From Proactive Communication to Old-Fashioned Flattery: Tips for Managing Your Boss

In our work lives, we have many relationships-with colleagues, co-workers, customers, patients, vendors, and others-that affect everything from how effectively we can do our job to how inspired we feel about jumping out of bed in the morning and going to work. No relationship, perhaps, has more of an impact on our day than the one we forge with our boss.

Whatever word we use to label the boss-director, superior, supervisor, or administrator-he or she probably spends a lot of time and energy planning how to best manage you and your efforts. How much time do you spend thinking about how to manage her? Is it even possible to do so?

Those who study relationships between managers and subordinates say it's not only possible, it's important to your career progress to "manage up." In an article on the Web site, a service of the New Jersey Technology Council, Professor Ronald Deluga of Bryant College in Rhode Island says that ambitious professionals need the boss to like them if they want to "cash in later in terms of promotions and desirable perks and all kinds of things." And while strong networking and schmoozing skills have been shown by Stanford Business School Professor Thomas Harrell and University of Michigan Professor Randall A. Gordon to be reliable predictors of success-or at least, skills that can give you an edge-schmoozing is not the only way to get ahead. (You can go to and for more information on these articles.) The best advice career counselors can offer? Put yourself in your supervisor's shoes and try to figure out how to make his job easier.

A St. Louis-based AHIMA member with the RHIA credential reports directly to her hospital's HIM department director. Based on her 20 years of HIM experience, she suggests that you start by understanding the different roles that you and your boss fulfill. "In our case, the director sets the vision and determines the course and the standards. My role is to make it feasible. For example, we're now working on the transition to scanned HIM documents. She's busy and pressured, and I'm clear about what she needs from me: honest reports about the project's progress and regular communication that is effective, succinct, and to the point."

This advice is echoed by several career experts who offer these ideas on managing your relationship with your boss:

  • Understand your manager's goals. Your job is to help achieve those goals and to help her become a success. If you align your goals with your supervisor's-for example, "she sets the vision; I make it happen"-the two of you have a good chance of building a satisfying win/win working relationship.
  • Make yourself an indispensable resource. Who doesn't have a demanding job with lots of pressure these days, especially those in charge of big departments and high-stakes projects? Try to figure out what your manager's biggest problems or challenges may be (too much paperwork, keeping up with the latest in the field, or recruiting new staff) and offer support or ideas that may lighten the load.
  • Communicate. Will it help your boss to know about what you're doing, what's been accomplished, and where there are problems? How frequently should you provide updates and in what format? On what types of e-mails or voice mails should your boss be copied? Put yourself in his shoes, with the understanding that more information is generally better than not enough, and no one likes to be surprised by bad news-especially if it will filter up to his supervisor. Be proactive in sharing information and updates.
  • Work within your supervisor's style. It doesn't take long for any employee to understand the boss's preferences. Does he like to get things in writing? Does she reserve the first hour of the morning for answering phone calls and e-mail? Does he respond well to long, detailed reports, or prefer one-page summaries? Pay attention to her style and respond accordingly.

And how about the good old-fashioned strategy of using flattery to butter up the boss? Does it work? Professors Gordon and Deluga have taken a look at this question and found the answer to be a clear yes. As they report in a recent article that appeared on the Web site, ingratiating themselves with the supervisor gives employees a decided edge in getting raises and good evaluations. Like it or not, Professor Deluga found that buttering up the boss-even when both parties were fully aware that flattery was being used-was good for a five percent edge over non-flatterers in their evaluations.

Source: AHIMA Advantage 7:5 (August 2003)