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Six Ways Admins Can Manage Up

Six Ways Admins Can Manage Up

We are all managers -- of our bosses, if no one else. So a key to success for anyone in an administrative job is to learn how to manage your manager. Here are six ways to do it.

Understand Your Boss

First, do some groundwork. “You need to understand your manager’s initiatives and their impacts on the organization,” says Heather Mayfield, VP of training and operations at Snelling Staffing Services. “Maybe the question for an admin is, ‘What’s keeping my manager up at night?’”

And to manage your manager, you need to get out of your own head and into his. “When you manage up, you’ve got to realize that whatever is on your mind, the boss isn’t thinking about that,” says Bill Jensen, a management consultant. You should be putting your energy toward “learning how to recognize what’s coming at your boss,” Jensen says.

Be Your Boss’s Filter and Organizer

In this age of multimedia communications, guarding the door to the boss’s office is no longer an admin’s chief duty. “These days, most people have access to anyone,” says Jensen. “So the new gatekeeping function for admins is to be a filter, [clarifier], organizer [of information].”

Or as Jacques Horovitzprofessor at the IMD business school in Switzerland, writes in an article: “[Be] selective; be visual; group the data; bring out what is essential.”

Part of your filtering job is not asking about every to-do item. Before you solicit your boss’s opinion on an everyday decision, ask yourself whether you really need to ask. If not, you’ll be saving everyone time by acting on your own judgment.

Recognize Your Manager’s Work-Style Priorities

When an admin brings a matter to the boss, he will normally have three overarching questions, according to Jensen:

  • What do I need to know about this?  
  • Why should I care?  
  • What do you want me to do about it?

But managers vary in how they prioritize these questions. “The admin’s job is to know which of these three areas the boss goes to first,” says Jensen. Exercising this knowledge is a key element of managing up.

“Part of making both you and your boss successful is that you help your boss manage some of his weaknesses,” says Mayfield. For example, if your boss is chronically five or 10 minutes late to meetings, you may be able to improve his image throughout the company by giving him timely prompts about upcoming appointments.

Make Your Work Visible to Everyone

“Many admins report to multiple managers” who often have competing agendas, says Mayfield. “The best way to manage that situation is to create visuals that show your projects and what their deadlines are.” This makes all your managers aware of everything you’re working on and what the priorities are.

“If I’m going to tell Bob no or that it’ll have to wait, I may have to demonstrate why John’s project gets priority now” due to its impact on the organization, says Mayfield.

Delegate and Outsource, If Possible

Anyone can delegate, if they make a strong enough argument. “You might suggest sending an envelope-stuffing job out to a mailing house, for example,” says Mayfield. Or if you’ve got a project that can be handled with distractions -- like writing name tags for an event -- you may be able to delegate it to a receptionist. If you have a good relationship with your manager, periodically experiment with delegation.

Don’t Spare Your Boss the Good News

To manage your manager’s opinion of you, keep him apprised of your achievements, large and small, and especially of how your work is gaining recognition elsewhere in the organization. If you condition your manager to expect bad news every time you open your mouth, you can hardly make an overall good impression.

Remember that managing up doesn’t necessarily end with your immediate supervisor. You may want to ensure higher-ups are aware of how you’ve contributed to your boss’s accomplishments. Just remember to bask in the limelight that reflects off of your manager; don’t try to steal it.

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