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The Art of Managing your Manager

March 20, 2019

Your relationships at work (for the most part) determine how happy your work life will be - primarily the relationship with your boss. Dealing with upper management and their expectations is a common cause of frustration for trainers, RTO managers, compliance managers and others working in vocational education. Managing up means aligning yourself to the goals and communication styles of higher-ups. Producing a more productive, happy and fulfilling work life for both of you. Basically, it involves someone with less status and power within an organisation influencing, directing and supporting a superior to achieving business goals and objectives.

Here’s what you’ll need.

Deep awareness of self and others

Managing upwards in an effective and appropriate manner requires a high degree of self-awareness and competence in interpersonal skills. It really is about your relationship with yourself and the person you are trying to influence and support.

Effective relationship management can be greatly supported by an understanding of personality or temperament types. Tools such as Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI) and Temperament theory provide a structured, common sense approach to understanding personal priorities, decision-making processes, thinking and learning styles, habitual behaviours and actions. Get assessed on your differences, learn about yourself and collaborate together on the results.

Observational prowess

As well as self-awareness and emotional intelligence, you also need excellent observational skills; the ability to take note of subtleties in behaviours and relationships with others. How does your boss interact with others in the office, with superiors and subordinates? Who else is able to influence them? How is this achieved? What is their style? How do they respond under pressure?  What constitutes success and failure for your boss?

Clear vision

In order to effectively manage upwards, you also need to clearly understand the vision, goals, objectives and strategies of the business. Your manager is aligned to these - so you must effectively be able to step into their shoes to determine what they are trying to achieve.

You also need to understand the culture, which demonstrates how things are done within a training organisation or RTO. It could be stable or be in a state of flux, undergoing transformation toward a culture more aligned with the vision for both the organisation itself and the VET sector generally. Culture is shaped and reshaped according to priorities and preferences and is demonstrated in everyday conversations and interactions.

How it’s done

Once you understand the above, you can determine what is within your power to allow your manager to higher-order tasks:

  • What tasks, responsibilities and actions can you absorb or delegate to others?
  • Where does your boss lose power and time?
  • Is there anything that you can see that may be in your boss’s “blind spot”?  
  • How can you better arrange their schedule?  
  • With what you know about their personality and style, how can you better communicate to be more effective?  
  • What can you do to actively promote and further the achievement of desirable business outcomes and outputs?

How it’s not done

Managing upwards is not about your personal agenda. It is not about manipulation and control. And it is not about popularity and power struggles. It is about partnering with your manager and becoming a co-manager. By being proactive, using initiative, making decisions and prudent judgements, solving problems, using foresight, juggling priorities, mediating and organising. Generally being one step ahead, so that your role complements your manager’s role.  

Success depends largely on the match between personality and position. It depends on the level of emotional intelligence achieved, on the ability to be flexible, objective and creative as the situation demands. It depends on a high degree of self-discipline, on the ability to communicate effectively and the ability to make decisions and problem-solve quickly.

If you are on a management career path, the skills and awareness of managing upwards and the ability to effectively achieve this provides an excellent training ground for moving into a management or advanced management role.