Executive Development Forum – Managing Your Manager / A Practical Approach

I have often been asked, both within the corporations I ran years ago and in the off-sites and workshops I have conducted in more recent years, for advice concerning a very tricky issue:  Managing Your Manager or, put differently,  Gaining Appropriate Influence with one’s boss.  Let’s take a few minutes to discuss some strategies and approaches which have proven helpful to others.

Ideally, you and your manager are focused towards common goals that are important to both of you.  To “manage up” you should consider that you’ll need a specific set of skills such as knowing how to build a positive, productive working relationship with him/her, how to most effectively communicate with your manager, and finding ways to negotiate work priorities that help you get your job done with resources that your manager possesses.  So, it’s important to realize that you and your manager are, in some ways, mutually dependent upon one another. Your leader needs cooperation, consistency, honesty and reliability from you.  Conversely, you look to your manager to create alignments with the rest of the organization to help prioritize and secure critical resources that you need to do your specific job.

To develop a solid working and influencing relationship with your manager, you should take the time to see his/her “world” by getting a better sense of what your manager is up against.  This entails understanding the pressures your boss is facing, his/her perspective regarding your role, and finding common ground with your approach that achieves both the manager’s objectives and yours.  It is also crucial that you become familiar with your boss’s strengths, weaknesses (both personal and organizational), objectives, interests and communication style.

Gaining these critical insights about your manager can be accomplished in several ways. For example, openly ask your manager about his/her management style, their likes and dislikes, and any special requirements your boss might have.  Another method is to speak with other staff members about their insights into your boss and ask for their feedback and advice.  And most importantly, closely observe your manager while he/she is pursuing specific objectives and goals and analyze how they interact with others at all levels.

When trying to adjust to your manager’s work style preferences, consider a few thoughts such as: does my boss prefer to be more formal in his/her approach? Does my manager become impatient if I veer off topic? How does my supervisor best process information? What decision making style does he/she use? And how does my boss handle conflict?

In gaining influence with your manager, remember this simple, but accurate, formula: Trust + Expertise = Credibility. To achieve this crucial believability, start by being authentic and sincere, showing your boss that your ideas are worth considering. The more your manager sees you as sincere and committed, the more likely you’ll be trusted. Create or establish a history of trustworthiness by following through on commitments. Explore new ideas with your manager which encourages both of you to become more open, and therefore, more trusting of one another.  Place your manager’s best interests first and be candid.  If there are points in your ideas or solutions that you feel may be weak, let your manager know your concerns so he/she can be of help and ultimately trust you more because of your honesty about what you see as challenges.

  • Research your ideas.  Find out everything you can about the idea that you are proposing from individuals, reading and other available resources.
  • Assemble information. Collect data from these sources that support as well as contradict your idea so that you are fully prepared to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your proposed solution.
  • Get actual hands-on experience. Get involved with cross-functional teams that may generate new insights into your markets, products and business processes so you can take this information and present the ideas to your manager.
  • Cite credible experts and sources.  Support your ideas/solutions with knowledge gained from both inside and outside your organization – information which verifies why your approach might make sense in your organization.
  • Demonstrate your proposed solution by establishing a pilot project using your ideas to show its viability, thereby generating serious interest on the part of your boss.

This credibility formula and the strategies and actions mentioned above, when practiced consistently and honestly (accompanied by using excellent listening skills), will serve to enhance your reputation for believability, technical competence and creative solution generation in the eyes of your direct manager. Your boss will see you as a confidant, an ally, and a credible, essential resource in confronting the critical issues that you and your manager face both tactically (day-to-day) and strategically (longer/broader term focus).

We’ve talked here about gaining credibility with your manager such that you become, in effect, an important partner with him/her. So while there is a rank and role difference between you and your boss, it is essential that you both view one another as partners. Partners don’t let their partners make serious mistakes or inadvertently look bad or remain uninformed or poorly prepared.  Partners do remain loyal to the partnerships’ goals and objectives; place the good of the organization ahead of everything else; value and take advantage of different strengths, skills, perspectives and approaches; and learn to live with each other’s foibles or idiosyncrasies and not assume bad intentions on the part of the other. It is the obligation of a partner to be thoroughly accountable and responsible, even at the risk of personal discomfort or embarrassment. When one lives up to these responsibilities, your manager, and likely your peers, will see you as trustworthy, ethical and an important ally.


These are a few ideas and considerations that we cover in our Executive Workshop Strategic Influencing/ http://tinyurl.com/7zn42l9 There is much more depth and specific, usable information provided in these half and full day courses from PACES LLC.


“…keeping our clients steps ahead of the competition.” 


  1. Glenn Good says:February 13, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    I like the ideas you outlined especially about partnering with your boss, however, what do you suggest if your boss isn’t on the same page with you despite everything I have done to follow the ideas you presented?

    • phil says:February 15, 2012 at 2:18 pm

      Thanks for your question, Glenn. I’d suggest that in the case of a non-responsive Manager, scheduling a confidential, face-to-face ½ hour meeting with that boss is essential. The tone of your request for the get-together is simply one of wanting to make certain that you clearly understand the team and personal goals/objectives he/she is focused on and measuring. A Manager must try diligently to measure what is critical to the success of the team and personally. When you discover what he/she is measuring, you’ll have gained unique insights on what areas you will need to concentrate upon to gain a greater sense of alignment and comfort from your boss’s perspective. Unless your Manager feels confident that you are willing to support his/her agenda in at least several critical facets of the team and personal initiatives, the quality and types of support for your potential solutions and approaches will be far less than optimal. Your Manager evolves a sense of heightened alignment and engagement with you when you continuingly initiate personal sessions to explore his/her constantly-changing goals and then recommending specific, workable solution alternatives which reflect the understanding you have gained regarding his/her pressures and needs and aspirations. This process is often intensive, and time-consuming- but it accelerates your ability to create approaches and pragmatic answers which achieve desired results in concert and on behalf of your boss and your team. You become a valued, trusted resource upon whom your Manager can continually rely. The mutual respect you will have gained through continuous investigation of what’s important, why, and what resources are available, by project, by goal, increases dramatically what you both can accomplish by working knowledgably and in tandem with your Manager. Please keep me apprised as to how things develop. Phil

  2. Fred Cerf says:February 13, 2012 at 9:02 am

    Excellent! These are the concepts, I believe I followed in large measure, although not expressed as well.
    I was dependent on resources from engineering and operations which I could only get through the
    Executive VP, but also needed trusting relationships with the heads of these functions.

    I made a major coup for myself, when I asked these peers to evaluate their personnel assigned to me and planning for their re-integration into their families, after their mission with me was complete.

    This addresses your comments on your manager who controls resources.

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