Why Everyone Should Master Managing Up and Across

Peter Weddle

By Leah Grubb on HigherEdJobs.com

There are many skills and competencies that contribute to your success in a job, but perhaps the most critical of them all is managing up — and across.

Why? Because, when you master these concepts, you become the master of your fate — not your boss, your co-workers, or other departments across campus [or your employer-ed.]. Knowing how to manage up and across is about getting to the finish line and successfully and smoothly navigating any roadblocks you hit along the way.

What Is Managing Up and Across

Jenny Stine, Ph.D. and independent consultant, teacher, and innovator, says it really all comes down to your ability to influence, not command or demand.

“Managing up is the ability to influence those who are more senior to you, including your direct supervisor,” she explains. “Managing across or laterally is influencing those who are peers or work in different parts of the organization. In both cases, the influence is focused on moving forward projects or work that is aligned with broader organizational goals and objectives.”

Similarly, Mary Abbajay, author of the award-winning, best-selling book “Managing Up: How to Move Up, Win at Work, and Succeed with Any Type of Boss,” says it’s all about taking control of your career.

“Managing up, down, or across is about managing the relationships that matter most to your career success,” she explains. “Managing up is all about building a robust, working relationship with your boss, supervisor, or anyone above you in the food chain. It’s a deliberate effort to increase cooperation and collaboration with those who have influence over your career, even when you don’t particularly like how they operate.”

Abbajay cautions that it’s not about “sucking up.”

“It’s about working to understand your boss’s preferences, priorities, goals, how they like to operate at work, and then learning to adapt and work with our bosses, to create the best possible outcome for ourselves, our bosses, and our organizations.”

How to Manage Up and Across

Now that we’ve defined the concepts, the real question is how can you execute and refine these skills?

Stine recommends starting by asking yourself a few key questions.

“If you are working on a project, addressing a challenge, or trying to complete a complex task, it can be very helpful to develop a stakeholder or network map,” she says.

Ask yourself:
• Who can support this work or project?
• Who has the ability to stop or delay this work or project?
• What, specifically, am I looking for from each person?
• Do I have a relationship with each person?
“If you don’t have a relationship, it is generally much more difficult to exert influence,” Stine cautions.

That’s where soft skills come in. In fact, soft skills, such as teamwork, communication, interpersonal skills, and problem-solving, are at the core of managing up and across. A 2018 LinkedIn report found that executives, managers, and talent developers consider these skills the No. 1 priority for talent development – and it’s no wonder because they are the kind of skills that can make or break your success.

Networking and relationship-building are essential for managing across. Current connections can open the door to other people, but once you get to them, it’s important that you’re versed in the art of persuasion and negotiation. Can you communicate your ideas and share a vision that key stakeholders will buy into? It’s important to distinguish managing across from manipulating — it’s about sharing your ideas and garnering support and buy-in to help achieve large projects and institutional goals, not using unfair means to serve your own purpose.

Experts like Jay A. Conger also list consultation as an important part of managing across. Make time to talk your idea over with important stakeholders in the project and address any concerns or questions they may have. Actively listening to them and addressing their concerns helps build trust and respect. This is key to getting buy-in and cooperation from those who are key players in the project but over whom you don’t have any authority.

Perhaps most importantly, though, you must be willing to move outside of your silo. “Silos are particularly prevalent in higher education, and managing across silos is both challenging and a key to success,” Stine explains. Effecting lasting change will require working across silos, collaborating with various departments, and a willingness to listen and consider all stakeholder voices.

“[Today,] the majority of work you do requires the assistance or cooperation of people who don’t report to you and may not even be in the same part of the organization,” Stine says. “It is very rare that you can complete work only with the support of direct reports.”

She suggests building relationships with peers and colleagues beyond your immediate area, so that when you face a challenge or you are trying to do something new, these contacts can provide context, recommendations, and introductions to help you be effective in their area.

It is not so much about breaking down silos, she says. It’s more about developing bridges across them where you can gain the information and connections you need in order to collaborate effectively. “The most important thing is building real, human connections and collegial relationships — this is how the bridges across silos in higher ed are made,” Stine says.

Remember

There will always be roadblocks in our careers and in projects we take on at work. However, those who learn to manage up and across are better prepared to face those challenges, work through them, and ultimately cross the finish line. You can’t control those around you, but you can influence them and adapt to work more effectively with your bosses, peers, and even those in other departments — to move the needle on broader institutional goals.

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