Responsibility without authority is useless. Just because you are given a job to accomplish doesn’t mean everyone is going to fall in line behind your leadership. Whether you are a brand new project manager or starting over in a new place, there are steps you can take to build you authority.
The last entry discussed the different types of authority: Positional, Referent, Reward/Penalty and Expert. If you consider your interactions with the project stakeholders based on these four you can alter their perception of you.
Before starting, determine the authority you already possess. If you are have been declared project manager by upper management (in person or through the Charter) you have a certain amount of Positional Authority. Were you a Team Lead or Subject Matter Expert within the technical group? That could carry over as Expert Authority. Anyone with a high level of charisma can use their Referent Authority. Take stock of what you have because it forms the foundation to build on.
Positional Authority. There are several areas you can use to build the Positional Authority available to you.
First is your personal Positional Authority through your title and the org chart. Being raised from a Team Lead to Project Manager increases people’s expectations of you. If you don’t currently hold the title, ask what it will take to move up. Remember, Positional Authority is still the weakest form and doesn’t come with guarantied respect. A Team Lead no one likes will become a despised Project Manager.
Second, consider your project’s position in the organization. Identifying and communicating the need for your project will position it (and you) better to obtain the resources and attention it needs.
Finally, your sponsor and key stakeholders can add significantly to your Positional Authority. Selling the need for your project up the org chart opens possibilities. If it becomes the pet project of the CEO you have gained strong backing.
Reward/Penalty Authority. Reward/Penalty Authority is a great way to get your team’s attention. Finding and rewarding good performance encourages similar behavior from the rest of the team. On the flip side, letting the team know that poor performance will be penalized is important, too. Even if you aren’t authorized to terminate an employee, contributing to their annual review with specific poor performance issues can have a big impact. The best way to build your Reward/Penalty Authority is to use it wisely and fairly.
Referent Authority. Character matters. Different individuals are inspired by or attracted to different personalities. Think about the types of managers you long to work for and then emulate them. Reward/Penalty Authority can be used to demonstrate characteristics like fairness, respect for individuals, appreciation and other personality traits that would draw your team to you. Initiate an “open door” policy to listen to and act on your team’s ideas and complaints.
Expert Authority. Being an expert technically does not always translate well to the management realm. The first area of expertise to build on is the project. Quickly establish a solid understanding of the project’s objectives, status, finances and issues. Not being able to talk to these topics kills your credibility. Second, develop a working knowledge of the business you are working in. Being able to talk with your key stakeholders in their own terms builds trust in your abilities.
When starting from scratch it can seem an impossible task to build your authority, but these simple suggestions can get you off on the right foot.
Thomas Cutting, PMP is the owner of Cutting’s Edge (http://www.cuttingsedge.com/) and is a speaker, writer, trainer and mentor. He offers nearly random Project Management insights from a very diverse background that covers entertainment, retail, insurance, banking, healthcare and automotive verticals. He delivers real world, practical lessons learned with a twist of humor. Thomas has spoken at PMI and PSQT Conferences and is a regular contributor to several Project Management sites. He has a blog at (http://cuttingsedgepm.blogspot.com).
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