Ask a Communicator: How do you manage up?
Dear Ask a Communicator:
I’d like to develop better working relationships with executive stakeholders so I can get their buy-in for important projects. Do you have advice on how to create and manage a good relationship with my boss?
Ah, yes: the executive team. The question of how to manage your boss is a common one for communications professionals. Obviously, your relationship with the executives in your company has a huge impact on how well you’re able to perform your core functions (not to mention how happy you are in your role).
When everything’s running smoothly, executives might not think about communications much—other than to assume you’ll continue to keep things running smoothly. This can be both good and bad. On one hand, you’re obviously doing a great job. On the other hand, your department—like any other team in your company—will occasionally need resources and budget to execute your goals and initiatives. That means you may have to “manage up” to secure the additional levels of executive support you need.
For these reasons, it’s crucial to maintain strong, positive, ongoing connections with your executive team. This isn’t about brown nosing or pandering—it’s about asserting yourself as a valued professional whose work and proposals are respected by your boss.
Here are some of our top tips to cultivate a mutually beneficial, happy relationship between communications professionals and executives.
#1 Develop empathy for your boss and the executive team.
The first rule of thumb when it comes to managing your boss effectively is to understand who your boss is. What does your boss value most?
In other words, have some empathy.
While most employees have at least a superficial understanding of their leaders’ goals and pressures, they sometimes fail to consider their bosses’ ambitions, aspirations, strengths, and weaknesses. Assessing these issues can help you think beyond your needs, and gain insight on how you can have a fruitful relationship with your manager.
For example, some managers are “readers” i.e., they prefer information delivered to them through written format while others are “listeners,” i.e., they prefer verbal communication. If you want your manager to understand your ideas, it is important that you communicate in a manner that he/she understands.
In her article, “Looking Up the Fine Art of Managing Your Boss,” Janine Schindler noted that empathy is key to a successful boss-subordinate relationship. She advises that every employee should take spend time thinking about the boss’s perspective. What organizational goals does your boss have? What challenges does your boss face when completing her tasks? Answering these questions may help you gain insight into what your boss may be concerned about.
#2 Get to know yourself first.
Assess your strengths, goals, personal needs, and challenge areas, and be attentive to how you respond to being managed.
For instance, are you driven by competition? Or do you tend to love following rules and process? In an article recently published by Harvard University, “A Strategic Approach to Managing Yourself and Others,” managing oneself and others require self-examination. You need to understand what motivates you, your strengths, and your relative weaknesses.
The more you understand yourself, the better you’ll be able to manage your relationship with your boss.
#3 Establish a rapport with your boss regarding expectations.
A common mistake is assuming you know what your boss needs and expects. You may have an official, regular performance reviews where you and your boss outline clear expectations, goals, and benchmarks. Or you might not.
When expectations are unclear, don’t make assumptions. Even if you do have formal guidelines, working in communications can sometimes demand quick, agile responses or an on-the-fly adjustment to strategy. (Think of all the communications campaigns you had to put together at the last minute to address some critical issue no one could have foreseen!)
The bottom line is, don’t wait for your boss to provide detailed instructions about what he/she expects. Instead, establish a rapport with your boss. That will make it easier to ask about joint objectives and share ideas.
In an interview with Forbes, Mary Abbajay, a Human Resource management expert, noted that employees should learn to anticipate the needs of their managers. According to Abbajay, the more you learn about bosses and anticipate their expectations, wants, and needs, you will be able to address them proactively and remove any potential conflicts that may jeopardize your relationship.
#4 Build trust.
In the workplace, trust is often another word for dependability. If you do enough work in this area, your boss will learn to rely on the fact that your word is your bond. At that point, your boss will start to feel like you’re trustworthy.
To build trust, do everything you can to build your reputation for being dependable and honest. Adhere to work rules and policies. Deliver by the deadline. Honor your commitments.
If your boss happens to be something of a micromanager, consider requesting resources or training to help you improve your skills. Lolly Daskal, the founder and CEO of Lead from Within, noted that leaders, particularly micromanagers, appreciate when employees approach them on how to improve themselves. “Micromanagers love that; that is food for their soul because they like to control things,” she added.
#5 Make it easy for your boss to work with you.
Although we often think it’s the job of a boss to support the employee, the reverse is often true.
For example, what happens when you have a problem you can’t solve without the help of someone on the executive team? Your first instinct might just be to immediately fire off an email or request a meeting to discuss it. However, you might get much better results (and points for showing initiative) if you pause and take time to consider potential solutions on your own. That way, when you discuss the challenge with your boss, you should be able to say, “And here are three of my ideas on how we might be able to address this. What do you think?”
You can score big bonus points with your boss if you tailor your ideas in ways that suit his or her particular working style. If you happen to know your boss loves solutions that showcase metrics and proof points, why not tailor a solution that incorporates those elements? Again, if you think from the perspective of what your boss most likes and prefers, you’re much likelier to create a solid groundwork for collaborating in harmony.
#6 Give your boss feedback.
On certain occasions, your boss may need constructive feedback. Sharing your perceptions is one thing, but also remember to approach your boss when you do not agree with certain issues. No one is perfect at the workplace, and your input could be critical to improving performance.
In her article, “What to Do When You Have a Bad Boss,” Mary Abbajay asserts that giving feedback may not be appropriate when dealing with a difficult boss. In this case, consider making requests. Ask for what you need and be specific about how your request will help you do your job better. Also, explain how your request will benefit the company.
Managing your boss is not always a walk in the park, but it does not have to be hard either; it is just a matter of embracing strategic efforts and staying open.
If you can figure out how to manage your boss in a way that works for both of you, you’ll put you, your boss, and your company on the path to success. You’ll be empowered to ask for the tools and resources you need to succeed—and that means your company’s employees will win, too.
Thank you to the FutureComms attendee who asked this question!
Read more on how to increase your comms budget and how to build a business case in our guide, How to Secure Funding for a Workforce Communications Platform.
Ask a Communicator” is a new advice column from SocialChorus about internal communications. Got a question? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.