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When is it Appropriate to Manage Upwards?

Sep 22, 2022
When is it Appropriate to Manage Upwards?

There are different styles of leadership and management. Some people require more coaching, others just need a general direction, and some don’t need either – these are the people who delegate and manage upwards. 

What is “managing upwards”?

Managing upwards involves working with directors and people in your organization who might be above you, and offering assistance and support on their projects. In essence, it’s managing your boss or other company leaders.

It can be tricky to learn when it’s appropriate to manage upwards and how to go about it. You don’t want to step on anyone’s toes or appear arrogant, but you want to prove yourself a valuable asset to the team.

So, when is it appropriate to manage upwards?

Your boss has a lot on their plate

If your boss is drowning in work, we’re willing to bet that they won’t mind if you knock something off their to-do list. They may not have the time to fully plan out every detail of a project, so they’ll welcome the help. 

You taking the lead may mean that you have to delegate certain tasks to your boss or another manager. This may seem uncomfortable, but that smaller task is a lot more doable for them than planning out the entire project and delegating tasks themselves. You’re actually saving them time!

You have the proper qualifications

If it’s in your wheelhouse, go for it! At some point, you have to branch out on your own and start projects. And heading a project and delegating tasks out for it will make you look quite impressive!

Your boss hired you for a reason, so if there’s work to do, and you’re qualified to do it, you’re the person for the job. 

You have time in your schedule to tackle a task in the future

Perhaps you’ve had the most productive week of your life and flown through your to-do list. Or maybe it’s been a slow week and you’ve had less to manage. Whatever the reason, if you have some free time in your schedule, use it to tackle a task that’s coming up.

For example, if your company’s been thinking of planning a major event, you can use some of this time to research event spaces or party favors. Once you find some good options, you could send them over to your manager and assign them the task of choosing between these options. 

You won’t always have this free time available, but taking initiative and managing upwards when you do is helpful and productive for your whole team.

They’ve asked you to take the lead on a similar project

Have you worked on a similar project before? Maybe you ran a similar event at a prior company, or have background in skills needed to complete the task. If they’ve reached out to you about similar events, take the lead on this one!

Taking initiative (in a respectful way) shows that you’re willing to take on tasks and help out. If they’ve asked you to take the lead on a similar project before, it’s likely that they’ll be glad to have your help again (unless of course something went catastrophically wrong). 

When in doubt, ask

Consider asking your boss how their day is going or what could take some stress off their plate. Building this relationship and understanding them better will give you some insight on when is best to jump in and manage upwards. 

For the first few times you manage upwards, being as transparent as possible is a good idea. Once you’ve gained trust on some larger projects, you can take on more as you see fit.

Managing upwards can be a useful tool for productivity within your organization. There’s a time and place for it, but when done appropriately it benefits you and leaders on your team. If you approach it with a respectful manner and growth mindset, your manager will appreciate the initiative and the help.



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