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.

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