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Managing up: a leadership tool for middle managers

Every manager, whether a first time one or a CEO, can achieve greater impact if they have a good working relationship with their own manager. Agreement on strategic projects as well as daily tactical work are critical and can occur most easily when we are competent at "managing up." This is especially important if initiatives have not received initial support from managers above.

This workshop session will provide a brief theoretical background on managing up from the world of business, followed by a set of 5-minute case study presentations introducing practical tools and examples of their use. Next, we will break into small groups for peer-to-peer discussion of what works best, including role play opportunities. While in groups, participants will be able to experiment with different strategies, enriching their palette of options for negotiating and achieving a green light for important initiatives. The session will finish with a practical tips report from each group.


consultant and President Emerita, Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science
Director Emeritus
United States

Session legacy

Many managers face the issue that on first approach, their manager, CEO or Board Member is unethusiastic about a projevt, program or policy that the manager thinks is important and beneficial to teh organization. This session explored how to develop positive strategies to ensure acceptance and also how to overcome rseistance, if met.

Definition of Managing Up:Developing your own career by developing a beneficial and mutually supportive relationship with those above you.

Examples of Managing Up:

  • . Understanding manager's prioritieis and pressures
  • . Knowing how to discuss problems
  • . Never letting your manager be blind-
  • Managing Up Means: managing teh relationship so youa nd yoru manager both achieve personal and organizational goals. BUT: How to manage up in practice?
  • A Difficult Boss B Differing Priorities C Unclear expectations..others...
  • Stories from the field, examples from speakers
  • Hanne Haack Larsen, Deputy Director at the Experimentarium Hanne explained how she developed a partnership with her boss and that this strong relationship was the basis for success: she di not in fact manager up. She explained how he was always informed and involved in decisions.
  • Colin Johnson, Ex CEO Techniquest gave two examples, with these messages: 1 Take time to understand the personality and management style of your boss(es) especilaly when they are new. Match proposals to the way they think. 2 Should you appeal to emotions or to logic? The more expensive the idea, the more likely it is you will need all the supporting data as well as the excitement. 3 We are all insicure in different ways. Understanding the insecurities of your boss will help you overcome difficulties you may have in their way of working - or sometimes just to accept because of those insecurities, "this is the way it is going to be."
  • Lara Litchfield-Kimber Executive Director Mid Hudson Children's Museum gave four approaches to get someone to change behavior or do something you need/want.
  • 1 Do it for me (almost asking a favor - works when there's a good relationship)
  • 2 Do it for the team (invoking a larger group of which the praerson is a part - works when the person values being in the group and wants its respect
  • 3 Do it because it's the right thing to do - appeals to someone with a sense of fair play
  • 4 Do it because it's in your best interests -works in cases where the person is truly self-centered
  • She had used (4) when a Board Member refused to follow guidelines and risked destabilizing the capital campaign.
  • Leigh-Anne Stradeski Director Eureka! The National Children's Museum described teh process to win support for a projecct where cost increases resulted from project scope changes after stakeholder consultations, review of regional strategy objectives and site issues. Carfeul cost information was combined with options for review, where cutting back to original budget showed compromises to vision. The strategy successfully resulted in the partner agreeing to find necessary increased funds.
  • Carol Valenta, Retired Senior Vice President, St Louis Science Center gave her epxerience as someone who chose the No2 spot, where teh art of managing up contributed greatly to achieving organizational, departmental and personal goals. 4 guiding principles outline how to successfuly help teh boss, yourself and teh science center all be successful.
  • 1 No Surprises!
  • 2 Maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses
  • 3 Bring solutions to problems and have more than one if possible
  • 4 Discover the learning and decision making modality of your boss

Summation: Lessons Learned

Issues included 1 What to do when a funder wants to dictate exhibition content and it goes against a museum's exhibition goals ( fossil fuel fudner in climate change ehxibit) and 2 when your cEO chases money and pulls museum towards a biased project. Ways of handling this inlcuded:

. Clarifying expectations up front

. Recognizing and finding that common ground

. Being courageous and saying no

. Emphasizing that public trust is a museum's most valuable asset

Assistance can be had by using another institution as an advocate or finding other external advocates.

The challenge of being a new manager led to discussion on how to be confident and help staff feel secure. There's a relationship between trust and confidence and 2 kinds of confidence: (1)Reliability eg systems that work (2) Trust between individuals, which evolves at a personal level. Being willing to be vulnerable is important: see a TED talk by Brene Brown: https://www.ted.com/talks/brene brown on vulnerability

A sheet summarizing some approaches was also available. Please contact speakers for more information.

Session speakers

consultant and President Emerita, Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science
Gillian will provide an introduction to the topic and its importance, from her back ground in developing and managing science centres and museums..
President & CEO
Great Lakes Science Center
Kirsten contributes a wide range of both research experience and operational knowledge to the workshop and in particular a analytical approach to the process of developing strategy. She will present a case study and lead one of the small group discussions.
Hanne brings broad experience in management in science centers, currently as Director of Operations and Vice CEO at the Experimentarium. She will provide a case history from her experience and lead one of the small group discussions.
Director Emeritus
United States
Charlie will provide an overview of management research for this topic and facilitate the final discussion and summary.
Chief Executive
United Kingdom
Leigh-Anne has long experience of Children's Museum management in both Canada and the UK. She will provide a case study from her experience and lead a small group discussion.