How to Manage Up

Autumn Taylor

November 20, 2017

The first role after graduate school is new, exciting, and at the same time, challenging, in many ways. The excitement comes with learning the campus culture (if applicable), meeting new people, and of course, learning the position.  One of the most important things to learn, and often most complex steps, is learning about your new supervisor. As a recent graduate, you bring your own work ethic, professional style, and preferred supervisor-supervisee relationship into your new role. In comparison, your new supervisor has all of those same thoughts and feelings as you come to be their new supervisee.

In certain instances, you may have a supervisor who you may think is absent in their current role. This could happen due to your supervisor being stretched too thin with work, going through a personal crisis, disinvested in their role, supervises too many employees; and so on and so forth. As a supervisee, and especially a new professional, who is invested in their work, being transparent with your supervisor about your need for an effective and supportive relationship could change your experience in the role. Depending on the reasoning behind your supervisor’s absence, there may be no change in your supervisor-supervisee relationship. Overtime, you may feel discouraged to continuously bring up your needs, desires in the position, and see no change.

In order to mitigate this conflict, some supervisees would start managing up in their role. According the Human Resources department at UC Berkeley, managing up is the skill to which one knows “how to consciously work with [their] boss to obtain the best possible results for [themselves], [their] boss, and the organization [they] both work for” (Relationship-Building: Managing Up). McCord (2015) also notes that managing up is mainly about “supporting your supervisor’s efforts and goals by identifying and sharing ideas for growth.” Managing up can be accomplished in many ways, and below are the three best ways I’ve seen it put into practice.

  1. Planning: the first step in managing up is to assess your needs and find out what you are missing within your supervisor-supervisee relationship. Those who manage up in their role most often have seen a lack of guidance or support from their supervisor. While there could be several reasons for this absence in supervision, the need for an attentive supervisor is still a priority (McCord, 2015). Supervisees should take some time to figure out what they are looking for from their supervisor, such as: more leadership opportunities, less involvement in departmental projects, more support and direction in the role; and plan to gain that type of support.
  2. Taking Initiative: taking a step in your professional pathway is a vital component of managing up. By taking initiative, you are making movements to change the course of direction in your position. McCord (2015) notes that taking initiative can look like, “signing up for additional responsibilities, researching new methodologies, connecting with influential contacts, or setting up additional meetings with your supervisor.” By taking initiative, you can gain the new direction you were seeking within your role, and simultaneously, become more involved and invested with your supervisor and the department.
  3. Communication: clear and consistent communication is the most vital aspect of managing up. It allows both you and your supervisor to be on the same page about needs and progress. With most supervisees who manage up, there has already been an effort for them to seek a certain type of support from their supervisor. For example, employees who feel that they need more guidance in supervising their own staff, they may have already sought support from other resources and changed their supervisory style. In the next one-on-one with their supervisor, the conversation would focus on the need you had and the progress you made in seeking assistance to reshape their supervisory style. Through this type of communication, you keep your supervisor updated of the professional development you’ve made and you get the support you were originally seeking.

All in all, managing up is a great way to get what you need our of your supervisor-supervisee relationship.  Of course, the need to manage up is subjective and should not be done so because you are in opposition with your supervisor and their style. Managing up should be established on the basis of growing in your role and supporting your supervisor. If both of these ideas are set as the foundation for managing up, then doing so will make yourself, and your supervisor, look good as well.

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Autumn Taylor is an Assistant Director in Student Housing at Loyola Marymount University. She is a proud Los Angeles native and attended UCLA and USC for her undergraduate and graduate degrees, respectively. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, traveling, dancing, and doing outdoor activities. She can be reached at [email protected].


McCord, S. (2015, April 10). Managing up 101: How and when to take initiative at work. Mashable. Retrieved from

Relationship-Building: Managing Up. (n.d.). Retrieved November 06, 2017, from

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