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How to Manage “Managing Up”


How to Manage “Managing Up”

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By Dan Picard
Editorial Director, PM Skills and Senior Editor, MindEdge Learning

In a recent meeting, I asked the MindEdge Project Management Advisory Council to share their thoughts about “managing up.”

In short, managing up is a way of interacting with those “above” you on the corporate ladder to give them what they need—but also to get what you need to complete your work as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Our discussion revolved around three specific problems:

  • Multitasking: A business or organization may be asking people to do too many projects in parallel. Similarly, a C-suite leader that you need input from may not have enough quality time to spend with you because they, too, are multitasking across multiple projects.
  • Status reporting: Managers and leaders must be able to trust the information in the reports they receive.
  • Scope changes: Those higher up in the organization often ask for “just one more thing” to add to an already ongoing project.

Addressing the Issues

To resolve these (and several other) issues that commonly occur in similar situations, the Council had the following suggestions:

  • Communicate a clear, succinct message when you interact with leaders. Use metrics and data to answer their questions and to support your requests. Make the information you’re presenting easy to understand and digest with visual depictions of data and progress (or the lack thereof). And present data based on people—not projects—to show how multitasked resources may be overutilized and overallocated.
  • Devise a good communication plan. Agree in advance on the minimum amount of communication that you will have with your leaders. (You can always exceed that minimum if and when the need arises.) Ask them what you need to do to give them what they want. Then let them know what you need to continue to have success with your work. Be sure to communicate your story in their language to ensure that it resonates in a way that will motivate them.
  • Help them prioritize the work. When they ask for “one more thing,” explain how it will affect the ongoing work. Tell them (in a courteous and professional way): “You have to make tradeoffs when picking projects; at the project level, I have to make tradeoffs, too. What should I stop doing in order to add this ‘one more thing’ to the project?”
  • Be honest with “difficult” people above you. Be firm and ask for specific feedback, then act on that feedback. Use your influence (or connect with influencers) to maintain your position, but be respectful of their power and authority within the organization. You will likely be interacting with them in the future, and you don’t want to make an enemy unnecessarily.

Lastly, always keep in mind that these are busy people—so respect their time and workload. Leaders and managers likely have many people vying for their attention; being respectful of their schedule and workload may help them see you as an ally and a valuable colleague. Before asking for something, think about how it will affect their priorities, and then show them how it will lead to success for both of you. And avoid showing them what you did; instead, show them how your actions will satisfy customers and help them meet the organization’s (and, by association, their own) goals and objectives.

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