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.
- Authority lost in one area can be offset by strengthening a different type. The balance is constantly changing.
- 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.