Personal Power

Managing Without Direct Authority? Strong Project Professionals Know How to Maximize Their Influence



Managing without direct authority? Strong project professionals know how to maximize their influence.

By Javier Augusto González, PMP

It's the first day in your new project management job. You're full of hope and anticipation, but you're also woefully short on institutional knowledge and control over the organization's procedures. For your first project, you're handed a collaborative initiative that heavily involves external entities. You're not in a position of direct authority over your project team, and—worse yet—your influence is limited because no one knows you yet. What now?

Don't give up or assume you face an insurmountable challenge. Though it can be tough to lead a new and sprawling team from a position of limited official authority, success is certainly possible. Here are tips that can help you quickly adapt to a new scenario.


If you aren't the supervisor of your project team members, micromanagement will be impossible. If you attempt it anyway, your team may bristle—perhaps losing its motivation and even responsiveness. Instead, forget about the way in which a task is completed, and focus on how the task will contribute to the project objectives. Don't only focus your own attention there; make sure to underscore with individual team members how their specific tasks will drive project success. And do not be afraid to be repetitive with the most important aspects, so their importance remains top of mind. Also remember that leading by example is more effective than micromanagement—if you're giving and enthusiastic, your team will naturally follow suit.


Behind every project are people. And people always have personal objectives, preferences and motivations. It can be tempting to want to hit the ground running at the start of a new project, but investing even a small amount of time in team-building and cohesion will pay off handsomely once the project is underway.

Take time to talk with your new team and understand their individual and group preferences: Sometimes inexpensive and easy-to-implement actions (such as scheduling meetings to allow a team member to pick up their children from school) create important gains. And recognizing that a certain meeting time is preferred or people are more comfortable with one type of collaboration tool over another, for instance, can save you endless frustration in the long run.

Understanding your team is the only way to effectively communicate, motivate and involve them. Especially because you are new to the organization and your team, you need to be empathetic and giving in order to drive the project toward completion.


Once you understand your team members, you should consider how the project's objectives can help further their personal objectives. Think about the team member who is seeking higher visibility in the organization: Why not let them present the most recent project achievements? Or consider the colleague who wants to become a machine learning expert, and assign them the most challenging relevant task in the project. There is always room in a project to find these quick gains, and your team will be much more engaged with the project as a result.


After going through the previous steps, you will have a clear picture of the people on your team. Though the team may be largely unknown to you, you'll still have gathered quick impressions and insights over the first few days of working together. Think about the key people whom you trust the most. Are there others you wish were not on the project? Then think about what you can do to create more “trusted” colleagues and reduce the number of “out-of-the-project” people. Finally, define who will fill the major roles on the project.


Once you begin to trust your team, you have to give them space to make their own decisions—it is the only way to unleash their potential. