A few years ago, during a pivotal project, I was approached by one of my developers to discuss “managing up.”

What? Managing up? As an engineering manager, I’ve witnessed my dev teams grow and evolve over the years. But I never expected one of my developers to come up to me and express their desire to manage up. Did he want to manage the manager? Or maybe try to manipulate me for personal gain, like ousting me from my position and taking over?

We were at a crossroads as our team was neck-deep in deadlines and complicated code. Frustration hung in the air like a stubborn bug in the system. There was also a looming sense that our work had become more robotic than creative.

So, I decided to hear what my developer wanted to achieve with managing up. Instead of pulling out charts and statistics to make his point, he simply said, “Let’s go for a coffee.”

Next thing you know we were chatting about the challenges we faced, the creative solutions the developers wanted to implement, and even some new books that came out on engineering leadership. He basically learned how to make himself more useful in various contexts.

What happened next was amazing.

Our team spirit was revived, and so was our brainstorming and innovative problem-solving. Believe it or not, that pivotal project I mentioned earlier was wrapped up ahead of schedule, with code that felt more alive than ever.

This, my friends, is the untold power of managing up – a paradigm shift that can unshackle software developers from conventional constraints and propel us toward unprecedented achievements.

So, if you're ready to challenge norms and ride the waves of unconventional strategies, join me on this journey into the uncharted waters of managing up in software development.

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What is Managing Up?

Managing up is all about building a strong rapport so your developers can learn about who you are and what you value. I’m talking about preferences, communication styles, and priorities so that their work and vision align with yours.

Contrary to what many people believe, that software environments are too complex for managing up, it is possible for it to take place when building technology. In fact, it should be encouraged - because your junior developers will one day take on engineering leadership positions, and they need to have those skills to be great leaders. It starts with managing up!

Note: Managing up is not about flattery or manipulation – it's about honest communication. In some cases, this means initiating a bit of constructive conflict to create a healthy environment, encouraging mutual learning and understanding among team members.

What Are the Benefits of Managing Up?

Managing up in software development offers a range of benefits that can significantly impact both your developers’ growth and the overall success of projects and teams. Here are some key advantages to encouraging your developers to manage up.

Enhanced Communication

When your developers begin to manage up, they may find themselves focusing a lot on having worthwhile, forward-focused conversations with you as part of the challenge. That’s actually the first step to managing up - having open and honest communication that builds strong relationships.

Over time, your developers will learn to share and discuss progress updates, obstacles, and insights effectively, leading to better decision-making and more streamlined workflows.

Alignment With Goals

By understanding the company’s priorities and objectives, your developer can align their work more closely with your and your company’s goals. This ensures that your developer's efforts contribute directly to the success of the project and the organization.

Recognition and Visibility

When managing up, contributions and achievements are less likely to go unnoticed by engineering managers and other higher-ups. This can lead to increased visibility within the company.

Effective Problem Solving

Engaging in open discussions allows for collaborative problem-solving. As an engineering manager, your experience and perspective can offer insights that help your developers overcome obstacles more efficiently.

Skills Development

Managing up requires skills in empathy and adaptability, too. Developing these soft skills help your developers improve their interactions. Moreover, when you help them improve a particular skill, you’ll actually inspire more curiosity. They’ll also be more naturally inclined to step in and help out in times of need.

Career Growth

As your developers build a positive relationship with you, you can also help them become mentors to other developers. This shows their commitment to the company and can be a reason to promote your developer or help them with their career trajectory.

Influence and Autonomy

By effectively managing up, your developers can gain influence and contribute to decision-making processes. This can lead to greater autonomy in their work and a sense of empowerment within the team.

Reduced Friction

Misunderstandings or conflicts that arise due to misaligned expectations can be minimized through effective managing up. This leads to a more harmonious and productive work environment.

Team Collaboration

With a managing-up approach, your developers can advocate for their team's needs and concerns. This ensures that the team's perspectives are considered and can lead to better resource allocation and support.

Project Success

Ultimately, managing up contributes to the success of projects by ensuring that everyone is on the same page, resources are allocated effectively, and potential roadblocks are addressed early on.

What to Do When Your Developers Want to Manage Up?

Embrace Their Initiative to Manage Up

Managing up is a sign of your developers' commitment to both their role and the team's success. Embrace this initiative wholeheartedly. Recognize that these individuals are motivated to make a meaningful difference and are willing to go the extra mile to ensure that projects and team dynamics flourish.

Talk About Managing Up

Initiate a conversation with developers who wish to manage up. Understand their aspirations, what they envision for the team, and how they believe their efforts can contribute to overall success. This dialogue not only clarifies their goals but also demonstrates that you value their input and are open to their ideas.

Provide Mentorship and Guidance

As an experienced engineering manager, you're in a prime position to offer mentorship and guidance. Share insights from your own journey, discuss challenges you've faced, and provide advice on how to navigate the intricacies of managing up effectively. Your guidance can be invaluable in helping them channel their enthusiasm in the right direction.

Help Your Developers Develop Their Soft Skills

Managing up requires a set of soft skills beyond technical expertise. Encourage your developers not only to present their ideas clearly and adapt their communication style to different stakeholders but also to learn how to listen in high-stress environments.

Collaborate on Goals

Work with developers to align their goals with the team's objectives. By channeling their energy toward initiatives that benefit the team and the organization, you create a win-win situation. This collaboration ensures that their efforts contribute to the collective success.

Celebrate Small Wins

Acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of developers who are managing up. Recognize their efforts in team meetings, provide positive feedback, and highlight the impact of their initiatives. We often publicly give a #kudos on our Slack channel. We also celebrate wins during our all-hands meetings. This not only boosts our developers’ morale but also encourages them to take initiative on managing up.

Create a Culture of Innovation

Encourage a culture where innovative ideas are always welcome. Developers who want to manage up often bring fresh perspectives to the table. This is huge as developers who have their ideas shut down tend to leave companies. Create a safe environment where they can experiment with their ideas and learn from both successes and failures.


Having developers who want to manage up is a positive testament to the team's vibrancy and potential for growth. By nurturing their ambitions, providing guidance, and fostering an environment of collaboration and innovation, you empower these developers to contribute positively to the team's success. Balancing their aspirations with the team's dynamics ensures that their desire to manage up enhances both individual growth and collective achievements.

Embrace this journey, and together, you'll pave the way for an even brighter future in software development💺

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