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Managing Without Authority

There are many occasions when a manager needs to lead others who are outside their formal reporting structure. Learn why that is an advantage and how you can manage most effectively from your perspective instead of your positional power.

Assigning a task does not necessarily equal results

As a manager in an organization it’s easy to think that because of that position that you can ask somebody to do something and they will do it. That sounds great, but we all know it doesn’t work that way. Just because you asked somebody to do something doesn’t mean they’re going to do it. Having that authority does not necessarily equal results. In this video I want to talk about how to manage when you don’t have authority.

Sometimes you may not have the authority you need

I think this is a really important topic, because even when we do have authority over an individual just telling them to do something and relying on that positional power is not the best or most effective way to lead. We’ll talk a little bit more about that in a minute. The second reason is that there are multiple times and situations in an organization where we really don’t have authority over the individual, but we still need to work alongside them effectively and get them to do things that we want them to do. Having these skill sets allows you to accomplish what you need in all sorts of situations.

Let’s look at a few examples of times when you wouldn’t have authority over an individual:

  • One is when you have volunteers in the organization. Nonprofits rely on volunteers. It is a key component of their workforce.
  • Another situation would be contract employees. Even though there’s a payment arrangement that’s in place between an employer and a contract employee the contract employee still has a lot of autonomy and can walk away any time that they want. It’s important to remember, and it’s often overlooked, that employees also have that option. Naive managers often forget that an employee can leave just as easily as a contract employee.
  • Other situations where you don’t have authority might be when working with your peers. This includes when you’re working alongside those in your organization at a similar organizational level. You don’t have authority through the reporting structure through them, but you still need to accomplish a lot with them.
  • Others could be your own managers or perhaps a board of directors. It’s often very necessary to manage up in the organization, even though we don’t have reporting us rights over them. Having the ability to manage them can be very beneficial to your outcomes and the outcomes for the whole organizations.

The two keys to being an effective leader when you don’t have authority

As you can see there are lots of opportunities for us to build and work on this skill. There are two pieces to this to be the most effective.

Recognize that you do have power

The first is to always recognize that you do have power. You always have power over your own approach to working with somebody no matter where they fall in the organization. Even when you feel like you have no control you do.

Take for example a situation when you need a co-worker to change the way they hand off work to you. If the other person has a history of being resistant to helping you might not even broach the subject. You might then give in thinking there’s no way to make headway because you can’t enforce it.  Force only really works in a crisis like getting people out of a burning building. Otherwise people feel like they aren’t respected or valued. I alluded to the issues of managing by authority earlier. If you’re constantly forcing decisions and actions on to others you are eroding trust and therefore creating a host of other issues in your leadership.

Impact change through action, not position

I want you to take the approach that you can impact the situation, because you can! Create that change by the way you handle yourself, not by where you sit in the organizational chart. To do that you need to come at the situation with a sense of curiosity.

Ask yourself these types of questions:

  • What would move the other person to action?
  • What is in it for this other person?
  • What does this other person need?
  • What obstacles just the change I’m presenting create for him or her?

Don’t assume you know the answers either. Involve your coworker in the discussion.  You could ask all those questions starting with an opening like, “This is what I’m trying to accomplish. What do you think? What would you do? How can we do this together?” Involving the other person provides a sense of ownership and respect.

Manage effectively with curiosity and empathy

Whenever you approach a conversation or an objective with that curiosity and interest in learning the other’s perspective and how that impacts the overall project you will be able to manage effectively without having any authority over the individual through the organizational structure.

Be sure to check out other videos in the Learning Resource Center available to you as a member. Here’s to your graceful leadership.


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