School Leaders Managing Up and Across

Dec 14, 2019 by

Management in the education sector is evolving to meet new challenges and to deal with new demands. In education, we understand that the old style of management that focused on top-down is not the way the world of work operates. Managing up and across is a shift in thinking when it comes to learning to lead. Meaning that school superintendents and principals, should lead their subordinates: staff, teachers, etc. but to manage their peers and even their superiors.

To put it simply a school principal manages people across the entire hierarchy. They manage down, by motivating and monitoring their subordinates. Then they manage across, that is with other principals and other community leaders. This happens every time they collaborate on an initiative. The school principal in some cases manages their superiors, including assistant superintendents, superintendents,  and in some cases the school board.

Managing up and sideways means building a team and ensuring that everyone is mobilized and working for the same goals. It means moving out of one’s silo and looking at the bigger picture to move towards that oft recited goal of increasing student achievement.

Managing upwards and sideways are both alike, in that they are concerned with influencing stakeholders and relationships. It is most definitely not about issuing commands and orders. It is a form of leadership, that works by winning the support of others and mobilizing them. School leaders, who have these management skills,  can make an impact across the entire organization and is better positioned to achieve their goals.

Learning  to Manage Up  and Across

It is important to evaluate how authority flows in your school or district so you can make the greatest impact.  This may require an assessment of the way that a school leader currently manages. This can involve the following: Managing time: make sure that enough time is allocated to working with peers and superiors.

Collaboration: Ask the question of how do your superiors and peers perceive your efforts at collaboration. Evaluate the quality of the relationship with others on the same level of the organization and those who are above you in the school structure. It should not only be about reports and meetings but also involve meaningful discussion and even brainstorming.

Communication: Do you have a good communication strategy, for working with the board and other principals? Consistency and repetition is key here, always have the same message reiterated to everyone: whether face to face, via email or social media.

Key Stakeholders: Identify those who enable an initiative to succeed and who are the potential barriers. This can be done by getting to know their goals and understanding if they align to your schools or district.

Tips for Managing Up

Managing up sounds tough. Manging one’s superiors is a challenge and it is not about winning favor or ‘sucking-up’. In reality, managing up is about influencing people, who are key decision-makers. Here are some recommendations:

  • Agree to mutual goals and show that they are in everyone’s benefit.
  • Show a superior that something can deliver financial savings’ and this can help a school leader to become more influential. In education, it is all about streamlining resources and how to do more with less money.
  • Have a good narrative or story to tell as to why these goals matter. Here think in terms of that one minute elevator speech and remember communication is key, so make it your mantra, meaning be ready to repeat it at a minute’s notice.
  • Set goals and exceed expectations. In this way, you will secure the support of the board and superintendent for future projects.
  • Build relationships: with the hierarchy and get to know them and what are their goals. Try and have a good working relationship with key superiors and those in positions of power. Through this process you get to know the leadership style of your boss. 
  • Keep everyone informed: always make sure that you consult with those in authority.
  • Take initiative: see an opportunity, if there is a specific issue, offer to help, and this will gain influence with the board and other decision-makers.

Tips for Managing Across

It is important to make sure that you make efforts to manage your colleagues, those who are on the same level as the organization as you are. This can be difficult because you ‘you wield little or no organizational power with your colleagues’. The right attitude and approach are always very important in this regard.

Be a team player and focus on how you and other principals and community leaders can work together to ensure that the initiative is for the improvement of the community and it takes more than one principal or superintendent to do this.

Communicate regularly and meaningfully. Show others that you are aware of the big picture and this will help the school leader to mobilize others. It becomes critical to again feedback and to ask the input and views of others throughout this process.

Be an active listener. That is to acknowledge others and ask questions of them. This can help a leader to develop a good working relationship with others’ and this can make a school principal more influential in an organization.

It is important that a school principal is available and willing to support other principals. Networking is a good way to mobilize individuals who can support a project.

School Leaders Managing

School leaders take the time to manage down, up and sideways and both at the same time. Therefore, school leaders have three separate management skills and should be inclined to seek to develop them. If they can succeed at all three then they can expect to be very effective leaders.

Keywords: Managing up, managing sideways, school principals, school superintendent, managing down, school management.

Comment: What are the challenges in your school or district when managing up and sideways?


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