5 tips to manage your manager

Written by Ron Holohan    

As a project manager, you are responsible for managing the efforts of your team to insure that your project deliverables are met.  But how do you manage one of your most important project stakeholders – your own manager?
I am not talking about manipulating your manager, but rather making sure you are successful in meeting her expectations.  We usually know what we need to do to get our job done as a project manager, but do we know our manager’s needs?  How can we insure that we are meeting her needs?

I will go through some tips on how you can improve your relationship with your manager by “managing upward.”

Tip #1:  Know your manager’s goals
Your manager has goals and you should know what they are.  You should know exactly what your manager is responsible to deliver to her boss.  Unfortunately, most of us spend a lot of time thinking about our own immediate goals and needs instead of thinking about what our manager needs to be successful.  Here are a couple things you can do to better understand her responsibilities and goals:

    * Ask your manager what her goals are and what her manager’s expectations are of her.
    * What metrics are used to measure her performance?
    * What is your role to help in achieving her goals?
    * Discuss what particular metrics of your project are most important to her.

You also need to be sensitive to all of your manager’s goals.  Understand that she is probably responsible for goals beyond your responsibilities and that she may need to focus in other areas at times that don’t concern you.  Don’t just assume that she is solely focused on just your goals.  That’s why you were hired for your role – so you could focus on the details that she could not manage alone.
Tip #2:  Know your manager’s communication style
The key to having a successful relationship with your manager is to understand her communication style and and then to “mirror” it.  Does she prefer email, voicemail, or face to face meetings?  Does she often communicate outside of office hours through phone calls or emails?  Does she expect you to respond to her outside of work hours as well?  How quickly does she respond to your emails and voicemail?

When does she prefer to receive your project status reports?  Know when your manager gives project updates to her manager so that you can make sure you provide her with the latest project information in advance.

When discussing your project, does your manager prefer lots of detail or just the top level bulletpoints?

During meetings does she tend to do most of the talking or does she mainly listen?  What is her body language telling you that perhaps her words are not?  One point of caution is with reading too much into body language – and this probably goes for email as well.  Ask for clarification before jumping to conclusions.  It is perfectly appropriate to say, “Hey, I am picking up on some vibes that our discussion about my project plan is not sitting well with you, am I correct?”  You may discover that she has been thinking about what her car’s repair bill might at that moment rather than anything having to do with you or your project.  Remember that it isn’t always about us!
Tip #3:  Respect your manager’s Time and Schedule
As people go up the corporate ladder, they tend to have more and more meetings.  Be aware that your manager’s free-time is probably pretty precious.  Be sensitive to the time demands of your manager.  Perhaps she is right in the middle of finishing up a slide presentation that she has to give in 30 minutes right when you decide to plop yourself down in her office.

Know your manager’s schedule and when she has meetings.  You can do this by paying attention to her calendar and planning meetings in advance.

When is your manager the busiest – morning or in the afternoon?  Does she mind getting phone calls while she commutes?  How does your manager handle weekend emails?  What time does your manager typically arrive / leave?  Does she stay late at times.

Try to give your manager notice before meeting with her – put in a meeting, give an agenda or talking points up front, and provide a duration for the conversation.  This will make the conversation more effective.

If you do need to meet with your manager without first scheduling some time with her, stop by her office or call and ask her whether she has a few minutes to discuss something or whether you should come back at a later time.
Tip #4:  Know Your manager’s Work Style
How much does your manager delegate?  How involved does your manager want to be?  Does your manager prefer collaboration or does she expect you to make decisions and complete work on your own?  Does your manager tend to be a micromanager?  If so, try to anticipate her questions or concerns and provide answers and alternatives without her having to ask for them.  This will help her build trust in your ability to do your job without her interfering.

Tip #5:  Understand your role
The truth of the matter is that there is no perfect organization or perfect manager.  As a project manager your job responsibilities are quite simple – to manage your projects based on the goals of the project. That is what you are being paid to do.  Most good managers encourage the sharing of opinions, concerns, and suggestions, but if your manager has given you their decision it is usually best not to push it.  Remember, your job is not to criticize decisions that your manager is empowered to make, regardless if you feel that they are wrong.  Consider that the organization has placed them in the position they are in because they are entrusted to make those tough decisions for which they are accountable.

We all tend to think that our way is the right way…  The other person must be the one that is wrong.  But at the end of the day, we must understand our role and respect the role of our manager.  Grumbling, especially behind the manager’s back, will only serve to strain the relationship.  As a project manager, you are a leader within your organization and you have a responsibility to lead positive change with maturity and respect for others.  This includes respecting your manager.

So, there you have it – five tips to help you build your relationship with your manager.  Practice these five tips and your relationship with your manager will flourish and become strong.

What other tips do you have in building a successful relationship with your manager?

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