Managing Up–Get the Boss to Have Your Ideas

HR Management
by Stephen Bruce, PhD, PHR

If you don’t get bosses to have your ideas, heaven forfend, they’ll come up with their own. And that spells disaster for both of you.

Bill Oncken, late management training guru of Managing Management Time, used to say that managers need to get the boss to have the managers’ ideas. Face it, he said — you know your job better than the boss does, so the boss’s ideas are never going to be as good as yours.

So, for both to succeed, the boss has to have your ideas. Then everyone’s happy.

Susan M. Heathfield calls this “managing up.” Heathfield, an HR expert blogging for, says no one will ever have as much concern for the quality of the relationship with your boss as you. Like it or not, she says, you’re in charge of that relationship.

Here’s a distillation of some tips she recently shared for managing up:

1. Work to develop a positive relationship.

Relationships are based on trust, and that’s fairly simple to develop:

  • Do what you say you’ll do.

  • Meet deadlines.

  • Don’t let the boss be blindsided.

  • Keep the boss informed about what you are doing.

  • Admit to problems and mistakes.

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2. Work from the boss’s viewpoint.

It’s not all about you, says Heathfield. Think about the following:

  • What are the boss’s goals and how can you help to further them?

  • What are the boss’s weaknesses and how can you support him or her so those weaknesses don’t show?

  • What are the boss’s biggest worries and how can you help to allay them?

3. Look for the best in your boss.

Most bosses have a mix of good and bad, says Heathfield, and the tendency is to focus on the bad.

Stop trying to change the boss, she says. Most bosses, for better or worse, have gotten where they are by behaving the way they do. They are not likely to change, even though perhaps they should. It’s the subordinate’s job to figure out what the boss values and how he or she likes to work.

4. Learn from the boss.

People are usually promoted because they have made valuable contributions to their organizations. There’s probably a lot that you can learn from your boss.

5. Ask for feedback.

Let your boss play the role of coach and mentor. Most will enjoy that role and, again, you’ll learn something.

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6. Value your boss’s time.

Schedule regular meetings so you don’t have to interrupt frequently. Be prepared with your key questions and backup materials.

7. Accept that sometimes you will disagree.

Sometimes you will disagree with your boss and there may be an emotional response. Get over it, says Heathfield. Accept the fact that your boss has more authority and power than you do.

In the next issue of the Advisor, we’ll discuss managing the people who try to “manage up” to you, and a new audio conference about handling difficult conversations.



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  1. rwolfe04        
    September 15, 2008 7:44 am

    This is an interesting article on Managing Up but at the same time we should also look at Managing Down. I think the two things work hand in hand. Often times supervisors seem to be good because they do what the article says, but do they give the credit to those below them when the ideas they collect take them forward? How do you deal with a supervisor who takes credit from above when he presents the ideas of the guy below as his own?

  2. LauLan        
    September 22, 2008 9:28 am

    Rehaan, that is kind of the point of the article…a boss is the captain of the ship (or department) His or her work represents the department as a whole. Any accolades for support staff’s ideas should come directly from the manager to them, not necessarily from the rest of the management staff. When one is promoted to that type of position, it will be their turn to shine! Sure, it feels great when my boss thanks me in front of the company for my input and hard work, but it is never expected. As this article suggests, my role is to support my boss, make sure she never falls on her face, and pick up her slack when she becomes overwhelmed- and one day, hopefully, step into her shoes!

  3. Anonymous        
    April 18, 2012 1:23 pm

    You left out one role you desire as assistant to the boss !
    Sleeping with your employees …