As a Staff+ engineer, nurturing a positive and productive relationship with your skip-level manager will unlock important benefits that extend beyond the scope of your immediate team and manager.
When was the last time you talked to your manager's manager one-on-one? Was it last week? Three months ago? Never?
If you’re a Staff+ engineer, you likely have experience “managing up” with your own manager – that is, fostering a strong, mutually-beneficial relationship. Chances are, you’ve successfully built rapport with multiple managers throughout your career. You’ve learned to adjust your communication style to better align with them, asked and advocated for your needs, and taken the initiative to provide solutions to improve outcomes for your team.
All of these crucial skills have enabled you to become the effective engineer you are today, but have you considered applying them to your skip-level?
Skip-level meetings for broader company perspective
Skip-level managers operate at a high level. They deal with breadth over depth, overseeing abstract technical directions, and safeguarding the overall health of their organization.
With their eyes on the broad strokes, they’re usually better able to see the forest for the trees, identifying pervasive themes and patterns that might not be as apparent to managers and engineers focused on day-to-day operations.
Chances are, your skip-level has a completely different perspective from you on your work. Understanding how they see its impact within the greater context can be transformative. Here’s how:
- If you’re feeling bogged down by the minutiae of your current project: getting clarity on how your work fits into the broader business goals could be the spark you needed to bring it across the finish line. Sometimes we just need a reminder that what we’re doing really matters. If it doesn’t, having a frank conversation with your skip-level could be the catalyst your team needed to shift its priorities.
- If you’re struggling to build a technical roadmap for yourself or your team: knowing your skip-level’s priorities can help inform your direction. By framing your work to match their goals, you’re more likely to get the resources you need to reach the finish line.
Career development opportunities
Skip-level managers are constantly observing how teams interact and collaborate. They’re anticipating potential conflicts and communication breakdowns. They’re noticing outstanding individuals and exceptional teamwork.
Here are a few ways you can leverage your skip-level manager’s vantage point to grow your career:
- Company context: If you’re the only Staff+ engineer on your immediate team, and you want to better understand how other Staff+ engineers operate within your engineering organization, you should ask your skip-level for their perspective. They’re likely speaking with other Staff+ engineers frequently, and regularly evaluating how these engineers are performing within the greater team.
- Sponsors: Skip-level managers are frequently involved in high-level project planning and resource allocation discussions. They’re matching the right engineers to the right opportunities, aligning business goals with individual career aspirations. If they know you well and understand your strengths and goals, they can make for stellar sponsors.
- Guidance: If your team is struggling to work effectively with sibling teams, ask your skip-level for advice. Not only will they understand how each team is operating individually and the challenges they might be facing, but they’ll also know how they’ve best interacted with others in the past. They’ll be able to give you the guidance you need to break the ice.
Support through challenges
Good managers aren’t always easy to come by. To quote Lara Hogan, when your manager isn’t supporting you, build a Voltron. That is, build a network, and seek help outside your immediate team: peers, coaches, and skip-levels!
If you’re worried your potential is being overlooked by your immediate manager, or that you’re not getting the support and mentorship you need, your skip-level might be able to provide a second opinion on the situation and fill some of these gaps. At the very least, they should be able to suggest solutions to help guide you forward.
By establishing a relationship with your skip-level manager, you’re unlocking an additional feedback loop to complement any feedback you receive from your direct manager. This means more constructive criticism, encouragement, and guidance to bolster your strengths and overcome challenges.
It’s a two-way street
If you’re worried that seeking out your skip-level manager is a selfish endeavor, fear not! Because most skip-level managers are fairly removed from actual engineering work, they heavily rely on line managers and engineers within their organization to keep them in the know.
Skip-level managers can only be effective if they have an honest perspective on the goings-on within their organization. The only way to develop that perspective is by establishing strong lines of communication and nurturing a sense of trust.
With that in mind, what are you waiting for? When’s your next 1:1 with your skip level?