how to manage upward at work

As I’ve progressed further along in my career, the importance of being able to manage upward has become clearer to me. Because, at its core, managing up isn’t just about the way you interact with your supervisor. It’s so much more.

It’s about taking control of your own career, regardless of your title or level within the company. It’s about not letting other people dictate your career path.

The skills used to manage up aren’t just good for the boss-employee relationship. They’re also incredibly valuable in helping you build influence across your organization and elevate your career.

Because when you become influential, it means others seek you out for advice. They truly value your opinion and look to you for the way forward—even if you aren’t in a position of authority.

Over the years, I’ve found that the following tactics really work when it comes to becoming an “informal” and respected leader in the workplace, and I invite you to give them a shot.

Here’s to becoming influencers! (Without needing to create a brand new YouTube channel with two million loyal followers.) 

How To Manage Upward And Gain Influence Within Your Company

Before we go any further, I want to get one thing straight. 

Don’t waste time on things you can’t control. Focus only on the things you can. The first and most important being? Your job.

Before you do anything else, make sure you are absolutely kicking ass at your job. 

love your job
“Being good at your job is one of the basic elements of influence,” explains business writer and co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Business Plans Gwen Moran.

“It lets people know that you’re confident and capable. Failure to do so undermines influence and makes it more difficult for people to trust you.”

There is no influence without trust. And to start, you need to do your job well. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s move on to the other things you can do.

1. Align With Your Company’s Goals

Here’s the thing: You want to be a good influence, not a bad one. Right? I hope so. (If not, this post isn’t really for you. It was fun while it lasted, though!). 

Being a good influence means guiding people in the right direction—which means you need to fully understand the company goals and the reason for them.

If you don’t, you could end up leading people off the path and into The Forbidden Forest. And then they’ll think you’re either just very confused or trying to sabotage the company (rude!). Neither of those is a desirable outcome.

If you’re truly not sure what mission your company is striving toward or why, schedule time with your manager to ask. You can even try to grab time with company executives so you can gain their perspective. Once you have a better grasp, you can make sure that any decisions or suggestions you make are on the right track.

2. Learn How To Listen—And Listen Well

Believe it or not, leading others does not equate to monopolizing the conversation and talking very loudly. If that’s what you want to do, just go start your own podcast. (I mean, everyone has one—including me!)

loud noises gif
No, when it comes to building influence—especially when your title doesn’t label you a leader—you need to be a good listener.

Columbia University researchers found that “people’s listening tendencies are positively related to influence, over and above the impact of verbal expression.”

And, yes, talking is still important. You can’t influence people without ever talking unless you’re telepathic. But what you say becomes even more powerful if you’re also a good listener. 

Listening makes people trust you more, which means they’re more willing to open up, share concerns and ideas, and listen to what you have to say. 

Not sure if you’re a good listener? Let’s revisit some key active listening skills:

  • Maintain eye contact: No, you don’t need to stare at them without blinking (creepy, also sort of impossible), and your eyes may dart away a few times. That’s natural. Just don’t doze off into space or get distracted by everything within a three-mile radius.
  • Ask questions and clarify: It shows you’re invested in understanding what they’re trying to say and why. You said you didn’t feel comfortable with how the presentation went. What aspects felt off to you? What do you wish went differently?
  • Don’t interrupt or finish their sentences: They’ll feel rushed and you’ll likely just be making assumptions. Plus, you can miss valuable information if you fill in the blanks yourself.
  • Show that you’re listening: Use both non-verbal cues, like nodding, and affirmative verbal cues, such as “mmhmm,” “yeah,” and “Oh, really?”

listening intently to others

3. Make Real Connections

I don’t typically toot my own horn, but I’m going to in this case because I think it’s valuable advice. At my last job, my boss told me my greatest strength was that I’m a connector. It allowed me to become more visible on campus (I worked at a university) and also to bring more visibility to our department as a whole.

This strength is something I take pride in. I make an effort to connect on a personal level with almost everyone I meet. For some, it was as simple as asking about the tennis paper weight on their desk. Did they play? For others, it turned into a weekly coffee date in which we dished about personal and professional grievances. 

I’m fairly confident this is the reason many people came to me to ask about the goings on in our office and why none of the campus life executives blinked an eye when I was the lead of a campus-wide committee they were members of.

“A growing body of research suggests that the way to influence—and to lead—is to begin with warmth. Warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas,” explain social psychologist Dr. Amy Cuddy, KPN Communications Principal John Neffinger, and Matthew Kohut, co-author of Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential

When it came to the committee topic, I was a relative newbie. 

But they trusted me because I prioritized warmth. To put it simply, I was likeable. And while it feels like a word that should be reserved for middle school, likeability is important. In fact, a study found that the chances of being an effective leader is about one in 2,000 if the person is disliked

Here’s some good news: Being likeable doesn’t mean you change who you are. 

After all, we aren’t actually in middle school anymore. While I prefer to getting coffee with people because I love talking and caffeine, it doesn’t have to be that involved.

