For government to work effectively and efficiently there must be harmonious interaction between, and within, all levels of government. However, with each level of separation and additional point of interaction this becomes increasingly difficult to achieve. A vast amount of commentary exists on how to work with management, but it is often based on reactive behaviour. What is often neglected, and yet is vitally important, is the ability to proactively manage your managers to ensure you achieve the desired outcomes in less time, with less hassle and less stress – what I call “managing up”. I will explain how you can unlock this hidden resourcefulness for yourself and members of your team.

The challenge with government interaction is as follows. Government has multiples tiers. All tiers of government have multiple functions. These functions usually have multiples departments. These departments have multiple levels of management, which manage their respective teams. This strict and extensive hierarchical reporting structure is set up to achieve the most efficient outcomes, but ironically does not naturally facilitate the behaviour necessary to do so—especially with entry level or less experienced staff.

As an entry level employee your main focus is gaining experience – to follow rather than to lead. As you gain more experience you transition from following to leading, but generally everyone still reports to someone: whether it be shareholders, stakeholders, clients, the industry or the community. It is important to follow, but not always to the letter.

It is best practice to try to anticipate your manager’s needs and then interpret their instructions in a wider context than which it is presented. At times we do exactly what was asked of us, but not actually what was needed – your manager, unknown to you and at times even themselves, required additional work to be done that was not part of your initial instructions.  This can be frustrating as, in that moment, you can feel you have been unfairly penalised for having to do extra work that could have been avoided had the relevant discussions been had upfront.

To prevent this happening to you or a team member you are responsible for, whilst discussing initial instructions, all those involved should take a moment to go through the following key steps:

  • reflect on the big picture;
  • think critically about the outcomes to be achieved;
  • consider each person involved in delivering the outcomes, their expectations and preferred method of interaction;
  • consider your manager’s and stakeholders’ needs; and
  • ask any questions that arise from this thought process up front!

Managing up is an integral, albeit often overlooked, skill in helping everyone achieve the desired outcomes in the most productive and enjoyable manner. I hope this insight will assist you to better move forward with your team and your organisation as a whole.