Managing up is about earning the trust and respect of your boss by working with him or her to create the best possible working relationship.

Share story

Working for a not-so-great boss doesn’t have to stall your career, but it does mean you’ll need to figure out how to take the lead in communicating and asking for help. As my friend learned, it might also save your job.

“I want to move up in my career, but I feel like I don’t get any direction or support from my manager,” Tricia (name changed) said. “He rarely holds staff meetings, he doesn’t discuss my projects, and in the five years I’ve been in this position he hasn’t given me a performance appraisal (they weren’t company mandated).”

I told her it sounded like she needed to figure out how to manage up. Tricia raised one eyebrow and said, “Riiiiiiiiiight.” Then she got quiet. “OK, but how do I do that?”

Managing up is about earning the trust and respect of your boss by working with him or her to create the best possible working relationship. Here’s how:

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Understand your manager’s goals. Find out his or her priorities and key objectives, and then think about ways you can help achieve these department goals.

Agree on your goals, objectives and projects, and then provide regular updates. Meet with your manager to ensure that you fully understand and mutually agree upon your goals and objectives for the year, as well as all projects for which you’ll be responsible. Provide weekly or monthly progress updates, asking for help or advice as needed.

Learn your manager’s communication style and flex your style. How does your manager prefer to interact? Weekly, bi-weekly or monthly updates? Written reports with lots of details, or brief summaries with only highlights? Does he or she want to meet in person or receive email updates? Adapt your communication style to best fit your manager’s.

Help your manager be successful. If your boss is successful, you will be more successful, so don’t be seen as a threat. Actions that can be perceived as threatening include bad-mouthing your boss or others in the department; going around or above your manager to resolve issues; and criticizing department processes or procedures.

Tricia took my advice and changed the way she was working with her boss. Her life at work improved, and she finally felt like she was making a real difference. About nine months later, when her employer downsized, several employees within the department were let go, but not Tricia. She believes she kept her job because of her strong working relationship with her boss and because management understood the value she provided.

It can sometimes feel like the end of the world when you’re stuck with a terrible manager, but don’t let that hold you back from achieving your career dreams. Proactively establish a mutually beneficial relationship with your boss by managing up. When you incorporate your efforts into your normal work routine, you, your manager and your company will all benefit.

Lisa Quast is the founder of Career Woman, Inc., and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at lquast@careerwomaninc.com.