Responsibility but No Authority?


For this week’s mid-week non-technical discussion, I want to ask if you have responsibility but no authority.

Have you even walked into your team’s weekly meeting and heard your boss tell you that you are now responsible for Project XYZ?  In the meantime you are thinking that this project spans a half dozen different departments, each with projects of their own.  How are you going to get them to cooperate on your project?  You remind yourself that you are so low on the corporate organization chart that they had to add another sheet of paper beneath the rest of the chart.  Well maybe it is not that bad.  Maybe your manager is just trying to help you grow into a better position.  Maybe if you go to them for guidance and suggestions, they will help you out.  Or maybe they are just trying to dodge the bullet from hell (otherwise known as your executive suite) should the project fail which they are betting it will. 

Ok, let’s ignore that last option for a moment because I’m hoping you are not in such a vindictive organization.  On the other hand, failure of a project does not mean that you are a failure unless you miss the opportunity to learn from it and set a personal plan so that it will not happen again.  But that is another topic for a future discussion.  Let’s get back to the topic at hand.  If you have been given responsibility, but no authority, start by listing all of the risks not having the authority poses to the success of the project.  Prioritize those risks and take the top three or four and try to come up ways to counter them.  If they involve things outside of your control, identify who does have control over those factors.  Set up a meeting with those people and ask them how they can help you reduce those risks for benefit of the entire organization.  People will respond better to being asked for their help and opinions than being told what to do and by when.  But what if they refuse to meet with you?  Ask your boss to help set up the meeting and possibly for them to at least attend long enough to show to the others in the meeting that he is giving you the authority through him to make the project successful.

As you work on more projects, success in earlier projects generates its own authority.  People always want to be on a successful team and if you can develop that reputation in the projects you have done, you will also generate an implied authority to match your responsibilities.  Authority and leadership are linked.  But your position in the organization is not necessarily tied to your ability to show leadership, to take responsibilities and to succeed.  And if your organization is resistant to letting you lead by example and to succeed in your responsibilities, maybe it is time to go back and read my article on Jobs vs. Career.

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