Managing up and managing down

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Managing up and managing down is studied as part of management studies, and details how a middle manager should effectively deal with his or her manager and with his or her subordinates. Additionally, managing up on its own may be a useful skill for a subordinate who in turn does not manage anyone. It is generally considered to be distinct from "sucking up" or "kissing up" to the manager and "kicking down" to subordinates as it involves benign and straightforward influencing rather than underhand manipulation.[1][2][3][4]

What can be accomplished when you influence up or down[5][2][6][7]

  • Promotions
  • Workers benefits
  • Job Opportunities
  • Special recognition
  • Improved working conditions
  • Improved overall company culture
  • Special project Opportunities
  • Improved internal relationships
  • And more...

What skills are needed to do so effectively[8][2][9][10]

  • Communication skills
  • Delegation
  • Time management skills
  • How to disagree respectfully
  • Problem-solving skills
  • How to anticipate peoples needs
  • And more...

Managing up[edit]

How to position yourself for managing up[edit]

There are several ways to go about influencing up and they all regard appealing to your boss. Turk suggests several different guidelines for managing up including being loyal and committed, understanding your boss’s perspective and agenda, understanding your boss’s preferences, providing solutions not problems, and understanding your own management style. Each of the different guidelines Turk provides serves an important benefit for both sides.[11]

The Careers Group recommends “Understand where your work fits in with your manager’s goals and the wider goals of the organization”. Which comes into play when your managers have their own projects to work on in addition to managing subordinates. Considering the challenges that managers face with their projects and working to either assist or stay out of the way when those projects require more attention is a smart tactic. Putting yourself in the position to be recognized as someone who can handle the work they were assigned and assist the manager in their work can be particularly beneficial when advocating for your own projects. Figuring out where the work that you want to accomplish fits into the overall goals for the company is crucial to getting approval on those projects as well.[12]

According to Badowski, good managing up requires going above and beyond the tasks assigned to you so that you can enhance your manager's work. Doing what you can to make your manager's job easier will not only help them do their job, but you will be considered a valuable asset to your manager and to your organization. You want to be described as indispensable.[13][14]

A very important point to remember is “Be very clear about what job you were hired to do -and do it.” this is just one of three highlighted in the article Managing Up Without Sucking Up. The importance of this is, once you have established what it is that you were hired to do within the company and you do it you have fulfilled your duties anything additional that you work on is a bonus to your managers. With this achieved you can now begin to speak with your managers about the other things that you would like to do. With the right tactics, the problems and projects that you would like to take on become available to you.[2]


Understand how your manager likes to communicate. Price suggests appealing to your managers' communication styles “If he or she likes to communicate face-to-face rather than through email updates, then set up short meetings”. When you communicate with your manager in a way that they are receptive to they feel as though time spent with you is well utilized and they will associate you and your work with productivity.[15]

Influencing up[edit]

Bradford introduces the idea of influencing up where it may be possible for a subordinate without authority to influence those with authority.He delves into topics such as: creating a partnership between you and your boss and bridging the power gap. [16]

Managing down[edit]

Tendencies that negatively affect employees[edit]

  • Always giving and never receiving feedback- Receiving, analyzing, and applying feedback from a managers perspective is just as important as giving it. Neglecting to give your employees the opportunity to evaluate your performance doesn't allow them to feel like their voice matters to the person directly overseeing their work.
  • Micromanaging employees- Constantly checking the progress of your employees can be uncomfortable and prove to be unproductive for both sides in the long run.
  • Being inflexible- Neglecting to acknowledge circumstances affecting employees outside of work when making decisions can frustrate people and create a hostile work environment.
  • Not taking responsibility for the team as a whole- When managing a group the failures and successes can be attributed to the team's leader/ manager, forfeiting the responsibility when the team fails is not good leadership.
  • Lack of personal motivation- People pick up on the habits of the people managing them, a negative attitude towards your work can spread to your subordinates and create a lack of motivation in the company.

Tendencies that positively affect employees[edit]

  • Providing challenging work to stimulate employees- When employees are stimulated by their work they have more of an incentive to actively try to complete it versus mundane tasks that don't realize any benefits.
  • Supporting employees’ decisions- Encouraging and supporting the decisions that employees make can motivate employees who have low self-esteem and don't find motivation in the same things as their peers.
  • Coaching and developing employees’ skills- Taking the time to coach and develop the skills of the people you work around benefits both sides one gets to learn these skills and the other has the opportunity to master these skills.
  • Encouraging good relationships- Encouraging employees to be vocal with each other about concerns and compliments promotes a culture where frustrations don't build up and cause delays in work.
  • Recognizing conflict and dealing with its causes- Recognizing the roots of your employees' frustrations and working to fix them before they become a company-wide issue alleviates workplace tension and can establish a good morale with employees.

