You might read the term managing upwards and think this is all about ‘schmoozing’ those above you in your organisation. It’s worth reading what I wrote about how to reposition schmoozing in a previous post. Managing upwards is a positive skill to have – and not having it can really hinder your career. Let’s take a look at what it is and how to do it effectively.

Managing upwards – a positive definition

All managing upwards really means is building relationships with those who are more senior to you in your organisation.

This is necessary as they are the ones who make decisions about:

  • which clients and projects you work on;
  • who you work with and for;
  • the team you have under you and;
  • your future career progression- whether that be an upward or a lateral move, depending on where you want to get to.

Frequently, people think their performance will just be recognised and they will naturally move into the next role if they are really good at what they do.

Realistically, this doesn’t always happen. It’s important that others have visibility of you and your work, which is where relationships with your seniors come in. It’s also important day-to-day to have positive relationships with those above you so you can get decisions made and things done.

My five top tips for managing upwards

1. Understand the priorities of more senior people. Whilst of course you need to be able to raise things which matter to you, understanding their perspective is important. It shows them empathy and builds the relationship but also forces you to consider how your priorities seem to them and how you can position them to more senior people. What their boss is expecting of them is very likely to drive their priorities.

2. Work out what their time of day is. We all have times if day when we are more receptive to others, able to give more and have greater energy. If a senior person is not a morning person then bounding into to see them at 8.45am to discuss something important is unlikely to get you engagement and a positive response.

3. Understand their communication style. Whilst it isn’t about adapting entirely to their style, if you want to engage with them this needs thinking about. Top considerations:

    • Are they a big picture or detail person (this is also affected by how they perceive you and their expectations of you)?
    • Do they prefer short, frequent updates and questions or for you to save things up for a longer discussion (this is also likely to be affected by the type of work you do)?
    • Do they liked to be warned of problems as they occur or are they happy to be informed once problems are resolved or you have a solution (again likely to be affected by your relationship and the nature of the work)?
    • Are they good at engaging with emails or are calls/instant messages/in-person conversations more welcome.

4. Show an interest in them personally. What pressures are they under in life generally? Have they just had a new baby or are they caring for an elderly relative? Perhaps going through an illness or divorce? What are they interested in outside work? People forget to be human; showing individuals some empathy goes a long way to building the relationship

5. Build trust in what you can do, whilst showing you want to learn from them and others. This means giving senior people clarity on what your skills are and them feeling you are reliable to deliver what is required whilst being open to learning. Take every opportunity to show what you can do and always do what you say you will.

My final bit of advice for now is: if you think about managing upwards, who are the people you need to consider?

The obvious one is your direct line manager. However, there are also the people about that person and if you’re in a matrix organisation, you need to be thinking even more broadly.


Building key relationships is just one of several key skills to help you progress your career.  To read about the others, request my Nine Neglected Skills needed for career success here or complete the box below – five emails and a booklet packed full of practical tips and advice.

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