As a project manager now, and as in IT manager at various levels of organizations in my past, I frequently find myself in a position where I have responsibility but little to no authority. I have no direct reports and I write no annual reviews.

Now I have learned over the years how to work with people to achieve a common goal, and more often than not help inspire and motivate (not the same thing, btw) people to focus on the tasks at hand. But it is in many ways more of a challenge than the usual "manager/direct" relationship.

I once bought a book with the same title as this thread ("Influence Without Authority") as I wanted to see what the author said. I know that over the 10 years or so since I bought the book, I have read it twice. The only thing I can remember is the title, which I was very interested in. The author's name escapes me as does anything that was in the book. Clearly, the book itself didn't give me what I was hoping for.

I see practical uses of feedback, one-on-ones and coaching in this "IWA" style of relationships. But I know from my past experiences that subtle variations need to be made to make them effective on those that do not report to you.

I would love to hear Mark and Mike do a cast (or two) on how to adapt these tools to the "IWA" relationship. Perhaps then I would get SOMETHING out of that title that was useful to me, or at least helped me to clarify my thoughts and generate new ideas on how I could improve myself.

And I would love to hear from anyone else as well. Chime on in!

vxl119's picture

I'm in the same boat. I am not a manager, but I am a "lead" on an important part of our engineering project. The coworkers are supposed to be spending about 50% of their time on this part of the project.

I am supposed to make sure people get their work done without having any managerial authority myself. As I see it, my only official authority comes from the possibility that I will report my coworkers' inaction back to the boss.

I find my "lead" position extremely challenging. I'm forced to increasingly use my relationship power, especially with coworkers who outrank me in age and company seniority. Some people do not trust my authority and need to "run everything by the boss", even if I put my stamp of approval on a decision. Sometimes they go around me and come directly to the boss. The list can go on...

It would be extremelly helpful to have a Manager Tools system to deal with such assignments.


pneuhardt's picture

I suppose there will always be those who look at "rank" in most organizations. Perhaps I'm blessed in that I am currently in a more "results" oriented environment. Certainly every one is aware of the corporate food chain, but we are more likely to be able to work together for the end result.

However, we have the same "people" issues that any organization or project has. We have high performers and low performers. We have those that require constant adjusting feedback, and those that seem to get a lot more affirming feedback.

But it's harder to have a series of one-on-ones with people that aren't your direct reports, no matter where they relate to you on the org chart. And yes, it's that much harder when you are a project manager in the PMO and are trying to deal with a VP 3 or more steps up the corporate ladder from you.

Instinctively I know that feedback and an adjusted form of one on ones are effective in this form relationship. But I think we can all see the immediate differences in using these techniques on your direct reports and on someone that you don't influence through the natural consequence of being the person to write someone's review. Also, I have had mixed success in "coaching up" on things such as project management techniques to those one or even two or three levels "up" from me. Most senior managers will respect your position and your talents and techniques, so long as you are effective with them. But there are those that "know better" simply because they have more figures on their paycheck than you do.

I've done things like this on a hit or miss basis for years. I have the feeling that there are people smarter than I that could give some verbal life to real techniques that can be tried in a more ordered way than I have been practicing. I've been making it up as I go along.

itilimp's picture
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I'd like to see a podcast with practical advice on this topic. As you've found, as project manager sometimes you need to make decisions that the project board have supposedly empowered you to make but members of the project team or other stakeholders don't accept this and constantly go around you to verify things before acting. It can be very demoralising.

If someone can answer how you get results without (or with but not accepted) delegated authority I'd be very interested in the answer.

I've got a large project coming up (assuming it gets the go ahead) and I can foresee a lot of issues in this area if it isn't resolved at the outset.

badman's picture

I'm just fifthing or sixing the motion for this to be a MT podcast topic. As a product manager, I even have a memo from my direct supervisor saying that my role accepts the mjaority of the responsiblity for a product from concept to distribution, but none of the authority to make it happen.

I guess it's just a challenge, but it would be interesting to get the MT take on it.

vxl119's picture

So... until we get a "managing without authority" podcast, I'd like to share my experiences and thoughts.

