Skip to main content

Managing Up; Tips and Tricks for the Project-Challenged

ManagingUpTipsandTricks1Managing Up is Vital

If you are a busy business analyst or project manager or even if you combine both roles by necessity, you already know from experience that “managing up” is a big deal. Failure to influence your boss’s boss, sponsors, and anyone else more senior to you to pay attention to important project details and give you their buy-in and commitment can have very serious consequences. You, your team, your organization, and your customers risk lost time and money, scope creep, poor quality results, lower innovation, reduced productivity, and higher levels of stress and burnout causing delays and mistakes due to high turnover and absenteeism. The following six tips and tricks will to help the project-challenged who know that “managing up” is important and would like to be proactive in doing more of it better.

  1. Managing Up is a Mindset: You are the Pilot
    Imagine you are in the pilot seat in an airplane and you see a view of your project approximately 10,000 feet beneath you. Keep this “big picture” view in mind when you attempt to influence upwards.
  2. You Have About 20 Seconds
    All it takes if the first 20 seconds of a conversation with a boss, sponsor, or other individual more senior to you for him or her to gain or lose attention and interest. So use your time wisely by focusing on the most important things first, such as the outcome, risk, benefit, or issue. Leave the details for later.
  3. Train Them to Say “Yes”
    Ask questions that are easy for them to say “yes” to, such as: “Do you agree that we must meet our targets?” or “It is important that our internal customers have their requirements met, right?” When they say “yes” to questions about the big picture, you are actually training them to say “yes” later when you ask them to commit to more specific things. Gaining their attention and interest first is necessary if you want their commitment and action later.
  4. Plan Your Message to Start at the End First
    Start at the end first. State your recommendation or the results expected and identify related risks, options, or changes next. Remember that the other person is also a pilot and is looking at the project from afar. It is up to you to focus him/her on exactly what you need and want and once this is understood, you have done the ground work to address more specifics.
  5. Train for the Marathon
    If you were planning to run a marathon, you would probably not expect to reach the finish line without sufficient training and participation in shorter races. It is the same with managing up. You also need to train ahead of time to build stamina and experience. Prepare for the marathon experience of managing up by creating a managing up marathon training program consisting of short spurts of conversations that give you experience and help build confidence. Choose topics for these conversations that are not high-risk, such as asking for commitment to change a small part of a project or recommending a project change that has a positive impact on productivity or the bottom-line. Your goal is to prepare for bigger, more complex marathons requiring more stamina and confidence.
  6. Practice, Practice, Practice!
    Don’t restrict your training to actual projects. Find ways to practice “managing up” in your personal life as well. Create a list of people you can practice with, including: colleagues; friends; professionals outside of work. Try asking them for something, assuming they are senior to you. If you are a member of a professional association, club, or group, seek opportunities to influence others with more authority or seniority than you and then ask for their feedback.


Managing up is a skill as well as a mindset. It requires the perspective of a pilot, the ability to plan and deliver your key message efficiently, training yourself and others, and ongoing practice for success. Like anything else that is worthwhile, if you make the right choices about how to spend your time and energy to prepare properly, you have greater chances to achieve better results.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below

Dr. Gail Levitt is President of Levitt Communications Inc., a global organization in Mississauga, Ontario with affiliates in Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, and Boston. Gail is an accomplished author, facilitator, and coach, specializing in leadership communications, critical thinking, and problem solving. She has over eighteen years of success, leading and advising diverse teams in managing people and projects. Some of Gail’s customers include: RIM; Bell Canada; HSBC; Telus; ACETECH; Project World; ESI International; Sauder School of Business, UBC; ACETECH; Transport Canada; Canada Post; Toyota; Starwood Resorts International. Dr. Levitt is currently writing a book on team leadership for business analysts and project managers.