Managing Up to Get Ahead

Blog Contributor: Kristen Mueller, Director of Communications at Earth Force and YNPN St. Louis Board Member/Marketing Chair


Working at a nonprofit can mean that opportunities for development and professional development are limited. In theory, we would rely on our managers to create space for skill building and professional growth. However, for many (myself included) this nothing but a dream. Over the past year, I’ve been working on ‘managing up’ to get myself the developmental opportunities I need.

So, what is managing up? According to Inc.,“the concept of ‘managing up’ is not about reporting lines or matrices, it's about responsibility and ownership--taking responsibility for communicating what's happening and owning the process of getting something done.” But how do you do this when your boss wants to hold the reins? Here are three quick tips that have worked for me:


1. Get Clarity: It is so important to make sure all parties are clear on responsibilities, both in your organization as a whole and on your individual projects. One way I’ve started to do this is by creating a MOCHA chart for individual projects that I’m assigned to lead, which I then pass along to my boss for feedback. Working in a relatively flat organization, this allows me to clarify both my role and my manager’s role. I’ve noticed two benefits to this approach: a deeper understanding of what I need to do to drive a project and, even better, less incentive for my manager to micromanage.

2. Create Structure: Now that you have a general understanding of your roles and responsibilities within your organization, the next step is to create some boundaries. We all love the work we do, but working 60+ hours is not ideal and being overworked doesn’t correlate to doing better work. Align your work to the organizational budget and ensure that everything delegated to you is mission focused. If it’s not, speak up! Is the issue too much work with too little time? Go to your boss with a plan. For example: I was asked to manage several different social media accounts and was spread too thin. I came back to my boss with a plan focused on the top two mediums used by our stakeholders and advocated that our reach would go further by focusing on two accounts instead of four.

managing up

3. Communicate: When working to manage up, communication is key. Some managers are readily available, but others can barely give you moment. Remember first and foremost, you need to frame your feedback as it relates to both the goals of the organization and the goals of your manager. Starting a request with “In order to meet [insert specific need of the organization], I need” will be received more favorability than, “I want to attend this conference to build my skills.” 

No matter what, if you come from a place of professionalism and keep the organization’s best interests at heart, you’re on the right track.

If you’ve been working to manage up, share your tips and tricks in the comments section!