Managing up: four key lessons from Irish subsidiaries

“Many Irish subsidiary managers have manoeuvred themselves into high-powered roles as (virtual) vice-presidents in the headquarters while remaining in their Irish subsidiary.”

“Many Irish subsidiary managers have manoeuvred themselves into high-powered roles as (virtual) vice-presidents in the headquarters while remaining in their Irish subsidiary.”


In today’s workplace you must take responsibility for your working relationship with your boss, being conscious of how you “manage your manager”. How middle managers or lower-level employees, in particular, effectively “manage up” requires purposefully nurturing influence through daily interactions and routines.

Recent research I carried out with colleagues showed how Irish subsidiary managers have been so successful in influencing top managers in their US headquarters.

Our study found that, although tax may be an initial “attractor” for multinationals investing in Ireland, it is the capacity of Irish subsidiary managers to skilfully develop influence over their bosses that sustains foreign direct investment.

We find that “managing up” is an informal process that endures over time through subtle and proactive influence strategies. The following four strategies are seen as key to increasing your influence.

1: Showcase your successes and make your boss more aware of them. Understand that your boss will never be fully aware of all of the valuable activities in which you engage. Therefore you should seek to create opportunities to showcase the impact of the initiatives in which you are involved. Timeliness is important as it is essential to align this showcasing with issues on which your boss is currently focused.

For example, Irish subsidiary managers recognise that talent management is currently on the corporate agenda, and they focus their attention on initiatives to improve the subsidiary’s talent structures. Showcasing the success of your talent-management initiatives to your boss allows them to recognise and appreciate your value to the organisation.

If your boss acknowledges the worth of your ideas, you may be asked to share them across the organisation as a best practice. This will serve to raise your profile. You can guarantee that your competitive counterparts across the organisation are involved in similar internal endeavours.

2: Focus on solutions, not problems. Recognise that your bosses’ attention is generally focused on other, “more important” matters. If you have a problem that needs to be addressed, do not sit on it. Equally, do not present your boss with a problem. It will only negatively impact their perception of your competence. Instead, be proactive, develop a constructive solution, then, when making them aware of the problem, you can simultaneously present them with your solution.

Being open, honest and proactive will build confidence and trust in your ability as a problem-solver, leading to greater recognition and influence.

3: Be mobile, travel. Remember: as most of the decision-making in large multinationals takes place in the home-country headquarters, it should be a key travel destination.

Be open to regular travel or short-term assignment to foreign countries within the organisation. It exposes you to new ideas and alternative ways of thinking, as well as broadening your professional network.

Many Irish subsidiary managers have manoeuvred themselves into high-powered roles as (virtual) vice-presidents in the headquarters while remaining in their Irish subsidiary. These individuals are now recognised as trailblazers, as they were some of the first Irish managers to appreciate the importance of travelling and temporarily relocating in their respective multinationals. Their mobility has created a pathway and has inspired other lower-level employees to build influence by following in their footsteps.

4: Be flexible and embrace change. Multinationals are often exposed to unpredictable and volatile market conditions, which leads to fluctuating structures internally. This constant state of flux is often coupled with the rigidity of long-serving top managers’ approaches and beliefs.

It is often up to lower-level managers to adapt their styles and ways of working to what the boss perceives as valuable. By recognising this and being flexible, you can build influence through the opportunities that these shifting structures provide.

As an example, Irish subsidiary managers are frequently asked, and perceived as willing, to take on new roles across diverse functions, created largely due to knock-on effects from major acquisitions.

Equally, regular changes in top management personnel creates opportunities for lower-level managers to build social capital with new bosses, or perhaps with enough experience over time even to become the boss themselves.

The bottom line is that most organisations now operate in or are affected by global working conditions. Showcasing success, being a problem solver, developing your mobility and embracing change are key characteristics of managing up in the global workplace. Accepting that and acting on it can help lower-level managers progress in large organisations.

Kieran Conroy is a lecturer in management and is programme director of the BSc in international business with a language at Queen’s Management School.

Previously published in The Irish Times.


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