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Six Tips for Managing Up for Project Managers

managing-up“Managing 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 by 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.

Managing up poorly means 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 are designed to help those who know that managing up is important and would like to learn how to proactively do 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 about  10,000 feet beneath you. Keep this big picture view in mind when you attempt to influence upwards.

2.  You Have About 20 Seconds

You only have about 20 seconds of a conversation with a boss, sponsor or other individual to gain or lose his/her 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 expected results first and then 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 or her on exactly what you need and want. Once this is understood, you have laid the groundwork to address specifics.

5.  Train for the Marathon

If you were planning to run at a marathon, you would probably not expect to reach the finish line without participation in shorter races and sufficient training ahead of time. 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 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 conversations 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 and professionals outside of work and 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 on your approach.


Managing up is a skill as well as a mindset. Keys to managing up well include taking the perspective of a pilot, planning and delivering your key messages efficiently, training yourself and others and practicing for ongoing 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.

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About Gail Levitt

Gail Levitt
Dr. Gail Levitt the CEO of Levitt Communications Inc. Her company is dedicated to providing facilitation, coaching and courseware design on the topics of leadership, influence, and productivity management for diverse audiences, including project managers and business analysts. Gail is the author of Team Planning for Project Managers and Business Analysts

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