigger picture”.

2.  Find out what your boss’s strengths and weaknesses are

This helps because you can offer to assist him or her. For instance, if your boss isn’t great at creating or tracking budgets, offer to help. Not only will this free up their time but it also helps you build a good rapport with them. Once you’ve helped out, ask for feedback and if there are any other ways your strengths can be put to good use.

3.  Find out what your boss prefers

Obviously this doesn’t mean what kind of sandwich they like or how they like their coffee. Try and wrangle your working practices to fit your boss’s preferences. For example, some people are fine with having impromptu meetings in the kitchen while others want a formal and booked meeting – find out what style your boss prefers and work within it.

Matching your working style this way can help you avoid clashes or differences in opinion. This will lower stress surrounding the project.  Make sure you keep communication channels with your boss open. Let them know if anything creeps up which could result in a necessary deadline adjustment or any other factors which might affect their work.

4.  Always be honest and loyal

Even if you don’t always agree with your boss, it’s important for the sake of your team that you back them in their decisions.  The boss sets the direction of a project and while there is some leeway for you to bring in your own flair, the team is still responsible for following that direction.  This obviously doesn’t mean you can’t challenge your boss or ask for clarification, it simply means you need to discuss any sort of disagreement with them.

Disregarding guidance from your boss without a discussion is an absolute no-no. Always consult with them – unless, of course, they are doing something illegal.

5.  Work together towards goals

Keep in mind that your boss is one of the most important people shaping your career. He or she can influence your career prospects and help you reach your goals in your current job. Make sure you talk to them about where you envision yourself going -both in the short and long term, and ask for their help. Take them as a sort of mentor – this will make them feel valued and you will be learning from someone whose experience can benefit you. Remember that a nasty fallout with your boss could have a detrimental impact on your career – try and avoid that situation.

Overall when it comes to managing up, the important thing is to look at the business from your boss’s point of view. Help them out where they might be struggling and align your working practices with theirs in order to ensure a smoother workflow. Managing your boss in the right way will help ease conflict and frustration for both of you.

Keep in mind that managing up does not mean sucking up or brown-nosing. It means maintaining a respectful open communication to facilitate a more effective and pleasant working environment for everyone.

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Christopher Scordo PMP, ITIL
Christopher Scordo (PMP, ITIL) is a published author and Managing Director of SSI Logic, owners of the popular PMP training website, PMPerfect. Visit PMPerfect for the latest on PMP exam prep, live online classes, and self-paced PMP courseware. Visit Christopher's website at and check out SSI Logic's PMI-ACP exam site at at