Skills required for managing down[edit]

It is claimed that good managing down requires the following attributes:[17]

  • Organization skills- Having strong organizational skills allow you to properly coordinate people and resources within your company.
  • Communication skills- The ability to express your wants and needs to your employees in a clear and coordinated manner eliminates any misinterpretations.
  • Motivation-Managers who understand that different people require types of motivation and cater their assignments toward them prove to be particularly effective.
  • Leadership skills- The skills that managers and leaders require heavily overlap and the main focus in both sets is creating mutual trust and respect between you and your subordinates.
  • Utilizing the right management style- Recognizing what your management style is, allows you to utilize it in a way that matches your employees’ motivation styles.
  • Being authentic- Most adults can recognize a genuine person, and showing the people you work with that you are a trustworthy person who is reliable earns respect.
  • Safe environments- Promoting a workplace culture that encourages everyone to feel comfortable with themselves and the work that they do reaps benefits for everyone.
  • Setting clear expectations- Along with communication skills comes clear expectations, vocalizing exactly what needs to be done and when leaves little room for misunderstandings and excuses for things not to be done.
  • Consistent feedback- Constantly reporting back to your employees on their performance allows you to work with them on problem areas before they become a habit and to analyze and applaud a job well done. Receiving feedback reaps the same benefits for managers as well.
  • Accepting imperfection- The ability to accept limitations and work off of or around them is an important skill that is beneficial in learning how to problem solve in a bind.


Benefits of effectively middle managing[edit]

Both sides in every case benefit in some way when people choose to manage up and down. When you focus on creating value with the work you do for your managers and your company you benefit yourself with the skills you obtain in the process. When you choose to manage up you create a level of trust between you and your boss by being a reliable trustworthy employee, through doing this you learn about yourself and the type of person you are. When you effectively manage down you create better relationships with your employees and in turn, you can create a work culture that makes people feel valued in turn encouraging better work.

Key points for managing up[edit]

  • Be clear about the job you were hired to do and do it
  • Understand what job your boss was hired to do
  • Remember that the people you work with are not family
  • Figure out how your project fits into the company goals
  • Provide solutions not problems
  • Request feedback and use it

Key points for managing down[edit]

  • Fine tune leadership skills
  • Fine tune organization skills
  • Give and receive feedback
  • Be clear about your expectations
  • Recognize your employees' needs and adapt to them


  1. ^ Turk W (2007) Defense AT&L: March–April The Art of Managing Up
  2. ^ a b c d Johnson W (15 Dec 2014) Managing Up Without Sucking Up Harvard Business Review
  3. ^ Price S Ivy Exec Managing Up Without Kissing Up
  4. ^ The Careers Group (2010) Your Academic Career: Managing Professional Relationships University of London
  5. ^ Turk W (2007) Defense AT&L: March–April The Art of Managing Up
  6. ^ Price S Ivy Exec Managing Up Without Kissing Up
  7. ^ The Careers Group (2010) Your Academic Career: Managing Professional Relationships University of London
  8. ^ Turk W (2007) Defense AT&L: March–April The Art of Managing Up
  9. ^ Price S Ivy Exec Managing Up Without Kissing Up
  10. ^ The Careers Group (2010) Your Academic Career: Managing Professional Relationships University of London
  11. ^ Turk W (2007) Defense AT&L: March–April The Art of Managing Up
  12. ^ The Careers Group (2010) Your Academic Career: Managing Professional Relationships University of London
  13. ^ Badowski R (2004) Managing Up: How to Forge an Effective Relationship With Those Above You
  14. ^ Garone E (30 Oct 2008) Wall Street Journal What It Means to 'Manage Up'
  15. ^ Price S Ivy Exec Managing Up Without Kissing Up
  16. ^ Bradford DL (2005) Influence Without Authority
  17. ^ nameWard ME, Zambito J (Nov 2013) The Bulletin Vol 81 Issue 6 Managing in All Directions: Up, Down, and Sideways

Further reading[edit]


  • Harvard Business Review (2013) HBR Guide to Managing Up and Across
  • Dobson MS, Dobson DS (2000) Managing Up!: 59 Ways to Build a Career-advancing Relationship with Your Boss
  • Baldoni J (2010) Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up
  • Harvard Business School Press (2013) Managing Up: Expert Solutions to Everyday Challenges
  • Deblauwe T, Reilly P (2012) #MANAGING UP tweet Book01: 140 Tips to Building an Effective Relationship with Your Boss
  • Matuson RC (2011) Suddenly In Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around
  • Smullen FW (2014) Ways and Means of Managing Up: 50 Strategies for Helping You and Your Boss Succeed
  • (1984) Managing Up, Managing Down: How to be a Better Manager and get What You Want from your boss and Your Staff
  • DuBrin, Andrew J. Leadership: Research Findings, Practice, and Skills. Cengage Learning, 2016.

Journal articles

  • Austin MJ (1989) Managing Up: Relationship Building Between Middle Management and Top Management Administration in Social Work Vol 12, Issue 4, P29-46
  • Salmen SH, Hagen B, Patacky M. (1986) Managing down-staffing. Journal of Nursing Management. May;17(5): P33-6.

External links[edit]