Managing Upwards: The Skill You Need to Get Ahead


Ladder and blue sky professional growth concept

What do you do if you don't get on with your boss or manager? Maybe you feel like you are always talking at cross-purposes or that you aren't recognised for your efforts? These patterns can have a detrimental impact on your job satisfaction. But there is a way you can start to improve your work relationships - it's called "upward management". Read our tips about how you can take control and improve your work experience by managing upwards.

Managing upwards - great for your professional growth

For the majority of employees, it's seldom the quality of the food in the lunchroom cafeteria or the office layout that is the main factor of job satisfaction. The key driver for job satisfaction is the relationship between boss and employee - highlighted in this study where 65% of respondents would choose a new boss over a pay raise.

Unfortunately, not all bosses and employees have good relationships. Poor communication can lead to ongoing issues and personality clashes. Over time, there is a high risk of people becoming disengaged, less committed and dissatisfied with their roles.

The good news is that if you find yourself in this situation, there is something you can do about it. By understanding how you can practise upward management, you can build stronger relationships with your boss or manager, improve your enjoyment of your work, and boost your professional growth. Check out the video below for a rundown of the key do's and don'ts you need to be aware of to build better relationships with your managers.

How do you start managing upwards?

When managing upwards, there are three elements to consider: understanding your manager’s role, appreciating their working style, and deepening your understanding of yourself in your work role.


Understanding your manager's role 

You probably already have a basic understanding of your manager's day-to-day work. But if you want to successfully manage upwards, you need to build a thorough understanding of your manager's responsibilities, values, and priorities. Take a minute to think about the following questions: 

  • What are your manager’s core responsibilities?
  • Are you clear about what your manager is held accountable for?
  • How do your responsibilities and areas of accountability relate to theirs?
  • What are their priorities?
  • Do they align with yours?
  • What do they value ( both personally and professionally?)

The goal is to improve your knowledge of your supervisor's role. Eventually, you'll learn how to anticipate their needs and understand what makes them tick. This also puts you in a great position to understand how to frame messages in a way that will resonate with your boss. For example, do you want to get approval to spend time on a new project? If you have a better understanding of the points above, you’ll be in a better position to explain how this links to your manager's (or your team's) KPIs.


Understand and appreciate your manager’s working style

This step is about understanding how your supervisor manages themselves in the workplace. Observing and practising active listening skills is key to building a greater understanding of your manager's working style. 

Two men in suits doing a high five.

Observe what your manager says or does

How does your manager behave in formal and informal situations? How do they interact with clients, peers, or others who report to them? 

This step relates to understanding your supervisor's communication style - and understanding how you can navigate it. The DiSC profile is a useful framework to use when trying to understand your manager's personality and communication style. 

According to the DiSC framework, there are four personality categories; Dominant, Influencer, Conscientious, Steady. Each of these categories possesses different character traits. For example, a person in the "steady" category will project traits such as being thorough, support-oriented, and patient. An "Influencer" is outgoing and persuasive while a "conscientious" personality type is systematic, process-orientated, and logical. A "dominant" personality can be intense, competitive, and risk-tolerant. It's important to note that people generally have different variations of these traits and can also have traits belonging to several categories.

Behavioural traits like these can give you a clue as to how the person responds to information. In turn, this helps you understand how to communicate with your boss in a way that strengthens your relationship. For example, if your manager falls into the "dominant" category then they are likely to respond better to direct communication. But if they fall into the "steady" category, they may find directness difficult to handle and would prefer a less forthright style of communication. Modifying your communication style to suit your manager's personality will make it easier for them to process and respond to the ideas you are presenting.

What is their preferred communication channel? 

Besides team meetings and one-on-one catch-ups, what is the best way to reach out to your manager if you have a question or problem? Can you stop by their office or is it best to write an email? Does your manager prefer to talk problems through or receive a written document from you?

So even if your manager says "My door is always open", do your own investigation to find out what it actually means. If you are aware of what communication channel is best suited to your boss, the chances are higher that you will come out of the discussion with better insights and answers to your question. 

How does your manager make decisions?

Understanding your manager's decision-making process is important - especially if you want your manager to buy into your ideas.

Does your manager thrive on data and numbers? Always make sure that you base your solutions on data, focus on details, and accuracy. 

Your boss might make decisions based on "hunches" or "feeling". If this is the case, try giving an overview of the problem and then focus on presenting a clear idea as its solution. 

If you can get a better insight into your manager's working style, you will have the foundation for building a stronger relationship - a crucial step in upward management.


Understanding of yourself in your role 

So far we have discussed the importance of understanding your manager. But this is only one side of the coin - you also need to have a clear understanding of your own role. This is beneficial for two reasons: you can identify the value that you bring to the firm but also pinpoint the different ways to improve how you engage with your manager. This is also a great exercise in self-analysis for professional growth. 

Here are some questions to get you started:

Woman in yellow blazer pointing upward with both hands symbolising professional growth
  • What is important to you? 
  • What are your strengths? 
  • What is your communication style? 
  • What is your personality type? 
  • In which areas do you need support? 

Once you've figured out the answers to these questions, consider how these match up with your manager. Are there similarities between the two of you? Or are there differences you have to work around? Is your communication style different - maybe your manager prefers face-to-face discussions while you prefer communicating via email? One way of overcoming this can be writing down your questions and bringing these to an in-person catch-up. 

You should also consider your personality types. Are they similar or different? If you have a direct and assertive personality type, but your boss is more indirect and indecisive, take care not to rush them into a decision or assume they support an idea 100% just because they don't voice an immediate opinion. 


Practising upward management does not mean cosying up to your manager - it's about being the most effective employee you can be, creating value for your firm and taking control of your own experience at work. In turn, you'll develop stronger relationships, your job will become more enjoyable, and you’ll boost your own professional growth.


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