An Admin’s Guide to Managing Up

In many industries, the line between managers and workers tends to be fairly clear. Managers manage; workers work. An employee in a retail setting, for instance, generally isn’t responsible for handling their manager’s schedule, making calls and sending emails on the manager’s behalf, or preparing the manager for important meetings.

At the corporate level, however, things are a bit different. An admin supporting a high-level executive is expected to do all those things and more. Your entire job revolves around making your executive’s job easier. And one of the best ways to do that is to learn how to “manage up”.

Many admins are hesitant to do this. They worry that they’ll be seen as overbearing, or that they’re overstepping their bounds. This is the wrong mindset entirely! Done properly, managing up proves your worth to your executive and takes some of the load off their shoulders, allowing them to focus on the things that really matter.

What is managing up?

Managing up means positively influencing those you report to or who are senior in rank. It means using all the data and information you have to inform and educate them on topics or challenges so they can make decisions with as full a picture as possible.

Managing up can take many different forms. Sometimes it means doing something for your executive because you can do it better or faster and allowing them to tackle a different priority. Other times, it means proactively proposing changes that can help the department or company run smoother. Any time you take the initiative to go above and beyond your job duties for the benefit of the organisation, your executive or other higher-ups, you’re managing up.

Strategies for managing up

Managing up isn’t always easy. It’s important that you don’t bite off more than you can chew. Taking on tasks that you don’t have time for or that you can’t perform competently will hurt your credibility and the partnership you have with your executive.

The following are some best practices for managing up.

  • Learn what your executive needs. The more you know about your executive, the better.

  • Learn your executive’s strengths and weaknesses. If your executive struggles with time management, for instance, he/she may welcome regular, gentle reminders of due dates and commitments.

  • Understand different communication styles. Where one executive might love to set aside an hour a week to meet and discuss progress and plans, another may prefer you brief them with a short email at the end of each day. Understanding and adapting to different communication styles allows you to speak to them in their preferred manner.

  • Be willing to take on unpleasant tasks. No one loves all of their job duties, but part of managing up is handling the tedious tasks that your executive probably shouldn’t be spending time on – whether you enjoy it or not.

  • Develop your business acumen. In order to implement new ideas, you need to know as much about the company as possible. Subscribe to the company newsletter, read industry publications and keep your finger on the pulse of the business as a whole – not just your little corner of it. You never know when inspiration will strike.

  • Know your limits. The more you manage up, the more confident your executive will become in your abilities. While this is a good thing, it can also lead to you being overworked. Don’t wait until you’re buried under a mountain of tasks to ask for help. It may be that your executive honestly doesn’t realise how much you have on your plate. Track your time and tasks, and use your procedures binder to show them what you do each day. Be prepared to explain what you’ve changed or shifted around to make it work, and let your executive know what you need from them to make the situation better. Facts are persuasive – whining about how you have too much to do and not enough time to do it just makes your executive question your abilities.

Understand the principle of input and support

As you begin to manage up, there will be situations where you have ideas and opinions that you’d like your executive to consider. This is where the principle of input and support comes in – basically, knowing when to speak up and when to be quiet.

Input is the period of time when you have an opportunity to share your ideas, suggestions, or concerns about a certain process or decision before the final decision has been made. This is the time when you should speak up.

Support comes after a final decision. This is the time when you should be quiet and do what you’re asked (assuming it’s not illegal or unethical). You may not agree with the decision, but you need to support it. Knowing the difference between input and support is instrumental in managing up, because it shows your executive that you can contribute as well as take direction – and that’s the balance they’re looking for!

Managing up takes work, and it’s not something that has a formal start and end date. Rather, it’s an ongoing, evolving process that, when done effectively, can increase your value to your executive and the company.

Julie Perrine, CAP-OM, is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, providing training, mentoring and resources for administrative professionals worldwide. Julie applies her administrative expertise and passion for lifelong learning to serving as an enthusiastic mentor, speaker and author who educates admins around the world on how to be more effective every day. Learn more about Julie’s books — The Innovative Admin: Unleash the Power of Innovation in Your Administrative Career; The Organized Admin: Leverage Your Unique Organizing Style to Create Systems, Reduce Overwhelm, and Increase Productivity; and Become a Procedures Pro: The Admin’s Guide to Developing Effective Office Systems and Procedures.