I am an engineering "lead" on a part of a project. My assignment is to coordinate work with my coworkers and make sure they get it done.

[b]Issue #1: People don't do the work I assign them to do.[/b]
I believe this issue stems from my co-workers' priorities. They would rather do work that makes themselves look good instead of work that makes me look good. Hence, my assignments often get put on the "bottom of their pile." The co-workers who do get the work done are the "high D's" and the ones with whom I share good relationships.

My solution to this problem has been to allign my message with my boss's message. I discuss my part of the project with the boss. Then, he issues the "goals for the week" during the weekly meeting. For example, he tells the team to spend X% of their time on my work, or to make my work their #1 or #2 priority for the week.

[b]Issue #2: People question my authority and go around me to the boss.[/b]
This problem happens with co-workers of similar seniority to mine. Younger co-workers don't question my decisions due to my knowledge power. Older co-workers don't question my decisions due to my delegated power. The troublesome ones either take issues directly to the boss, or take issues to the boss even after I told them how to procede. Our boss is a "high I" and a new manager, so that's not helping either.

I haven't solved this issue. Lately I've been trying to be more proactive in finding issues and making recommendations. I believe my stream of verbal and e-mail recommendations has gained me some knowledge power points.

Please share your experiences in this area or reflect on mine.

pneuhardt's picture

1. People don't do the work I assign them to do

I think you are spot-on with the strategy of aligning your goals with the boss' goals. In my case, I'm a project manager with no direct reports or even direct peers on the projects, so I'm having to do this with multiple bosses.

One trick I've found handy is to align my message with the Project Sponsor, usually a senior executive. This grants me the "influence" of speaking with his or her voice even though I do not have the real authority.

Beyond that, it comes down to my ability to establish good relationships with those on the project. If I can do that, things usually get done for me at least as well as they do for anyone else that person is working on tasks for. If that doesn't happen, then it's time to go give feedback to that person and to that person's boss so that they too can give feedback if they feel it is necessary.

2. People quesiton my authority and go around me to my boss.

Well, we have already established you don't have any authority (at least in their eyes), so I think they are questioning your role more than your authority.

I would hesitate to use the word "power" to describe what is or is not respected. I think it's more a matter of getting people involved with the mission. It sounds to me more as if they are really questioning the importance of the work you represent, to themselves as well as to the organization. That goes back to the support you are getting from your manager.

You need to give him some feedback to him on that one. "Hey, when you don't remind folks that I have the responsibility to get this work assigned and done, then you embarass me in front of my peers by undercutting the value of what I'm doing, and you also undermine the quality of the results because they are spending time in here talking to you instead of doing the work that we all need done."

bapeters's picture

I've found it useful to get the authority figures in the client unit and your servicing unit together to negotiate a written "service level agreement" or "mutual charter agreement." We create a written document that details the goals, tasks, and conduct of the relationship. Then, when you get push-back from someone in the client unit, you can refer to the agreement her boss executed to back-up your position.

This is just one tool, but it has helped.

GlennR's picture

I've just moved into a new position where I must implement CRM in an organization which is still emerging from a merger. I have one direct report. My job descriptions tells me that I will work with people both above and below my pay grade.

BLUF: If you don't have a department; build a network.

What follows is a thumbnail of my strategy. I don't know yet if it will work. Basically my dept. consists of me, my direct report, and my laptop. We are going to treat other departments as customers. Because it's CRM, I must practice what I preach and build relationships with people at all levels. So, rather than build a department, I am going to build a network. I will endeavor to add value to my customers. I will focus on their needs and how I can exceed them. I will do favors and ask for little in return because my goal is to create a first class CRM philosophy that will help my organization accomplish its goals sooner, faster, cheaper, more effectively. That will be my reward. My data will include knowledge gleaned from these podcasts as I do everything from shake hands the right way, to using DISC, to sending e-mails with the BLUF. (I echoed Mark today about not sending e-mails that had a vertical scroll bar.) My mantra: I will be people-focused; mission-driven; outcome-based.

I can do this because I'm a High S. If I can't win you over to my way of thinking, I'll run you over because I'm also a strong D. (JUST KIDDING! :) )