Power Without Authority

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Categories: Leadership, Teams

As a new project manager, you're probably not the boss of anyone.

But even though you don't have traditional authority over a team, that doesn't mean you can't get a team to follow you.

You've heard of the person who comes in with the official title, but crashes and burns when working with teams. You've heard of the person with no organizational status who flourishes in working with even the most difficult of team members. What's the difference between the two? The recognition of real power and its source.

Real power doesn't come from organizational charts, barking orders or threatening teams into obedience. Real power does come from giving and earning personal commitment.

In giving personal commitment, you must risk at least as much as do your project team members. It's up to you to be the first to show why the project is important. When team members see that you're sincerely committed to the project and processes, they're naturally more inclined to do the same.

The surest way to earn personal commitment is to include all team members in the project planning process. Your team is probably smarter than you when it comes to a few things. Recognize this and embrace it. Let team members own their areas of expertise and tell you what needs to happen, how and when.

Ownership quickly becomes an investment into the process. Use your influence as well as your leadership and negotiating skills to clear roadblocks, define requirements and refine expectations.

These back-and-forth conversations will ensure that team member investment becomes personal commitment and that projects get completed successfully -- whether you're the boss or not.

Posted by Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina on: December 27, 2010 01:45 PM | Permalink

Comments (7)

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Luis Seabra Coelho
Taralyn, you're absolutely right.

You can get much more out of a team when you keep your team motivated, focused and so on. But.

Whenever a team member has to choose who to follow he always goes for the ones who give promotions.

Brad Vander Molen
I agree that project team commitment to the project and ownership of the project plan starts with team involvement in development of the project plan.

Too often the project plan is handed down from on high without sufficient involvement by the team. This results in a weak plan and lack of plan ownership/commitment by the team.

@ Brad - thanks for your comments! In my very early days of project management, I used to run projects like that. Taking the word from "on high" and just dishing it out for the team to do. But with the help of my team members, I came to realize while that is one way to do work, the better way is to sit and talk with your team.

@ Luis - thanks for your comments! A team follows the grand vision of the person giving out the promotions, but that person is very rarely also the project manager, or the person doing the actual work. If a team wants to follow the person who is giving promotions, I recommend they best get on board with the person who can manage the projects of that promotion giver successfully and make everyone look good! I can guarantee the person who is giving promotions isn't giving them to team members who aren't getting work and projects done.

Neil P. Posnansky, PMP
I like the statement, "Real power does come from giving and earning personal commitment." That statement is a key element to anyone aspiring to become a leader.

Shay Williams
It's about building relationships with the team members. I agree it's important to include team members in the planning process. This provides all members an opportunity to express their expectations and concerns.

This is also a time when you as the Project Manager begin to build the relationships that is needed to complete the project on time and under budget!

Brent Senette
What a great article, Taralyn!

The traits you outline in your article are some of the leadership traits that successful Project Managers possess. I believe some people are born to lead, others learn to lead the hard way as they progress along their career paths, and, unfortunately, some never do get it.

Project Managers/leaders have to be good communicators and that means they can get their message across clearly and concisely in words and/or print, but maybe more importantly, that means they are good listeners, too.

The Project Manager who comes into a project "barking orders or threatening teams into obedience" is, sadly, doomed to failure. The Project Manager/leader who engages the team from the outset on the project, soliciting their input in developing the Project Charter and engaging them through project close out, is going to benefit from the cumulative knowledge base of the team, get their "buy in" to the project, and starts building his her account in Bank Of Team Trust. : > )

Project Managers/leaders take responsibility for their project and that speaks, I think, to the commitment referenced in the article. I like the quote I've seen in a couple of Neal Whitten courses and books on Project Management and it goes like this: "If it is to be, it is up to me." I think this sums up the responsibility that the Project Manager/leader commits to the project and to the team members.

Team members who see Project Managers/leaders taking responsibility and who care ("People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care") are going to follow those individuals irrespective of where they are in the organization chart.

The Project Manager/leader is the one who sets clear expectations for the team and provides positive reinforcement and thanks to team members when expectations are exceeded while coaching/mentoring those team members who don't meet those expectations and holding them accountable for their commitments to the project and to their teammates.

Accountability is huge on a project (and in life) and good Project Managers/leaders deal with the conflict arising out of failure to meet expectations professionally, honestly, directl, and tactfully. That aspect of being a leader is many times very gratifying when positive results are derived out of coaching/mentoring opportunities, but at times these experiences can be uncomfortable, too.

If you are a Project Manager/leader on your project who communicates well, who takes responsibility & is committed to the project and the team, who sets clear expectations & thanks people for exceeding expectations ("Catch them doing something right" is the old Zig Ziglar saying that encourages all of us to look for opportunities to positively reinforce our team members and not to "hammer" them for doing something wrong.), and who deals responsibly with the inevitable conflict that arises in any work environment (and, frankly, in any aspect of life) then you will build the relationships of trust with your team members that are the foundation of any successful team endeavor.

You are most definitely on target, Taralyn, when you say that just because one doesn't have a fancy title or a place high up in the organization chart that they can still get a team to follow them.

Good Project Managers / leaders do this all the time!!

Liza Wood
Great post! You are absolutely right.

With or without authority, real power does come from giving and earning personal commitment. Achieving that personal commitment is also extremely motivating, both for the leader and for the team. It's worth aligning on that with the person handing out promotions. Then it won't be a competition.

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