Sunday, January 27, 2008

January 28, 2008 – Practical Authority

Over the last several weeks we have been looking at Authority: how to gain it from scratch and how to get it back when you loose it. Once you get it, though, how do you use it effectively? With the four types of Authority (Positional, Referent, Reward/Penalty, Expert) as the basis, lets look at some practical suggestions.

Positional. Having your name on the org chart above mine doesn’t mean you are the boss of me. Actually, positional authority works best when you don’t mention it by name. You just need to act it out. Create a picture in your mind of how someone in your position should act and live up to it. Be a leader. Direct your meetings by preparing agendas and keeping people on them. Ask the right questions. Don’t be domineering, demeaning, stuck up or snobby.

You can also use the positional authority of others. A great example of this is in emails. If you can say, "The CEO would like to know..." you are likely to get a faster response than "Can you tell me...." You are no longer asking for it, He-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed is.

Referent. The idea of Referent Authority is to get people to say, "I want to work with that project manager because he is so !" Different attributes attract different people. Some like to work for a hard nosed, no nonsense individual because she can cut through the red tape. Others prefer the process oriented manager because there are no surprises. People evaluate their managers based on what the manager can do for them. Work on the traits you want to be known for.

Reward/Penalty. Recognition is always welcome. If you have a team member that is putting in long hours, acknowledge it. Tell her you appreciate the extra effort she is giving. Make it tangible, too. Small things like movie tickets or Starbucks cards can go a long way toward boosting the moral of the individual or team.

When you have to take disciplinary actions, make sure it is factual, specific and directed. Meet with whoever you need to and get the facts correct before proceeding. When you take action you don’t want to be arguing about what happened. Be specific in what they did wrong and also in what they need to do going forward. For anything short of termination, the direction of the discipline should always be toward making the individual a committed member of the team again.

Expert. Your expertise should always be given freely, but that doesn’t mean you should give it for nothing. Offer it in exchange for other resources you might need ("If I help you with your schedule, can you...?"). At the very least it can help your Referent Authority so they’ll say, "I want to work with that project manager because he really knows his stuff!").

In the end authority is about what you do with it, not how much you can get. Use it wisely.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

January 21, 2008 – Grabbing Authority – Regaining Lost Ground

Authority is slippery. The more you try to grab it and hold on, the quicker it slips away. As a consultant I learned that positions are temporary and titles are only names. You can reach for the next rung on the ladder as high as you want but in the end you need to have a light grip and your eyes open. One project officer I worked with failed to recognize the signs when he lost his authority. In his case he failed to realize that his sponsor was no longer backing him. Attempting to hold a firm stance on an issue, he stepped on the wrong toes. He was relying on his title (Positional Authority) and his manager. It wasn’t enough to keep his job.

If you find your authority is being eroded, stop and determine where the weakness is. Which type of authority is slipping away? Any change in management can shake up the Positional Authority charts. You can ruin years of Referent Authority with one or two bad character choices. Arguments with your team, having to implement unpopular policies or handing out discipline can sour their perception of you. Over use or misuse of Reward / Penalty practices can weaken their effectiveness. A challenge to or failure of your expertise may impact your standing as well. What has changed to take a bite out of your authority?

Positional Plunge. When your personal Positional Authority takes a hit, fall back on the position and importance of your project(s). Revisit its purpose and Return on Investment. Check with the key stakeholders to ensure that you can get the resources you need, not based on the org chart, but on the needs for the project.

Another solution is to look for new upper management friends. For the project, aim for a higher sponsor if he is too low on the totem pole. Have your Director take it to a Vice President. For yourself, verify management support of you abilities and direction. Finding your position on the company job postings may be a bad indications.

Referent Recession. First, if you are being a jerk, stop it. Check with a trusted co-worker to see if something you are doing is causing the problem and take corrective action. If you need to apologize to your team or an individual, do it.

Second, instead of running a dictatorship, move toward a more Participative Management style. Ask for input from the team and draw them into the discussion. Explain more of the thought process behind your decisions and listen to their suggestions.

Carrot and Stick Stymied. Revisit your Reward / Penalty system. Not taking care of disruptive individuals can undermine your authority. Rewarding too often or for the wrong reasons can lead to as many problems as not rewarding at all.

Credibility Tanked. Have you lost your Expert ranking? This can happen if your project is failing or you fall behind in the technology race. On the project front, analyze where the problems are and develop a plan to get back on track. Presenting to management the issues and your corrective plan shows real initiative. Then follow through.

Technology will continue to change. If your area of expertise is in recession, move your expertise to the management side. Make sure your team has the technical resources it needs to be successful. You’ll pick up the new concepts as you go but as a project manager you don’t need to be the expert.

Two last points.

  1. Authority lost in one area can be offset by strengthening a different type. The balance is constantly changing.
  2. Sometimes you will not be able to regain your authority where you are. You may need to switch departments or even companies to start you climb back up.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

January 14, 2008 – Grabbing Authority – Building from Scratch

Responsibility without authority is useless. Just because you are given a job to accomplish doesn’t mean everyone is going to fall in line behind your leadership. Whether you are a brand new project manager or starting over in a new place, there are steps you can take to build you authority.

The last entry discussed the different types of authority: Positional, Referent, Reward/Penalty and Expert. If you consider your interactions with the project stakeholders based on these four you can alter their perception of you.

