6 Dos and Don’ts of Managing Up

Get the tactics needed to improve your most important work relationship.

To succeed in your job, you need to help your boss succeed in theirs. Bosses welcome, and even expect, this kind of help: Surveys of senior managers reveal that they depend on their assistants to protect their time, help them stay focused and serve as their eyes and ears, says Judy Geller, executive director of the American Society of Administrative Professionals.

There are right and wrong ways to go about managing your manager. Geller shares some key tactics for doing it as effectively as possible, starting with what to avoid.


1. Keep your boss in the dark.

Information is power in an administrative role. You can choose, to some extent, when and how to share it, but be careful of how much you filter. “Share both the good and bad news, and update your manager regularly without being asked,” Geller says. Even if you’re nervous that some information might reflect poorly on you — for example, a project you’re leading is running behind schedule — proactive updates will help ensure that your boss isn’t blindsided later on. It will also help you build and maintain trust.

2. Present problems without suggesting solutions.

Unless it’s an emergency or a matter that simply cannot wait, brainstorm solutions to problems before bringing them to the boss, Gellers says. Better still, solve the problem yourself, if possible, and tell your boss about it after. Of course, there may be times when a do-it-yourself approach simply isn’t feasible. In those cases, tell your boss what you have tried, and ask for suggestions. Over time, knowing at what point to solicit your manager’s input and finding solutions together strengthens mutual trust.

3. Criticize the boss in public.

You may not agree with your manager all of the time. But, when these instances arise, it’s best to keep your opinions under wraps. Correcting or criticizing your boss in front of others undermines his or her authority — and it could jeopardize your job. Likewise, complaining about your boss to others can erode the trust that you’ve worked to build. It can also tarnish your reputation among your colleagues.


1. Prioritize your boss’s priorities.

“Ask your manager what their most important goals are, and what they see as the greatest challenges in achieving them,” Geller suggests. “Find out, too, what your boss’s boss expects from him or her.”  Once you have these insights, you can align your efforts accordingly. That will make you more valuable — and it will help to build the trust that is critical for a strong working relationship, Geller says. Once that trust is established, it will become easier to share your own professional goals and ask for help in achieving them.

2. Adapt to his or her work style.

You may not always understand your boss’s ways of doing things, but you do need to accommodate them. That could mean experimenting with texting versus emailing, or reworking your to-do list to match your boss’s preferred ordering of tasks. “If your manager likes to read things first and then discuss them, make it happen,” Geller says. “If your manager prefers a lot of data and analytical information, provide it.” The same goes for work attire, she adds. If your manager tries to project a more formal image, do the same.

3. Make your boss look good.

Valuable employees amplify their bosses’ strengths and help shore up their weaknesses. This means spreading the word if they have received an award or hit a key company objective. It might also mean providing frequent reminders if they’re prone to forgetfulness, or building air into their schedule if they’re perpetually late. 

Protecting your boss’s image also requires making sure they’re prepared, Geller adds. “Before your manager meets with an important customer or another executive, find something personal and important that your manger can ask about or congratulate them for,” she advises.

The more you can do to support your boss and help him or her look good, the better you look, Geller says. “Think about it: If a manager is uninformed or unprepared, won’t others extend that impression to the manager’s assistant?” she asks. “On the other hand, when you help your boss look good, you get some reflected glory.”