Golf Course News

‘Managing up’ is the key to increasing influence

‘Managing up’ is the key to increasing influence

Davies, Raymond


Superintendents handle tremendous responsibility, make decisions easily, and deal with multiple problems quickly and effectively. Despite the fact that today’s professional superintendent takes strong control over their department, many feel they have no power or influence over upper management.

Superintendents spend a lot of time complaining about the green committee chairman who expects the impossible, the director of golf who just called to say he has a big tournament on Monday, the board that will not approve the purchase of desperately needed equipment, and the golfers who expect pristine conditions. Statements such as “don’t get involved in club politics,” and “I don’t know why they won’t replace this ancient irrigation system,” typify this mind set.

What would happen to this great profession if more superintendents exercised appropriate influence on the decision-making processes that affects their ability to perform?

The task of influencing the decisions made by our superiors is commonly referred to as “managing up.” Managing up means you are no longer a victim and are taking action.


Many superintendents do not like to plan out maintenance activities, but they lose the opportunity to influence the expectations of the owners by not tying the actions they intend to take with the resources they are requesting. Successful superintendents are those who consistently acquire the resources needed to meet those expectations.

Communicating the difference between a budget and expected turf conditions is a core task. Essentially, the budget is the cost of a plan. Following this principle, the business will determine the turf conditions necessary to meet golfer demands and the green fee that will be charged. The superintendent is then tasked with the development of the best possible maintenance plan that will create those specified conditions. The cost of the maintenance plan becomes the budget proposal.

If the budget must be reduced to make the business profitable, the management plan is reduced in a comparable manner. For example, if you cannot afford to mow fairways five times a week and have to cut the budget, the owners are told in advance that the fairways will instead be mowed three times per week. If they must have the higher mowing frequency, then the budget for mowing fairways must be supported and other maintenance activities can be investigated for potential reductions. But the boss can no longer have it both ways.


A key skill used to successfully communicate our views to management is called “grounding your assessments”. In the simplest terms, this means backing up recommendations or views with evidence that supports them effectively.

These can be facts or other information that are consistent with the assertion we are making. Most people speak in general terms that are hard to interpret. Asking for a new tractor because “I need one,” is not as effective as using statistics that show repair costs increasing on an old model.

By grounding our assessments, we are more likely to achieve decisions we desire.


We must also understand the needs of those we seek to influence.

Do you know how your green committee chairman views his role and his relationship with you? Do you know what the general manager or owner’s financial goals are?

Most businesses have a business plan in writing. Make yourself aware of how the business intends to succeed and you will be in a much better position to exercise influence by making your recommendations consistent with this knowledge. Make a list of all the people who will have influence on the resources you receive. Know what they want and expect in advance.


We also need to remember that we are hired as the expert in turfgrass management. It is our responsibility to determine the best management plans within the constraints of the budget and to provide optimum turf conditions for our facilities. This knowledge is the source of tremendous power and influence, especially in private club settings.

However, character counts significantly in our ability to manage up. A fundamental skill is the ability to say ‘no’ when we are asked to support an idea that is not consistent with sound management.

The key ingredient here is the willingness to risk being at odds with the thinking of upper management. If this is more risk than we are comfortable taking, we will be ineffective in exercising influence in the decisions that fundamentally impact our ability to perform for our employer.

Superintendents will be much more influential in the decision making at golf facilities if we learn to manage our superiors effectively. The game and our courses will be the winners.

Raymond Davies, CGCS, is the director of golf course maintenance and construction for CourseCo, Inc.

Copyright United Publications, Inc. Feb 2002

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