Project Management

4 Tips for Managing Up in the Business

Seasoned project managers guide their teams deftly to success. Developing the ability to manage people higher up the food chain might require some extra seasoning though. In a post at his blog, management mentor Doug Thorpe shares four basic tips to rein in the people who do not answer to the project manager, particularly the boss:

  1. Never have a problem without a solution.
  2. Do for them what you would want done to you.
  3. Drive better communication.
  4. Create your own tracking system.

Ups and Downs of Control

Troubleshooting problems goes with the territory of being a project manager. So when you as the manager must approach a superior for assistance, make sure you do so with a solution already in mind. Voicing the problem and trying to just pass the buck will make you look ineffective. Instead, approaching your superior should just be how you receive your approvals to make the fixes you have conceived. Thorpe recalls one extreme instance where he had a boss who did not want to hear bad news—ever, so Thorpe would work around him and seek buy-in from other stakeholders without letting word get back to his boss that anything was wrong. The strategy ended up working, but it is not something you should ever want to do.

You will not always know precisely what it is your boss wants from you, but you can at least imagine what you would want in that person’s shoes. Use your personal values as a basis for how you craft the ideas you take to your superior. If they resonate with the values and goals of your boss, terrific. If not, you can feel out the changes in delivery that are required to make it appealing to the boss.

Of course, sometimes the best way to align with what your boss wants is to just ask. Seek clarity by repeating back to the boss what you believe the assigned task is. Especially ensure you agree about scope.

Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, Thorpe recommends building a “Big 5” system for tracking your personal accomplishments:

It’s ingenious yet so powerful. It simply involves writing out your top 5 accomplishments for the prior month. Add to that 5 goals for the new month. If you want, add a third section of 5 areas for growth and improvement.

Prepare this Big 5 report before the 5th of each new month. Give a copy to your boss. It should be on one page. Ask for their feedback. This is a superior way for you and the boss to get on the same page (no pun intended).

Thorpe has found on several occasions that such a list has created dramatically more focus between a manager and a boss. Perhaps it can work its magic for you too.

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