Before starting, determine the authority you already possess. If you are have been declared project manager by upper management (in person or through the Charter) you have a certain amount of Positional Authority. Were you a Team Lead or Subject Matter Expert within the technical group? That could carry over as Expert Authority. Anyone with a high level of charisma can use their Referent Authority. Take stock of what you have because it forms the foundation to build on.

Positional Authority. There are several areas you can use to build the Positional Authority available to you.

First is your personal Positional Authority through your title and the org chart. Being raised from a Team Lead to Project Manager increases people’s expectations of you. If you don’t currently hold the title, ask what it will take to move up. Remember, Positional Authority is still the weakest form and doesn’t come with guarantied respect. A Team Lead no one likes will become a despised Project Manager.

Second, consider your project’s position in the organization. Identifying and communicating the need for your project will position it (and you) better to obtain the resources and attention it needs.

Finally, your sponsor and key stakeholders can add significantly to your Positional Authority. Selling the need for your project up the org chart opens possibilities. If it becomes the pet project of the CEO you have gained strong backing.

Reward/Penalty Authority. Reward/Penalty Authority is a great way to get your team’s attention. Finding and rewarding good performance encourages similar behavior from the rest of the team. On the flip side, letting the team know that poor performance will be penalized is important, too. Even if you aren’t authorized to terminate an employee, contributing to their annual review with specific poor performance issues can have a big impact. The best way to build your Reward/Penalty Authority is to use it wisely and fairly.

Referent Authority. Character matters. Different individuals are inspired by or attracted to different personalities. Think about the types of managers you long to work for and then emulate them. Reward/Penalty Authority can be used to demonstrate characteristics like fairness, respect for individuals, appreciation and other personality traits that would draw your team to you. Initiate an "open door" policy to listen to and act on your team’s ideas and complaints.

Expert Authority. Being an expert technically does not always translate well to the management realm. The first area of expertise to build on is the project. Quickly establish a solid understanding of the project’s objectives, status, finances and issues. Not being able to talk to these topics kills your credibility. Second, develop a working knowledge of the business you are working in. Being able to talk with your key stakeholders in their own terms builds trust in your abilities.

When starting from scratch it can seem an impossible task to build your authority, but these simple suggestions can get you off on the right foot.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

January 7, 2008 – Grabbing Authority - Introduction

Authority is weird. You can be granted it and have it stripped from you. You can wield it like a club or wear it like a mantle. You can build on it or let it slip away. Typically the fact that a Project Manager is assigned to a project gives her some level of authority. Unfortunately the authority granted by the Charter (assuming you got it approved) doesn’t stretch very far when all the other Project Managers have Charters that say the same thing. This series will explore the four different types of authority, how to build authority from scratch and what to do if you loose your authority.

There are four types of authority: Positional, Referent, Reward/Penalty and Expert. Throughout your career you have gained, lost and used each of them without even thinking about it. Taking the time to consider each one will help you recognize them and choose the appropriate one for a given situation.

Positional Authority is based on your location in the organizational chart. It is the easiest to get and the weakest to use. I picture my junior high school math teacher standing in front of the class in tears and screaming. Some of my classmates were idiots. She had been granted positional authority of the class but after the first day it was obvious she had no control.

Referent Authority relies on you personality, the way you look and how you act. People are drawn to certain personalities. If you are a fun person to be around, people are going to be drawn to you. Attract the right people and you’ll have a great team. An honest, hard working, fair and equitable Project Manager will draw a team that will want to perform likewise. It will take time to build up your project management reputation but it can prove to be one of the stronger types of authority.

Reward/Penalty Authority is the type that most people think of when they considering authority. They say, "If I were manager I would..." and the result is either punishment for the wicked or rewards for themselves. This can be a powerful tool if used correctly but can easily be abused or become a trap for the Project Manager.

Expert Authority is achieved when you are seen as the go-to person for Project Management. People want to be on your team because you really know your stuff. They see you as successful and want to be a part of it.

In the next couple of entries we’ll look at ways to build your authority from scratch or regain it when lost. We’ll look at practical steps to take and think them through in terms of these four authority types.

Note: See my prior series entitled Authorized to Manage for more on the different types of authority.

January 6, 2008 – Same Old Same Old?

I know. I’m a little late on the "welcome to the new year" thing. But as I sat down to write my blog tonight it struck me that we have a full new year in front of us. I’m not one to create huge goals or make great predictions, but think of the possibilities. If you have been waiting to get certified, this may be the year to do it. Sick of your old job? Find a new one. Stuck in a rut? Climb out.

Two thoughts to begin the year with:

1. Is this the type of _____ you want to be known as? Fill in the blank. Project Manager? Husband? Friend? Person? What is it that people know you as, or you feel like, that you no longer want to be. Tired of being the quiet one? Late one? The one that doesn’t have the monthly reports in on time? If people think they have you pegged, prove them wrong.

2. _____ is important enough for me to _____. Is there anything important enough to you that you will change your behavior? Decide what it is you want to make significant in your life and then do something about it. Many people live their life day to day without changing anything. Maybe it is your dignity. Would you say, "My dignity is important enough for me to walk out of a meeting the next time my director chooses to degrade me"? Or "My future is important enough to me to get certified"?

Go take on the year.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

January 2, 2008 - Back from vacation...

Hope everyone had a safe and happy New Year.

We took a trip to the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and Las Vegas over New Years Eve weekend with my parents. The Grand Canyon was by far the best of the three.

The great part about the trip was having my parents with us. It reminded me of all the trips we took growing up.

Those trips were the basis for my December 3 Computerworld article. Check it out at Don't Make Me Pull Over!

I'll be back on schedule next week.