Want to Accelerate In Your Career? Learn to Manage Up.

Jonathan Chao
5 min readJan 12, 2023
Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

Whether we work in a big corp or a small startup, we have hierarchies in organizations. Unless you’re the CEO of the company, you most likely will have to report to someone higher up.

Unfortunately, sometimes there can be miscommunication between you two, and it becomes misunderstanding at some point. The trust between you two takes a hit, and you become more and more distant.

This is something none of us wants to happen, and there are ways to prevent it. In the process, it can even accelerate your career. We are talking about “managing up”.

Before we get into how to manage up, we need to understand the manager’s mindset and what he/she cares about. There are some key points we need to agree on first:

  1. Your manager is busy. Unless the manager is not doing what he or she is supposed to do, the manager is usually very busy with meetings, talking to people who work for him/her, solving problems those people under him or above him face, and even talking to clients and other teams regarding the product. The result is the manager is very busy and might not have time to actively spend time with you and for you.
  2. Your manager might not know your working or learning progress. Because your manager is super busy, sometime he/she might not know about your work progress. If you’re still onboarding, he/she might not be able to follow up with you about your onboarding.
  3. Your manager might have different priority than you. If you’re an individual contributor, most of the time your priority would be finishing the tickets you are assigned to. You do everything you can to get these tickets finished, including asking your manager for resources and answers. Unfortunately, your manager might not share the same priority. Sure, you manager wants you to get your job done, but he/she might have other things to worry about, and the importance of those things can be higher (say, meeting with clients for discussing the next product the company is launching)
  4. Even within the same project, your manager might care about something different from what you care about. When working on a project, you might value unit tests more important than, say, speed of delivery. True, covering different cases is important for robustness, but your manager might value speed to market more important as it might generate more revenue, even with only an MVP.
Photo by airfocus on Unsplash

So, knowing these, how do you make the communication between you and your manager smoother? How can you manage up to make sure things don’t get lost and what you want to get done can be done?

  1. Sync’ing up. Communication is the key. If your manager is too busy, actively set up a meeting with him/her. Get that meeting on your manager’s calendar. Make sure to express the importance. Don’t get it postponed (too much).
  2. Actively tell the manager what you value as important and what your progress is. Don’t wait for your manager to ask about it. Voluntarily tell him/her what you see as priority and what you’re working on. There’s a chance that your manager might not agree with it. It’s fine. This is the time to align the goals. Understand your manager’s goals and priority. Chime in with your own opinions. Then discuss to come up with a solution both can agree on.
  3. Alert about the issues before they become crisis. We are going to face issues from time to time. Because your manager is busy, some issues might not be covered. Make sure they know about these issues and, if possible, provide solutions to resolve them. No one likes to deal with crisis. It’s very stressful and takes a toll on your mental and physical health. So mitigate these issues when you can before they blow up.
  4. Provide solutions. Don’t just bring up problems. You are hired to deal with whatever company faces. If you need to address a problem with your manager, bring with you some possible solutions. Like how we are taking test in school: multiple choices are usually easier than fill in the blank.
  5. Put yourself in your manager’s shoes. Empathy is very important. Put yourself in the manager’s situation. See if that changes your view on certain things. Always think in both angles and then come up with solutions the other sides will agree. It will also cover more corner cases, making you seem more well-thought.
  6. Leave paper trail for the conversation and decision making. We do a lot of things everyday, and sometimes we do something and then forget about it right after (pretty much what I do after taking a test: I immediately forget what I studies……) You want to leave some notes, jotting down the decisions you two make and key points of any discussion. It’s possible your manager will come back later and be like “what did we say we are gonna do with Problem A?” You can quickly refer back to your notes and answer that question. You can even show him/her your notes as evidence.
  7. Last but not least, show appreciation. Your manager is busy. It’s hard for him/her to make time just for you as much as he or she wants. Show appreciation when your manager is willing to do that, even if you think it should be part of his/her job. Say thanks.

If you can achieve these, you are more likely than not to be “the guy” your manager relies on. Guess what? When it comes to promotion, you will be “the guy” as well that gets brought up first.

So work on managing up. Get your manager to work with you and for you. In return you will work better for your manager as well.

Good luck!

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Jonathan Chao

I am a software developer who has been in this industry for close to a decade. I share my experience to people who are or want to get into the industry