Managing up. Scripts and mindset to work well with your boss.

What does “managing up” mean? It means managing your manager. It means developing a healthy and productive relationship with your boss.

When we talk about management, we usually refer to managing down. In reality, not everyone manages a team but everyone reports to someone. Even the CEO reports to customers and shareholders.

This means managing up is actually a more relevant skill knowledge workers needs to develop and practice. The good news is that is something you can develop and practice.

The same with managing down, managing down is not about manipulating the people you work with, it’s not sucking up. It’s not politics. It’s aligning and helping them in reaching their goals successfully.

Mindset / principles

  1. Goal alignment be aware of what your manager’s incentives. What are their broader goals? What is he/she seeking to accomplish? What do they want to optimise for? What do they value? What role does she envision you playing in her plans? Make their job easier. Anticipate their needs. Offer to help. Anticipate problems and actively work to prevent them.
  2. Self manage. Proactively report on progress and share any blockers. Communicate your prioroties. It’s OK to repeat things. They are most likely managing more information and decisions than you. Managers typically aren’t closest to the day-to-day work, so they don’t always understand the details or have the best information. Share sufficient context. Share good news soon and bad news sooner.
  3. Get to know them. Their working and communication style, and them as a person.
  4. Acknowledge the power dynamics. Adjust your language to seek permission but don’t ask permission for every decision.

Phrases I’ve personally used and received from my team

  • Leave it with me
  • Are you happy for me to [….]
  • I see y and y has declined the monthly sync up. Do you have any agenda that z and myself could be of help or shall I cancel the meeting?
  • When’s the latest I can get this to you that it would still be valuable?
  • I wanted to provide you with an update on [project]
  • I will spend some time today setting up my Mac and going through the docs you sent yesterday. If its ok with you, I might go through some of the existing code commits to get a feel for them
  • What information would you like me to include in the report? What would good look like?
  • I created a ticket but this needs your approval first [link to document]. Would you be able to approve this (assuming I will need it)
  • Do you mind if I run something by you on something, its one you assigned to x so I can just wait until he comes in but I’d like to see have I gotten it right so far
  • Do you think it would be ok if I joined a few calls with you or the guys this week, to get a flavour of them?
  • As it is quiet (I presume) at the moment, if there is any other work you wanted to offload to me please let me know. I’m pretty good with JIRA and Confluence if there was anything you wanted to get done
  • Thats why you’re the boss!!!
  • Thanks, sorry for all the silly questions. I prefer to annoy one person with questions than annoy everyone else with bad solutions
  • I am sure you have the right approach here, want to drop my two cents.
  • If you just happen to be monitoring the pipeline for [x task] at random, I’d love a third opinion on it.
  • Can I ask you some more about the conversation we’ve been having last few days?
  • I don’t mind acting as a liaison between x and the team while you are out if you want to suggest it to her, if she has any questions I can check it out first and pass on to the others if needs be
  • Can you have a look before I get x to check.
  • I hope I’m not starting to think too much like you, thats twice this week that we’ve said the same thing at the same time!!
  • If you’d like any help with CVs or interviews at any stage let me know
  • I’ll get on to x and ask him to schedule something, you can skip if you like
  • I’ll check ^^^ with x because I suspect you might be busy!
  • if you need anything taken over for you for the day please let me know
  • I’ve a meeting today with [client] if you have any interest in joining, should be ok on my own with them though
  • You deserve a day off!
  • Don’t burn yourself out boss! We need you
  • Morning boss! I hope you aren’t living in fear of slack notification of questions from me… I seem to have something to say almost every morning!
  • Is that something we have ever, or would ever entertain? I’m asking you first so you can tell me if I’m being daft to even think it or not
  • Ok, I’m going to take that as a feasible nod from you
  • Morning boss! How are things? I’ve a request from x, he wants to include training in the contract, I thought we weren’t doing/offering that anymore? If we are, can I just add it as a deliverable item in the document?
  • If you aren’t in your foggy brain stage of the evening, would you mind having a glance at [task]
  • Can I get your advise on how best we can price this one based on the last comment [then give some context]
  • If you are free for 10-15 mins can we have a call to discuss this one? I need some advice or counselling.
  • I sort of guessed you’d say that… makes sense!
  • Thanks for the review, there are some good points there.
  • No worries. I’ll look after the ones I’ve queried you on. Can I help you out with anything for a change?
  • Is it ok for me to ask you to help [action]
  • Can I borrow your authority to [help with something]
  • Morning Boss! How are you? Do you want me to fill out that survey now that I am back?
  • Quick question, I’m doubting myself….
  • If you have about a million hours today, would you mind reviewing this please

Useful Questions

Below are quoted from KnowYourTeam’s brilliant resource.

Clarifying expectations. Do you know what is expected of you, and does your boss know what is expected of him / her? Here are some questions you can ask to start to clarify these expectations:

  • What things will I need have accomplished this year for you to view me in this role as “successful”?
  • What does quality work look like to you?
  • What should standard working hours be for both of us?
  • What is the best way to contact you during those hours?
  • What form of communication should be used to communicate with you during that time?
  • What’s the expectation of how quickly I should respond when you reach out to me during those working hours?
  • What form of communication do you prefer when there’s a hard topic or conversation? (E.g., In writing, over the phone, video call)
  • If I need your attention on something urgent, what form of communication do you prefer? (E.g., Slack, an email, a phone call)
  • What do you consider “urgent” versus “not urgent”?
  • If I have any feedback for you, how would they prefer you receive it: In writing, over the phone, or during a video call?
  • If I have a suggestion about something, how would you prefer you receive it: In writing, over the phone, or during a video call?
  • If I have questions, what form of communication should I pose the questions to you? (E.g., In writing, over the phone, during a video call)

To get a sense of their working style, here are some questions you can ask:

  • What do you value most in a coworker?
  • Who in the organization do you admire, and why?
  • Do you like time to think something over, or do you prefer to talk about it right away?
  • When do you not like to be interrupted during the day?
  • Are you a morning, afternoon, or a night person?
  • Is there anything you feel like you might be a little more particular about than most?
  • What, if anything, worries you or keeps you up at night about the company?

Obviously avoid bombarding them with it 🙂 Try to inject these strategically in your 1:1s and conversations!



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