How to Manage Up Without Being a Pushover

What Does It Mean to Manage Up?

The concept of managing up can be a bit tricky. For a simple definition, we can look at it in two related ways: on the one hand, it’s taking action to make leadership’s jobs easier, and on the other, it’s about managing your manager with feedback and solutions.

Both sides of this definition look pretty much the same. As a valuable team member, it’s important to be proactive, to follow through, and to adhere to organizational policies. The closer team members follow management’s vision, the more neatly they fit together like cogs in a machine…But is that always a good thing?

Putting too much focus on managing up, and thereby satisfying the wishes of the leaders of your organization at any cost, can quickly turn you into a pushover – a proverbial “yes wo/man” who doesn’t resist against bad ideas, or speak up when results aren’t going as well as they could be…

You want your team and organization to run smoothly, and you want to help management steer the ship in the right direction, but how can you show up authentically and approach managing up so that you aren’t a total pushover?

Here are 4 tips to be you and be someone your boss respects for your honesty and reliability.

1.     Communicate Clearly

The better you can hone your communication skills, the more effective you’ll be as a conduit between management and the rest of the team. You’ll be helping them by ensuring their message is conveyed to coworkers, and protecting yourself from being “pushed over” by articulating honest feedback about management’s ideas.

If you’re honest and clear, you can establish a relationship of trust with leaders – and that trust will help them value what you have to say. Instead of being expected to take their instructions as gospel, your counterpoints or alternative ideas will have more value.

Obviously, it takes time to establish a trusting relationship, but really that’s what it’s all about. It doesn’t have to be a matter of rank or status. Instead, use clear communication and interpersonal skills to foster an environment of collaboration, where team feedback is as important as managerial decision making.  

2. Offer Ideas and Perspective

Beyond providing feedback or constructive criticism about initiatives or policies in place, take the extra step to generate ideas of your own. Even if they aren’t implemented, being a source of fresh thinking helps the entire organization, and further establishes you as a person willing to do more than simply follow instructions.

Be respectful or boundaries, of course, and don’t just take over your department – but by showing initiative and ideas, you’re less likely to be seen as someone who can be steamrolled. When you notice problems, bring your manager solutions – not just complaints about what’s wrong. Similarly, when you see something going really well, or someone really producing well, bring that to your manager so they can recognize the person or team for the wins.

3.     Pick Your Battles

If you’re constantly butting heads with your manager, you’ll be known as a contrarian, as someone who doesn’t have the overall wellbeing of the organization in mind. You may not agree with everything your leadership suggests or does, but it’s important to figure out what’s worth fighting over. Yes you won’t necessarily want to go with every idea management offers, but fighting back against every little thing DOES make you a problematic team member – and that’s the opposite of managing up.

Only you can know what’s worth speaking up about, what you can let slide, and where you can offer a new perspective without being too challenging. Once directions or decisions have been made, go with what that decision is. If you even quietly resist once decisions have been made, you’ll be known as difficult.

4.     Understand Your Role, and Own It

We each have a position to fill in our organizations, and the more you understand where you fit, the more you’ll see how integral you are to the whole. Instead of trying to be everything to everyone, double down on doing your particular job as well as you possibly can.

The more ownership you show, the less micromanaged (hopefully) you’ll be, and the more freedom you’ll have to find the best way to do the work you know intimately.

As  a trusted resource, you’ll free up management to focus on other areas – and isn’t that what we all want, really? Someone we know can free us up to be our best?

Being a team player doesn’t have to mean being a pushover.

The very idea of managing up means acting like a manager, even if it isn’t your official role. Self-management, problem solving, and taking initiative are all part of a manager’s job – but so are understanding interpersonal dynamics, knowing when to push and when to let things slide, and perhaps most importantly, making decisions for the good of the organization. The more you do those things – and help leaders do the same – the more prepared you’ll be to take on greater leadership roles in the future.