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Posted by on Apr 17, 2019

Eight Ways to Manage Up in the Federal Government

Eight Ways to Manage Up in the Federal Government

Simply stated, “managing up” refers to doing whatever you can to make your boss’ job easier by essentially managing your manager. Managing up means navigating the complexities of both you and your supervisor’s personality to ultimately achieve the goals of the organization. Perhaps most importantly, managing up is a way for you to get a leg up on the competition.

Federal program management training from Management Concepts

With many agencies finding themselves as victims of budget cuts, it’s crucial for Federal agency employees to manage up. This strategy can increase employee retention by improving workplace situations, helping agency teams run more efficiently, and streamlining communication. Having the capacity to manage up will not only benefit your career, it will also help your agency be more productive. Regardless of if you are working for a smart, seasoned manager or a new, less-experienced manager, managing up can help you establish your management skills. No matter what type of manager you have, some skills are universally-important management skills. As the Harvard Business Review states in What Everyone Should Know About Managing Up, managing up requires you to:

  1. Know your boss and anticipate their needs. Understanding how your boss works and what works them up will help you provide support effectively. If you have a boss who micromanages because they are anxious someone will forget something, help alleviate that anxiety by communicating with them and giving them status updates on projects and CC-ing them on emails for ongoing projects. Doing so will build your boss’ trust in you and give you some breathing room (because your boss won’t feel the need to micromanage you).
  2. Watch how your boss communicates and makes decisions. Match your communication style to your boss’ to help ensure that they will hear what you are really saying. Communicating clearly will help establish you as a go-to employee for important projects. Be careful though! Sometimes being a good communicator with your boss can lead to friendship. And, while there isn’t anything wrong with having a new friend, the dynamics of a supervisor-direct report friendship can become challenging and problematic to navigate in a workplace setting.
  3. Understand your boss’s priorities. What matters to your boss? Is it the team’s happiness? Is it looking good to the rest of the agency? Understanding their priorities can help you align your priorities and avoid spinning your wheels or seeking recognition for things that your boss doesn’t view as important. Sometimes it can take time to figure this out, so don’t be afraid to ask your boss what their priorities are.
  4. Offer solutions, not problems. When you see a problem emerging, you have two choices; you can say: “That’s not my problem, it’s my boss’,” or, you can use the problem as an opportunity to offer a solution. Why not start a conversation with your manager by saying “I have some ideas on how to fix this problem, but wonder what you think?” This will show that you are more than just a whistleblower, you’re a problem solver!
  5. Keep them informed. If you have never had a discussion with your boss about how much they want to be informed on your activities, do so! Ask them how often they want updates and how they would like to receive them. Some bosses prefer to be cc-ed on every email and only hold monthly one-on-one meetings. Others prefer fewer emails and weekly status update meetings. Does your boss only want to know when a project is finished, or to be alerted when a project enters each different phase? If you are unsure, have a conversation with your boss and ask what their expectations are.
  6. Have their back. No boss is perfect, but understanding your boss’ weaknesses will help you create strategies to compensate. If your boss does a poor job of keeping team morale up, take the initiative to bring in donuts and coffee or schedule a team lunch. If your boss is headed out of town, offer to cover for them to make their transition back to work easier.
  7. Focus on the team. Part of managing up can include doing some of your boss’ work. Sometimes this can go unnoticed, but what matters most is the success of your team and ultimately your agency. Consistently focusing on your team’s success will help you get noticed by the people in charge.
  8. Learn from your boss. If you have a technically proficient boss, watch how they handle their job and apply those principles to your own role. Observe your boss’ weaknesses too, along with how those weaknesses impact their work. Learn how to handle things differently so you can avoid the same pitfalls.

How can you benefit from developing these important skills? What could managing up do for you? Could your efforts improve your workplace culture? Whatever your take-aways, managing up is a prevalent part of every role and organization, and can be an extremely effective way to show your value to your team, your agency, and, well, to your boss (of course)!


Melanie Tague is an editor for Management Concepts by day, a freelance writer and editor by night, and is currently pursuing a Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification. She holds an MFA from George Mason University, a BA from the University of Missouri, and her most recently published creative work can be found in Portland Review.

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