How This Developer Mastered the Art of Managing Up
In the professional world, the need — or alternatively, the opportunity — to manage people never ends.
Even those in the C-suite manage “horizontally” across fellow company leaders. For the majority of professionals, however, effectively managing up — or, working for the mutual benefit of yourself and your boss — is a skill that not only enhances relationships with managers, but also builds confidence in professional decision-making.
In Steve Woodson’s experience as associate principal front-end developer at Bounteous, managing up has been an important tool in developing his own leadership style. In the midst of their own projects and responsibilities, managers don’t always notice each of their team member’s strengths and successes, which is why managing up is a crucial art to master. Woodson leans on a variety of performance indicators to keep his managers aware of his achievements; in his experience, this self-sufficiency and pride in meeting deliverables “helps managers envision him as a leader on the team who is well-equipped to own projects.”
To be sure, finding the right time to self-advocate and keeping track of achievements takes practice — but for Woodson, the payoff is worth the effort.
“Managing up and using my voice to enact change has been a tremendous area of growth for me. I’m being challenged in new ways and my efforts are being recognized,” he said.
A good manager will encourage and reinforce their direct reports’ talents, effectively preparing future leaders for success. When their direct reports pair this with upward management, the mutual growth is exponential.
For Steve Woodson, managing up effectively takes preparation, self-advocacy and leading by example. The payoff: having the influence to design and lead new programs, and evolving the company through his own values.
What’s one strategy you’ve used to get to know your manager better and build rapport?
My advice is to come prepared for every meeting. I always write down notes and questions before a meeting, which gives me a sense of confidence. This sounds simple, but advance preparation empowers you to effectively build rapport with your manager, and provides an opportunity to be mindful in asking them higher-level questions, like about their goals and priorities.
A predefined agenda enables a distraction-free discussion and allows you and your manager to use time efficiently. Your manager can relax knowing you are on top of every project.
During meetings, note-taking can help you internalize the conversation. Plus, it gives you a record of what was discussed, just in case questions come up from your manager down the road. Try sending a meeting recap after the discussion to reassure your manager you were listening closely and are eager to charge ahead with the projects discussed.
Ultimately, being prepared builds credibility and helps take the pressure off them to lead the conversation. Preparation also helps managers envision you as a leader on the team who is well equipped to own projects.
Proposing solutions to problems is a vulnerable feeling, but sharing my ideas has often led to lasting and impactful change.’’
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about managing up, and how do you apply that lesson to your relationship with your current manager?
We’re all people first. Managers are often placed on a pedestal, and that leads to anxiety when their team needs to manage up. Believe me, I’ve been there! Those fears can easily be overcome, and I’ve kept the below tips in mind as I strive to develop stronger, more genuine relationships with my managers.
Remember that your success is your manager’s success. It is your responsibility to make your personal and professional needs and boundaries clear to your manager. Communication is key, and when I have a need or boundary to share with my manager, I write it down to reference during our meeting so I don’t get nervous or lose focus.
I’d also recommend that you itemize your achievements — actions speak louder than words. However, know that your manager is busy and not always aware of your wins. Don’t be afraid to celebrate good news with them! Self-promotion is tough, but your manager needs to be aware of your achievements in order to advocate for you. I share quarterly OKRs with my manager to demonstrate how my actions directly impact and help achieve their desired results.
How has managing up helped you grow in your career?
Managing up has challenged me to lead by example. Proposing solutions to problems is a vulnerable feeling, but sharing my ideas has often led to lasting and impactful change.
For example: at the beginning of the year, Bounteous co-founder and CEO Keith Schwartz prompted us to dream big, plan big, and set audacious goals.
As a part of this challenge, a group of accessibility enthusiasts set our sights on building a companywide, multi-faceted accessibility program. This program was inspired by the belief that anyone who needs to use a digital experience should be able to, regardless of ability.
A program of this magnitude involves a lot of coordination, in addition to managing up for approvals from senior team members. Had our leadership not prompted us to “think big,” I might not have taken charge on coordinating this accessibility program. Managing up and using my voice to enact change has been a tremendous area of growth for me. I’m being challenged in new ways and my efforts are being recognized. We’re only just getting this program started, but it has the potential to change the trajectory of my career in ways I couldn’t have predicted at the outset.