“Managing up” is one of those buzz-phrases that’s both widely used and widely misunderstood. Traditional managing involves a person in authority asking a subordinate for updates, explanations, or other information. It’s someone reacting to a lack of necessary information, to something going wrong, or to another factor that has presented itself and is now a concern. But managing up is when the subordinate goes first. Before you’re asked, before it becomes an issue of concern for the person in power, you volunteer not just the information, but also the explanation or other information you would have inevitably been asked for at some point. Instead of authority managing down the chain of command, subordinates manage up toward those in power.
Here are some examples:
- Students, tell your parents that you struggled on the exam you took today and that you’ve already asked your teacher if you can check in together about your work in the course.
- Private counselors, reach out to the family you haven’t interacted with recently before they have to ask what their next step is.
- Parents, tell your boss that the project is likely to be delayed, explain the reasons why, and reveal the steps you’re taking to make sure you’ll still deliver the finished product on spec and under budget.
- Counselors, tell your principal that you’ve identified some weaknesses in your team’s admissions advising and that you’re creating training programs to address them.
It’s tempting to avoid preemptively answering questions you don’t want to answer. It’s tempting to keep quiet and try to keep those in power from noticing. It’s tempting to suppress an unsavory topic and hope that it will never come to light.
But managing up takes away the element of surprise for both parties. It establishes that you’re retaining responsibility. It reinforces that your concern goes beyond just your own interests. And it encourages confidence in those managing down that you can be counted on to manage up.