Tips for Managing Up in the Workplace


Elizabeth Finlayson, The Nonprofit Coach, facilitated a professional development workshop for YNPN Chicago members on managing upand we shared her secrets here for all of you! For those unfamiliar with the concept, managing up is a method of career development that's based on consciously working for the mutual benefit of yourself and your boss. At this workshop, attendees learned how to determine what a boss really wants and also discussed ideas for adjusting work practices to best maximize this important relationship. While it can be challenging to collaborate with supervisors, YNPN Chicago members learned that it is critical for career success.

Check out real strategies offered by nonprofit professionals and workshop facilitator, Elizabeth Finlayson, on working with a supervisor who:

Likes to brainstorm:

  • Bring agendas to meetings to stay organized and prepared.
  • Clarify goals frequently to avoid confusion.
  • Summarize conversations and meetings and share with your boss to confirm.
  • Distill discussions into a summary and present quickly for immediate feedback.
  • Use their language when presenting work they've requested.

Likes to analyze:

  • If he likes to be able to study it by himself, give it to him in written form. 
  • Anticipate details and specifics that they will want to discuss ahead of time.
  • Provide as much information as possible.
  • Provide lead-time before meeting so they have time to analyze.
  • Provide links and resources in your assignments they will always want access to more information.

Has a formal, organized approach:

  • Make sure meetings have a set agenda.

Asks a lot of questions:

  • If he likes to be able to ask questions, present it to him in person. 
  • Prepare ahead of time by anticipating questions they may ask.
  • Admit when you don't know something.
  • Place links to sources of information in order to anticipate questions (allows them to click through to dig deeper).

Changes strategies frequently:

  • You must take the initiative here to ensure you're in constant contact with such a boss 
  • Document lessons learned for future reference.
  • Clarify a timeline of next steps and presenting for approval.
  • Ask multiple questions to determine rationale, especially if you don't understand the assignment or project.
  • Talk about the potential consequences (positive and negative) of sudden changes.
  • Develop and maintain agendas in order to direct conversations and document discussions.
  • Ask questions and give options.
  • Get everything in writing.

Is very hands-on:

  • Communicate frequently, give mini-updates.
  • Use Google Docs as a tool to edit together.
  • Be proactive by communicating in-person.
  • Print hard copies for your back pocket.

Keeps distance:

  • Set your own goals and benchmarks.
  • Send out a list of weekly priorities to document your progress.
  • Follow up and check in as often as possible.
  • Ask for feedback (politely of course).

Is a perfectionist:

  • Establish clear expectations.
  • Set a firm timeline.
  • Ask for clarity often (You want x, y and z?).
  • Submit work based on previously approved templates.

Thrives on conflict:

  • If he seems to thrive on it, be prepared for lively, spontaneous exchanges. 
  • It can be successful to serve as an in-between with your boss and other colleagues, but know when to step out of the conflict.

Avoids conflict:

  • Address conflicts to the best of your ability before engaging your boss.
  • If he tends to minimize conflict, respect that preference without falling into the trap of telling him only the happy news. 

The next time you find yourself frustrated over a boss who doesn't match your work style, and feel as if you've exhausted all possibilities, try one of these techniques! Not only will you learn how to collaborate more effectively, but your boss may even recognize you for a leadership role. After all, the first step to becoming a boss yourself is getting your boss to love you. 


Simpson, Liz. Why Managing Up Matters.

Elizabeth Finlayson, your professional non-profit mentor, is a non-profit professional coach. With 14 years of experience at small and mid-sized non-profits, she has a passion for helping professionals navigate the rocky waters of non-profit life. Elizabeth has worked in every area of development culminating in running a department. Career highlights include: An 80% funding rate as a grant writer, growing an annual galas attendance by 280% over four years including twice significantly exceeding goal, revitalizing a direct mail program that brought in $75,000 in the second year, and increasing the number of major donors by 78% over four years. With her background as a professional actor, she facilitates workshops on a variety of topics. Find Elizabeth on LinkedIn here!