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What is Managing Upwards and Why Do I Need to Know About It?

If you’ve had a chance to read my ‘About Page’ you would have noticed that my main job at the moment is looking after my little girl. As well as…

If you’ve had a chance to read my ‘About Page’ you would have noticed that my main job at the moment is looking after my little girl. As well as that I work part time at a University managing a bridging program that helps people gain entrance to University courses.

Currently, I’ve been working on getting the bridging program taken up by another provider. This has taken quite a bit of effort on my part with getting paper work together, answering questions and ensuring all of the information has been provided.

With all of this work that I had put in to preparing the information I felt that for the best outcome I would need to travel to Melbourne to be on hand to provide a spiel as to the benefits of offering our course as well as answer any questions that the panel may have. But, how was I going to convince my boss of the importance of my attendance?

I remembered something that I had read at a course I went to last year – ‘managing upwards and the influence of power’. The course highlighted the research undertaken by Kotter and Gabarro and how managing your boss can be of benefit to not only yourself, but also your boss and the organisation you work for.

Kotter and Gabarro talk quite a bit about knowing and understanding your boss. This includes understanding his/her strengths and weaknesses, as well as what goals and pressures your boss may face.

So how did this information help me?  Firstly, I have a very good understanding as to what my boss’s goals and pressures are. I know that there is a great deal of pressure to increase enrolments in university courses. Because of this, my boss is continually exploring options of how our bridging program can further be expanded.

I also know that my boss manages a large portfolio that has many projects on the go at once. One of the challenges that my boss faces is dealing with all of these projects and ensuring the smooth running of the area. My boss relies heavily on the managers of each team. It is my job to work quite autonomously and coordinate my team so that it is one less concern for my boss.

Managing upwards also requires knowing about yourself and knowing where your talents and expertise lie. Knowing your boss is only part of the relationship, you are the other part. Again, this requires knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, working style and needs. Don’t get me wrong, this is not about you changing who you are to get what you need from your boss. But rather, having an awareness of the things that will either facilitate or impede the relationship with your boss.

For example, I have learnt that my boss does not respond well to managers complaining about perceived injustices. I do know however, that my boss responds very well to identified issues, possible solutions and action of how to improve the issue. I now know some of the actions I need to implement to further enhance our relationship.

To help you ascertain how you can manage your boss, consider the following questions:

  • How well do you understand your boss? What are his/her strengths and weaknesses, work style, needs and goals?
  • How well does your boss understand you?
  • What are your needs, strengths and weaknesses?
  • What strategies have you used in the past to manage your boss and why were these successful?

So how does this relate to teaching and your situation?

No matter whether you’re a classroom teacher, a manager of a big company or an employee in retail, at some stage in your professional life it will be important to manage your boss. For a teacher, this can mean the difference between going on that professional development program or not, or attending a teaching conference or not, or even taking your class on an excellent learning experience outside of the class or not.

Building the relationship with your boss will benefit both of you, your class and your school. It is up to you to find out what your boss’s expectations are to get the most out of the relationship. When you have this information you can then share your classroom triumphs (and if the style of your boss allows, possible failures) to assist in managing the relationship with your boss.

If you’d like to read and learn more about managing relationships, then it’s definitely worthwhile checking out the key writers in this area: John J Gabarro and John P Kotter.

So I hear you asking, “Did you go to Melbourne?”

I had a meeting with my boss and outlined why it was essential that I attend (we already have a delegate on the committee, but this person is not personally familiar with all of the programs). Initially there were some reservations, but I brought up some valid points in terms of knowing specific type of information about my program. The only person who would be able to answer those questions is me. So yes, I did attend Melbourne and even better news; the provider also accepted my proposal and will offer our program. So it was a very successful trip to Melbourne :-).

I’d love to hear from you in the comments. How well do you manage your relationship with your boss? What has worked for you?

Photo Courtesy: HikingArtist

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