Managing upward has always been difficult, after all saying no to your boss has the potential to be career limiting. However, not saying no could leave you overwhelmed, could negatively impact the quality of your work output and may mean that you miss out on opportunities because you can’t look up from your to-do list.
There are many dimensions to consider. You may have been taught to be deferential to authority and as a result find it hard to challenge. You may be experiencing bias or stereotyping that means that when you do challenge, you are labelled ‘angry’ or alpha.’ Now that many of us are working in the virtual world there’s even more to navigate.
I remember working nights and weekends to try and keep up with my workload, and not wanting to push back even though I had a fantastic manager.
Here are some things that I’ve learned along the way:
Agree priorities with your line manager
On a regular basis, weekly, fortnightly or monthly; ask what’s most pressing and confirm the order in which the to do list should be done. Work through in that order and report back on what you achieved and what is not ticked off the list at the next meeting. Then alongside any new activities, recreate a new to do list in priority order. This way you are not working beyond your working hours and you are being clear that you are working on what is most pressing first.
We often agree ways of working with our manager and then carry-on working year after year working in the same way even though much has changed. Every organisation has gone through dramatic change in the last 12 months which has meant a shift in priorities and ways of working. But even if we hadn’t been immersed in a global pandemic, re-contracting in terms of how you want to work together is worth doing every six months. It provides an opportunity for you to discuss workload, priorities and ways of working.
You are already saying ‘no’
Every time you say yes to a task given you are saying no to something else, for example if you say yes to the 2 o’clock deadline, you may be saying no to a lunch break. So don’t think that you are person who never say no, you will still be saying no, just indirectly. You could flip this and be more intentional about what you choose to say no to, rather than it is happening by default.
A final thought
Lastly, if you are in the situation where you need to manage up, it is likely that you are well valued by your manager. From this strong position, a great way to manage up is to remind your manager of how you can be the best asset to them, and that might mean doing something different to the many tasks that they are sending your way.