I was working at an event in London last week where I was asked what my role in the company I work for involved. My rather tongue in cheek reply was that “I make my boss look good”. Although this was said to get a quick laugh it did make me think, actually isn’t that a massive part of the role we all play at work? There is another phrase for this and it is called ‘managing up’. Some people are great at ‘managing up’ but assistants have to be fantastic at it! The main part of our job is to manage our boss’s time so that they can concentrate on the important tasks that keep the business going. But we don’t just stop there, we manage every aspect of their day, from reading their emails and responding with kind words, getting them coffee so that they are awake and alert throughout the day, buying their presents so that they look generous and thoughtful, and well the list is endless.
There are huge benefits for staff that are good at managing up. They are seen, by the boss, as a helpful resource rather than a hindrance and they learn very quickly how to get the most out of their manager in a way that will advantage them. We spend all day managing our boss and evaluating their needs, but do we effectively manage up? If not, we could really miss out on some fantastic benefits…
Know your manager’s limitations
To start managing up we have to come to terms with the fact that our manager has limitations. We are in the perfect position as assistants to understand what those limitations are. We work very closely with our manager and should already be helping them with the work that takes most of their time. For example, we will know if a big problem for them is their organisational skills, or that they are not good at delegating. We will more than likely have first hand knowledge of this and already be aiding them with their needs so managing up for us has to be more than just helping with their limitations. We have to take on the tasks that they don’t want to do or can’t do and we have to make that our specialty, taking on such tasks will only help our career and enable us to learn more in the long run. For example, your boss doesn’t like filing (to be fair, who does)? If we take that job on, we have access to important documents that we should read to gain a greater understanding of what is happening in the business. Another example, if your boss doesn’t like dealing with difficult members of staff, act as a go between so that you can enhance your people skills. Again, if you ever manage staff this training will come in handy. You are increasing your skills while managing your bosses limitations.
As an assistant we are in a fortunate position in that quite often we get to tell our boss what to do. We tell them when they have to be in meetings, when they can take their lunch, what they have to read, which emails they have to answer first. Again, not many of our colleagues have this type of relationship with the boss so we can really use it to our advantage when managing up. We can be really honest, we don’t have to be ‘yes men/women’. We can be a breath of fresh air, we can be asked our opinion and give advice and most importantly we can be trusted. All of this leads to respect, which is so necessary for an assistant to progress in the workplace.
Take responsibility in the relationship
The relationship with your manager is a two way street, we should not be reliant on them to always know what is required to make the relationship work. We should take control of the relationship by understanding their style, how they like to communicate and when best to approach them. Assistants should have consistent meetings with their manager so I would say use this time wisely – come prepared for every meeting and make sure you have enough information for your boss to make any decisions you want during the meeting. We are already managing their time effectively, but managing up will mean that we get what we want out of the time we spend with them as much as they do.
Proactivity is always going to be key
In everything we do proactivity is a required skill and this is definitely the case when it comes to managing up. You need to be on top of everything that you do so that your manager doesn’t have to worry about managing you. A good way of appearing proactive is keeping a record (either physically or mentally) on the status of each task that your manager has given you. If you are able to reel off updates whenever asked, you will look in complete control. Also, you know, be proactive. If something is broken, fix it and try to keep everything ticking over nicely so that your manager doesn’t have to be concerned with the usual office issues. Do let them know that you are being proactive though, don’t think that your work speaks for itself… As an assistant it rarely gets noticed. So be indispensable to your manager, but let them know you are too!
A word of warning
If you are not very good at managing up you can start to look like you are brown-nosing or being manipulative, which obviously is not going to make your boss look good and it most certainly isn’t going to make you look good! Don’t think of managing up as some sort of magic art, it is just you doing your job really, really well in a manner that benefits you as well as your boss.