Steps for Partnering Up with Your Boss for Agency Success

The term “Managing Up” …employees love it and want to learn about it, managers and executives mistakenly fear it, because they don’t understand it. Interestingly, when managers and executives learn about managing up they actually want to engage in it…with their bosses.

Managing up never, in its truest form, entail manipulation of anyone for any reason. It is a legitimate strategy followed so that leaders at all levels learn to more fully partner with each other for the success of the entire organization and achievement of all goals. Strategies and steps relevant to managing up are designed to help leaders at lower levels in an organization or on a team, effectively be viewed as leaders whose voice should be heard related to many larger issues that affect the team and impact the larger organization.

The goal of these strategies is to position a lower level leader so that she/he can effectively educate, persuade, influence, negotiate, and advocate with more senior leaders; essentially partnering with senior leaders for their, the team’s and the organization’s success. Far too often senior leaders within an organization, even those who truly respect all of their subordinates, over time, tend to interact with their subordinates as positions and not as people, let alone as partners. They invite their subordinate leaders to the table of discussion only if they think the issue at hand is with a subordinates pay grade or relevant to the person’s position description. This is a huge mistake because this assumption diminishes the leader’s, and therefore the organization’s, ability to harvest ideas, talent, unique insights and perspectives. It also limits the subordinated leader’s/employee’s ability to develop leadership competencies and confidence, thereby slowing their readiness to contribute more to the organization over time.

  • Leaders must not fear the process of managing up. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “managing” as: to have control of; to take care of and make decisions about; to direct the professional career of. I think that most leaders fear being managed because they latch onto the first part of the definition and are afraid that employees or other leaders will have “control” over them. They forget to focus upon the 2nd and 3rd parts of the definition: to take care of and make (participate in) decisions about …and ….to direct the professional career of (oneself). Part of the process of leadership development for all people at work includes providing them with opportunities to take care of problems, planning, and the organization. Leadership development includes providing them with opportunities to make and participate in decisions about customers, teams, employee initiatives and the direction of the organization. Leadership development includes providing opportunities for leaders at all levels to direct their careers by practicing and engaging in on-the-job skill higher-level development (e.g., communicating, negotiating, advocating, partnering, etc.).

Here’s an encapsulation of the 8 essential steps and strategies that lead to success in managing up.


Step 1

Build a personalized-professional relationship with your boss. This does not mean that you have to become friends with your boss or even associate outside of work with your boss. It does mean that you have to engage in sustained relationship building so that your boss sees you as a person, not just a position.

Step 2

Initiate new types of conversations with your boss. This may entail initiating conversations about higher-level issues, offering bigger solutions, offering insights about team or organizational dynamics, and asserting opinions and solutions about larger systemic or strategic challenges. The goal of this strategy is to show your boss that you are a leader in your own right, not just a technical professional.

Step 3

Ingratiate yourself with your boss. To ingratiate means to get into someone’s good graces. At the extreme, and for some unethical people, this means “kissing up” or “brown-nozing”; neither of which are professional, ethical or suggested (certainly not by me). For most professionals this means that you have to demonstrate in many little and large ways that “you’ve got your boss’ back”; you’re there for her/him in a crunch.

Step 4

Educate your boss. As professionals gain altitude in an organization, rising through the levels, they can easily loose site of the realities on the ground, the dynamics that impact the success of teams and units, and easy solutions that those on the ground can see. There is also a common assumption that higher-level bosses have the skills and proficiencies that front-line employees or mid-level supervisory leaders and managers are learning in their own developmental processes. Often what supervisors and managers learn in classes are skills and techniques unknown to senior leaders who never took those same courses. It’s your job to educate your boss about all things large and small.

Step 5

Communicate frequently and about issues relevant to you and to your team or department. All too often when an employee sits down with her/his boss, at any level in the organization, the discussion essentially becomes a project/program or staff/customer update. It is a one-way conversation focused on the subordinate giving a briefing to her/his supervisory leader. This practice only reinforces the unconscious view by the leader of the subordinate as a position, not as a person or professional leader in her/his own right. You must communicate frequently and make sure that ½ of the agenda is yours (i.e., focused on issues and opportunities that matter to the team, the organization and to your development).

Step 6

Have the courage to advocate for ideas, positions and strategies that are important to your team and to the organization and its stakeholders. Notice that I didn’t say advocate for what’s important to you. Always frame whatever you advocate for in terms of its relevance and importance to the mission, some goals, the team, customers, or other stakeholders. Stay mission and goal-centered. Have the courage to ask your boss to advocate on your team’s behalf. If she/he hesitates, explore the hesitation and suggest strategies for advocating upwards. Sometimes your boss may simply be at a loss of ideas or courage.

Step 7

Negotiate in respectful ways. Partners-in-success and leaders in their own right always engage in negotiation in an effort to achieve greater goals. Negotiation may center around time and task management, work-load distribution, reward and recognition initiatives, participation in higher level meetings, obtaining delegated authority, or securing developmental assignments.

  • Step 8: always, always appreciate your boss’ position, pressures, time, drivers, goals, and stressors. Appreciation is the ability to understand the worth, quality, or importance of something; to have full awareness or understanding of something. All too often we demand and expect things of our bosses but don’t fully appreciate their professional world and experiences. We simply assume that everything’s all right with them and that they should therefore be thinking of us and be ready to meet our needs. Part of our responsibility is to appreciate the full extent of their positional responsibilities, pressures and roles. We can demonstrate our appreciation with gratitude, and by respecting their deliberation and decisions, and also by mediating and mitigating problems before they get to the bosses desk, thereby lessoning their stress.

These eight steps are really strategies. They may take some of you longer to accomplish depending upon your current boss-subordinate relationship, your courage and your persistence. Good luck!

[The Managing Up Model included in the PowerSkills seminar on Managing Up/Partnering Up with Your Boss. For more information about bringing this seminar to your organization contact us at The Managing Up Model is trademarked and copyrighted by Robert J Schout & PowerSkills Training & Development, Inc. All rights reserved.]


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