The art of managing up and down — simultaneously — is not easily mastered. It takes perseverance, communication, leadership, continuous learning and, most prominently, balance.
If you’re a new training manager moving into a role where managing both up and down is an everyday reality, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. How can you keep the higher-ups happy without sacrificing the needs of your hard-working team? How can you deliver measurable results to senior executives while ensuring your team is pulling its weight? Through effective leadership and an understanding of what it means to manage up and down, the answers to these questions become clear.
According to Dana Brownlee, founder of training company Professionalism Matters and author of “The Unwritten Rules of Managing Up: Project Management Techniques from the Trenches,” managing up is an often misunderstood concept.
“I like to define managing up as helping your boss be more successful and doing whatever you can to look out for them and help them be as successful as they possibly can,” Brownlee says. “A lot of times, it’s helping them help you but, contrary to what some people believe, managing up is not kissing up, and managing up is not taking over.”
Whether it’s adopting new communication strategies, altering personal behaviors or simply offering a helping hand, managing up aims to set your boss up for success by making informed decisions based on his or her individual preferences, quirks and, at times, flaws. According to an article published by UC Berkeley’s department of human resources, “It’s important to understand your boss – not just initially when you first begin working with one another, but throughout your relationship.”
Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of managing up is the level of assertiveness required to do so. In a professional environment, there is a fine line between speaking up and speaking out of line. Brownlee elaborates on how to tactfully respond to a supervisor’s request that may not be fully thought out:
“Maybe you should ask some thoughtful questions, or maybe you should make some alternate suggestions,” she notes. “At the end of the day, it’s about doing what you think is best for the organization and about doing what’s best for your boss as well.”
While managing up and down are similar in that they both require professionalism, motivation, and organizational and leadership skills, they differ dramatically in a number of ways. Brownlee detailed two key differences:
Authority: Clearly, when managing down, you hold a greater amount of authority than when managing up. It is simply easier to delegate, express your opinions and critique others’ performance. When managing up, however, it becomes slightly more complicated. When you’re not in an authoritative position, offering feedback presents a greater amount of risk and, therefore, can be stressful.
Role Difference: There’s no mistaking that managing down requires a greater level of investment in team member’s personal lives than managing up does. For the most part, managers are expected to remain supportive when their employees are going through difficult times that may result in diminished job performance. However, when managing up, you are less likely to know about – and then have to sort out – personal matters on the job.
Brownlee offers advice to new training managers faced with the task of managing both up and down: “Make sure you’re not letting your managing up tactics negatively impact your managing down tactics,” she says. “Advocate for 360-degree feedback. You can’t improve unless you’re getting data and have feedback on how you can improve. Get more current feedback and be teachable. The best leaders are the ones that are teachable.”
Additional qualities that prove valuable in new training managers include conflict management skills, active listening skills, the ability to recognize future industry trends — and determining how to stay ahead of them.
While embracing change is critical in the learning and development (L&D) industry, it is important to remain cognizant of the effects your decisions as a new training manager will have, not only on your team but also on the entire organization. Ensuring each and every member of the organization understands the processes behind your decision-making is key in fostering a collaborative work environment where everyone feels heard.
“If I were a new training manager, I would think about who’s going to be affected by what I’m going to suggest,” says Linda Hill, co-author of “Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader” and the Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. “It’s not that people aren’t well-intentioned … but you do want to be aware that there are different perspectives on what you’re trying to do.”
This mindset can present a learning curve for new training managers. Learning to switch your “professional identity” after being promoted into a leadership role is key for long-term success. Hill says, “If you want to become a manager — especially if it involves becoming an effective manager — you have to change what you view as your professional identity, and it is a different identity than you had as a producer or a contributor. That shift in mindset is much more difficult for people than they anticipate.”
Ultimately, training managers are responsible for far more than meets the eye — and mastering the art of managing up and down is the first step in creating lasting organizational success.