Managing Up to Achieve Success for You, Your Supervisor, and Your Organization

Human Capital Solutions, Workforce of the Future, Performance Optimization, Management
A person in a business suit pressing an up button with many other up arrows also displayed

No matter your level, managing up is a soft skill that’s essential for getting things done, succeeding at your job, or getting promoted. Thousands of books have been written on this topic because our individual success not only depends on how well we do our jobs, or how we collaborate with our colleagues, or even how good we are at managing people under our own supervision, but also on how well we manage our relationships with the people above us. Easier said than done, right? That may be true, but there are several things you can do to help.

  • “If you want to receive good performance reviews, good raises and opportunities to grow in your career, mastering the 'managing up' process is essential.”

    Mark C. Crowley


1. Understand the goals and needs of the people above you.

Accomplishing things that are a part of your job description is great, but ensuring that the work you’re doing also supports what your supervisor needs to accomplish is even more critical. To achieve that, you first need to be clear on your boss’s priorities and goals and what he or she needs or wants to get done. Whether it’s expanding the team’s resources, getting a promotion, launching a new program, or attaining high evaluation metrics, once you understand your boss’s goals, you can tailor what you do to help achieve them. In fact, it’s wise to develop your goals collaboratively. According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace, only 30% of employees strongly agree that their manager involves them in setting their goals at work, but those who do strongly agree are more than three-and-a-half times more likely than other employees to be engaged in their jobs.

2. Tailor your communication to your supervisor’s style.

You’ll be more successful if you communicate in a way that aligns with your boss’s style when you meet to discuss your goals, projects, and progress. The DiSC personality assessment is an excellent tool that will not only help you understand yourself better, but will also help you understand how to adapt your communications and behaviors to work more effectively with your boss (manage up). The DiSC model has four basic styles: Dominance, influence, Conscientiousness, and Steadiness. Each one is further broken out into character traits, strengths, and weaknesses. Your profile report will define your work style and provides guidance on how to identify other people’s styles, in the event your boss hasn’t done the DiSC assessment as well. So you’ll be able to develop a good understanding of how to act and react toward your boss to create more effective connections and build a better relationship.

For instance, if your boss is a people person, he or she will appreciate your efforts on relationship building and teamwork. A task-oriented supervisor will be focused more on results and getting things done. If your boss is a reflective and methodical type, you’ll need to give him or her time to think things through before making decisions. An assertive, dynamic supervisor will want more immediate action so you’ll need to show more concrete and rapid progress. The DiSC report will provide you strategies for increasing your effectiveness with your boss, whether you have similar or very different work styles. You’ll also receive guidance on how to better connect with your boss when problems need to be solved, especially when things get tense.

3. Explicitly state how you’ll help your boss.

Lastly, when you do meet with your supervisor, go in prepared and be explicit. Frame the discussion in a way that gets your boss’s attention. State what you would like to do, how your proposed plan can help achieve a specific goal, what the timing may look like, and what you’ll need to do to accomplish your part. Don’t leave it up to your boss to make the connection between what you intend to do and how it can help him or her, make that the crux of the conversation. And, if it’s a problem that needs to be solved, go in with a well-thought-out solution. Show that you are able to take initiative and can be depended on to tackle tasks that might be pressing and adding stress to your manager’s work life.


  • “Managing up is the process of consciously working with your boss to obtain the best possible results for you, your boss, and your organization. This is not a political maneuver or kissing up. Rather it is a deliberate effort to bring understanding and cooperation to a relationship between individuals who often have different perspectives.”

    FPM, Thomas Zuber, MD, and Erica James, PhD

At LMI, we have experts who are certified in using assessments such as DiSC and have used them to help thousands of government leaders, managers, and employees to work together more effectively. We can provide classroom training and workshops for groups that help each person make Action Plans based on their DiSC profile report. We also provide one-on-one coaching for individuals to develop Coaching Plans, a proprietary LMI product we tailor to each individual’s DiSC profile. The Action Plan and Coaching Plan can help people put what they’ve learned into action and improve their ability to manage up, improving the success of their supervisors and their organizations.