Congratulations, you've been appointed a new middle manager! That's quite an accomplishment and I'm sure you've worked hard for this special promotion. In fact, over the years, in preparation for your advancement, you've taken courses and professional development training to gain self-awareness, learn about your personality and communication style and learn to truly understand the concept of leadership versus management.
More than likely as well, you've also been selected to lead learning assignments where you gained experience and knowledge in project planning. Now, you can also probably safely say you've mastered the challenge of budget preparation and oversight. You feel a sense of personal power and feel fully ready to lead a team and ensure a solid level of employee engagement and productivity. Finally, you're certain you understand and can meet all of your new, measurable department goals and objectives. Thank goodness for personal confidence.
Yet, as you participate in your first senior- and middle-management planning meeting and if you are observant, you'll quickly recognize your middle-management power base isn't so powerful, after all. In other words, the skill of managing staff, known as managing "downward" is only one of the skills you'll require in your new job. Now, you will need to learn how to "manage upward."
So, what exactly is managing upward and how does one go about learning more about it? Managing upward means understanding your role and how you contribute to the overall organization. It means to consciously and deliberately develop strategies and tactics to ensure a positive and productive working relationship, as well as co-operation and collaboration with your senior boss and their boss above them.
In fact, as many leading management gurus have said, in addition to your own responsibility, your boss is the next most important person in helping to create your career success. And, like it or not, this statement holds true whether or not you like or hate your boss and/or whether or not your boss is a good manager and leader themselves.
However, managing "upward" is more than a single skill; instead it's a series of strategies and tactics that if well managed over time, will help you to develop positive relationships with your boss and other senior leaders, to effectively accomplish your business goals and to reach the pinnacle of your career. While there are many to choose from, some of the basic strategies and tactics include the following:
Always be a student -- Spend time learning as much as you can about your organization, its structure, its power bases, leadership style, areas of challenge and areas where you could make a difference. Pay attention to organizational culture, the unwritten rules of "how we do things around here." Keep in mind, that fitting in is more important than any of the skills you offer.
Understand your boss -- Understanding your manager's preferred communication, learning and decision-making style will enable you to satisfy their needs more easily and to quickly develop a positive working relationship. Brief daily updates versus lengthy discussions, verbal or written reports, or competitive intelligence; give the boss what he or she needs to succeed.
Achieve your critical success factors -- Clearly understand what's expected and make sure you excel at these critical success factors. Be sure your reports and results are early rather than late, are well presented, accurate and point senior management in a direction for further success. Diligently follow through on any commitments and make your boss look good.
Work within the system -- Pushing organizational change from the bottom up and/or pushing too many changes at one time just won't work. This creates resistance and resentment. Instead, identify a senior leader who can take your idea forward and gain support at the appropriate levels. Be sure to give them credit for their initiative. As things move forward, your leadership will be recognized and you'll be asked to advance along with the idea.
Respect management time -- Schedule your meetings with your manager and come prepared. Organize your agenda items so that decisions are made first, then items for discussion and finally items for information. When introducing new subjects, be sure the time is right; if not, your idea may be immediately discounted and it might be some time before it could be reintroduced.
Come with solutions -- Good middle managers will have thought out the critical aspects of their issues, identified potential solutions and come to meetings with recommendations. This relieves senior managers of time and energy and provides them with evidence of your capability. Senior leaders don't want to hear about problems, they want to hear solutions. Senior leaders appreciate staff that make their life easier.
Keep management informed -- No one likes surprises, especially surprises that have a significant impact on the organization's reputation and ability to succeed. Whether or not, as a manager you can handle the issue independently, keep your superior informed because typically, they'll have the big picture view and may see the issue from a different standpoint.
Develop alliances -- You need allies throughout the organization especially on the senior management team. These allies will help to bring your ideas forward, and will provide mentorship and advice on how to manoeuvre through the organization's political minefields. Seek high-powered allies with similar values and interests and who will assist you to be informally accepted at the senior table, even without a title. Once this happens, you will soon become "one of them."
Maintain perspective -- While I'm suggesting you need to informally think, dress, act and talk like your direct supervisor and a senior manager, you simply can't cross the line of authority. In other words, if you try to outshine your manager, you'll be perceived as competing, an action which puts the manager on the defensive and will cause direct conflict. Trust will be lost and since your manager has more friends in high places than you do; you may soon lose your job as well.
Middle managers are indeed caught in the middle as they have to be adept at managing both downward and upward. Managing downward requires the skills to effectively manage departmental resources to achieve organizational goals and objectives. On the other hand, managing upward requires the manager to apply a significant repertoire of political and influence strategy skills.
Rather than perfecting political influence strategy and skills through book learning, they are best learned in the political arena of upper management, that old "school of hard knocks." So, review the suggested tactics above, study what might work in your organization, apply them and continually evaluate your success.
Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP, is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org