Mastering the Art of Managing Up: A Developer's Guide to Career Advancement

Date Published: 16 August 2023

Mastering the Art of Managing Up: A Developer's Guide to Career Advancement

Mastering the Art of Managing Up: A Developer's Guide to Career Advancement

Learn the essential skills behind "Managing Up" tailored for the software development world, with insights from Steve Smith. Uncover how this vital technique can pave your path to career success, giving you the leverage and influence in your organization. Dive into actionable tips, enriched examples, and the benefits for both developers and their managers.

What is "Managing Up"?

Managing up, at its core, is the strategy of working proactively with your superiors to achieve mutual goals. It's about understanding your manager's expectations, aligning them with your objectives, and ensuring that both of you work cohesively towards shared milestones. For developers, it translates to more than just meeting sprint goals; it's about showcasing your value and helping your manager succeed in their role too.

Examples of Managing Up

  1. Transparent Communication: Imagine your manager has tasked you with implementing a new feature that you believe might introduce potential bugs. Instead of silently implementing it, you could approach them with your concerns, maybe even suggesting a more efficient alternative.
  2. Initiative: You've identified some technical debt that's slowing down the team. Instead of waiting for an annual review to discuss it, you proactively set up a meeting with your manager to present the problem and potential solutions.
  3. Feedback Loop: After the completion of a project, you ask your manager for feedback, demonstrating your eagerness to grow and align with the team's expectations.

laptop with code

Tips and Tricks for Effective Managing Up

Master these tips and tricks to become a pro at managing up.

  1. Understand Their Goals: Know what drives your manager. What are their goals? What is their boss expecting from them? Do they have certain Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) they need to hit? By understanding these, you can align your contributions to directly impact their success. I like to sum this one up as, "Whatever role you're in, your job is basically to make your boss look good." If you have opportunities to interact with your "skip level" (manager's manager or above), you can apply this same principle to them as well. And be sure to mention something your manager has done well recently when you do so.
  2. Regular Check-ins: Don't wait for scheduled reviews. Set up short, regular check-ins to discuss progress, concerns, and get their input. This helps in building a relationship of trust and transparency. Don't make your manager ask you for status reports - send a weekly email summarizing what you accomplished. This is a great way to keep them informed and also to remind them of your contributions, and you may find the emails to be very useful come review time, too.
  3. Be Solution-Oriented: It's one thing to identify a problem and another to provide a solution. Always try to approach your manager with potential solutions when discussing challenges, even if they're solutions that are outside your ability to implement. This demonstrates your initiative and problem-solving skills.
  4. Seek Feedback: Show your manager that you're eager to grow and improve. Regularly ask for feedback and act on it. This helps in building a culture of continuous improvement and growth. If possible, ask for one, specific thing you can improve, and then work on that. If you ask for too much feedback, you may not be able to act on it all, and you may overwhelm your manager.
  5. Manage Expectations: Clearly communicate about timelines, potential roadblocks, and needs. This helps in preventing any last-minute surprises. The best way to exceed expectations is to set them appropriately in the first place.

Why Managers Benefit Too

When developers embrace the practice of managing up, it's not just the individual who reaps the rewards. Managers benefit immensely. They receive transparent communication, proactive solutions, and a team member genuinely invested in shared success. This not only helps in achieving team goals but also aids in fostering a positive work environment where both parties thrive.


In conclusion, managing up is an invaluable skill, especially for developers looking to ascend the career ladder. It's about building a relationship of trust, collaboration, and mutual growth with your superiors. So, if you've found this piece insightful, do share it with your peers. Remember, as you climb the career ladder, the skill of managing up will be a cornerstone of your success. And for all the managers out there, encourage this practice among your team members. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.


Found value in these insights? Share this article with fellow developers or anyone looking to master the art of managing up. Let's champion the cause of effective communication and mutual growth in the tech industry!

Steve Smith

About Ardalis

Software Architect

Steve is an experienced software architect and trainer, focusing on code quality and Domain-Driven Design with .NET.