“Even a few small nonverbal signals—a nod, a smile, an open gesture—can show people that you’re pleased to be in their company and attentive to their concerns,” write Cuddy, Neffinger, and Kohut.

4. Fill In The Gaps

Here’s a beautiful thing that’s going to happen when you’re a good listener and you make an effort to connect with people. You’ll start to learn about gaps and overlaps that exist in your organization. Both of these are provide an opportunity for you to go above and beyond.

In every company, even the great ones, gaps exist. 

Gaps that, if they were filled, could make the company more productive and successful. And if you have the capacity, you should figure out how you can fill them, even if it’s not “your job.” 

Part of being influential is standing out—after all, how can you influence people if they don’t even know you’re there? And a great way to stand out is helping out where needed and thinking up solutions in areas that are lacking.

You’ll be seen as a change maker who is—ahem—aligned with the company goals (sound familiar?) and has the company’s best interests in mind. Your ability to influence will skyrocket. 

jet pack

5. Seek Out Stakeholders

Whether you’re working on something you were assigned or filling a gap, you need to get people on board.

Specifically, stakeholders—those who have a vested interest in your project and will not only see the value in it, but can help you drive it across the finish line.

As an example, I worked on an alcohol use task force at the university. There was no way I, on my own, could positively impact the behavior of thousands of students. I needed help from other people with influence—the medical director, dean of students, resident life staff, and more.

Map out your project, identifying each and every goal. Then, figure out who in your company needs to be involved or in-the-know. 

For instance, are you launching a new product feature that consumers should know about? Then you should absolutely get a decision maker from the marketing team on board. Prepare your pitch, succinctly outline the purpose and importance of your project, then reach out to them.

And, of course, certain stakeholders—like a CFO—may be too busy. Is there someone close to them, someone on their team who can help out instead? 

The dean of students, for instance, always has a jam packed schedule. So, the assistant dean attended committee meetings in his place. She filled him in during their one-on-ones and he’d come to a meeting when he could.

You don’t need to do all of the influencing on your own. Build your circle of influence (remember: be warm, make connections) and let them help you. It’ll go a long way in helping you raise awareness and gain support for your ideas. Throw a rock in the water and let the ripple effect take hold.

6. Be Consistent

In every area of your life, I implore you to be a consistent human being. Please. Pretty please. 

Because, as transformational leadership expert Gordon Tredgold says, “Inconsistency is a trust killer.”

Show up to meetings. If you schedule one, don’t cancel it unless you absolutely have to. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. On time. And, by far, one of the most key things you need to keep consistent is your communication.

If you’re leading a project, you need to keep people in-the-know. Otherwise, that project will just become a scattered mess and may just disappear all together. A Trello master board is a great workflow to prevent this. 

Create a board with all of your key players tagged. You can keep all updates and relevant documents in there so people don’t have to endlessly scroll through their email. 


You can also set custom reminders for yourself in Trello to provide updates. For instance, every Wednesday at noon, you’d be nudged to add a new “update card” outlining progress and asking key players to chime in.

Even if nothing new has happened, you should keep them informed of the status. Yep, we’re still here! Still waiting on the green light from the legal department. We’ll meet next week!

And as an aside—managing a project isn’t just about telling others what to do. Sure, delegating is part of it, but it’s also important to ask your team questions and for guidance and to take their input seriously.

Updating stakeholders is a good strategy, even if you don’t have a cross-departmental project in the works. 

A social media manager I work with sends a weekly team update each Monday. She alerts her colleagues to social media trends and the company’s social stats. There’s no expectation to respond, and she does it on her own, but each week she’s getting her face (well, her email address) back in front of them. Everyone knows exactly who to reach out to if they have a social media question.

7. Stay Positive

Because no one wants to eat lunch with a curmudgeon. 

No, I’m serious. If you’re negative most of the time, no one will want to be around you. You might influence them, but not in the way you want. You’ll influence them to either become just as negative as you are (yay) or to stay as far away from you as possible. 

I’m not saying you have to be fake. Nor am I saying that you should pretend every colleague is perfect and your company has no problems (because that company doesn’t exist).

What I’m saying is, try to remain as positive as possible. When you identify an issue, try to focus on the good or come up with a constructive solution (scheming to get someone fired does not qualify).

Be someone others enjoy spending time with—or at least don’t mind—and be the person who helps your colleagues stay on the bright side, not the one who drags them further into doom and gloom.

Move Over—There’s A New Influencer In Town!

Bottom line: You don’t need the title of “manager” or be in the C-suite to be influential in the office. If you’re looking to elevate your career, try building your influence using these seven tactics.

Get on the same page as the company, connect with people on a personal level, be proactive and reliable, and for goodness’ sakes, don’t be a perpetual downer. 

It’s going to take work, but after a while it’ll become second nature. And when that happens, you’re well on your way to being an influential force that people remember in a positive light. 

Plus, all of this work makes you much more eligible for that next promotion. Woo!

Next: How To Make 1:1 Meetings A Win-Win For Everyone Involved

How to ‘manage up’ and gain real influence at work