13 ways to manage your boss, and why you might need to

Your boss might be too busy to manage you effectively – that’s when you need to start managing them! But how do you do it without affecting your career?

If you work at a large firm, you’re likely to have your tasks and targets mapped out for you – so you’re more likely to be managed well. It’s not quite the same at smaller companies (where over 90% of graduates end up working).

If you find yourself at a smaller firm, you might discover your boss is too busy to manage you. People, time, and finances are stretched. Your boss needs you to muck in and manage yourself, and the smartest way to do this is to manage your boss.

So, how do you get started?

Let’s get this straight: you exist to support your boss. So, managing your boss means that you deliver the tasks within your remit – in the best, most productive way. This means you come across as proactive and reliable, and your career develops on that premise.

You’ll also be making your boss’s life easier, something they’ll thank you for!

#1: Get to know your boss

The single most important step you can take to manage your boss is to getting to know how they work. This is vital. Is your boss most energetic in the morning, or later in the day?

Learn more about their moods and preferences – when they’re most approachable. Collaborate with their PA or their secretary where you can – it’s a team effort!

#2: Find out what your boss’s top priorities are

As ​Forbes​ put it, ‘make your boss’s priorities your priorities’. What’s your boss focusing on right now? It may not be work you’re directly involved with, but you might be able to pitch in and help things go smoothly.

#3: Know your company’s history

How has your firm gone about problem-solving in the past? It’s worth delving into any previous cases or files you can find. They’ll provide useful context on customers, products, sales performances, and the best approach to take.

Scour the office for any handbooks, newsletters, annual reports, and procedure manuals.

#4: Ask questions

Especially early on, no one expects you to know it all – so don’t be afraid to ask your boss to clarify what you’ve been asked to do, and when by – and if there’s a more productive use of your time. It’s better than assuming and getting it wrong!

#5: Think ahead

When you’re talking to your boss about your workload, talk through the steps you might take to complete a task. This demonstrates initiative and the ability to think for yourself. It also lets you double-check if you’re going about it the right way. If you can chart a course for the challenges ahead of you, your boss will appreciate your efforts.

#6: Think for your boss

Don’t expect your boss to know everything. If you have ideas you think can help, share them. Present your ideas in meetings, send your boss cuttings and information about stuff you think might help him. Think about what he or she needs too. This may also mean following up on stuff your boss may forget. Perhaps he promised to send you information or hasn’t returned a call. Your boss is busy and has lots on his mind so you just may have to think for two.

#7: Be a problem solver

Your boss is solving problems much bigger than the ones you face. Don’t add to them, especially if they’re trivial. ​Use Google​ if you don’t know how to do something – and try yourself before you reach out for help. Whenever you tell your boss about a problem, be sure to include a couple of potential solutions.

#8: Be honest about your mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes – so when you do, don’t shirk responsibility. Demonstrate that you’ve learned better. It will reassure your boss that you know how to avoid the same thing happening again.

#9: Use your strengths to support your boss’s weaknesses

We all have different strengths and weaknesses. Learn what you’re good at: is it writing? Research? Meticulous spreadsheet-keeping? Where you can see your boss struggling, be prepared to step in (but don’t be condescending).

#10: Keep your boss in the loop

Keep tabs on what you’re doing​, and record it on a monthly basis. Include progress updates for ongoing projects, tasks you’ve completed, milestones you’ve achieved, and what you’re working on next. Listing your achievements will also help you build a strong and convincing track record – and it’ll be useful when you decide to start applying for new jobs, and need to redo your CV!

#11: Deliver the goods

Whatever you were asked to do, complete it all. Don’t bring half done tasks back to your boss. Don’t give him or her extra work, or work you should have done. If you’re struggling, ask if anyone around your office has capacity to help you out – but not at a senior level.

If you find yourself struggling to complete your work on a regular basis, take a look at what you’re giving your attention to at work. ​It may be time to reprioritise​.

#12: Pick your battles

You’re there to make your boss’s life easier – ​so choose carefully when to press your point and when to retreat​. Feel free to share your views, but only if you’re contributing something useful to the discussion. Be prepared with evidence to support your viewpoint – arm yourself with case studies and examples of how your suggestion has worked in other organisations.

#13: Meet your boss halfway

Finally, ​as Gary Wood once said​, “Don’t wait for your ship to come in: swim out to meet it.” Look for opportunities to impress and make your boss look good – whether that’s organising the office, drawing their attention to an important call, or recommending them a new software that does exactly what they want it to.

How we help

The Student Book & The Graduate Book: Get (& Thrive In) The Job You Really Want

Chris Davies is the author of The Student Book, All you need to know to get the job you really want and The Graduate Book, All you need to know to do really well at work. The Graduate Book is divided up into 13 chapters, with exercises at the end of each chapter. Chapter 4 discusses learning best from a great boss.

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