How to manage projects without the authority
Question: What should I do if I’m asked to manage the project, but don’t have the authority to order my teammates around?
This scenario pops up more often than you might think. And you should be grateful when it does! This is a golden opportunity for you to show management how you do as a leader and organizer, and may open up doors later on.
The flip side of this scenario is that there are many ways that this situation can be mishandled. Project difficulties aside, your biggest challenge will be motivating your team as well as your manager does. And do note that I said “as well as” and not “the same way as”. Using the same leadership style as your project manager will not work. Instead, you should focus on different tactics:
Like it or not, you’ve been thrust into a position of leadership, without the benefit of rank backing you up. The rest of the team now wants to see if they can trust you with the fate of the project and with their performance.
The key here is acknowledging that trust works both ways. Show the team that you trust them by asking for their feedback during meetings, encouraging discussion, and making it clear that your opinions are not holy writ. Get them to trust that you will do what you say, when you say it. Be consistent and you will eventually earn their respect.
Always remember that, at the end of the day, you are still just another member of the team. Don’t talk down to anyone, and never use your newfound influence to throw your weight around to play favorites/settle grudges. If there are more senior or experienced members on your team, acknowledge them and involve them in ways that will benefit the team as a whole.
Success is an excellent motivator, and acknowledging it is even better. Best of all, success can be found anywhere if you look for it. Did a team member fix a particularly troublesome bug? Congratulate him in the next meeting. Did the project reach a milestone? Treat the team to pizza. Let the team know that you’re there to help everyone succeed, and that you appreciate the effort.
Patrick Icasas is a former marketing project manager with 7 years of marketing and PR agency experience, managing creative projects for brands such as Nokia, Verizon Wireless, and Adobe. He now spends his time helping people make the most out of their project management software and entertaining his 5 year old daughter.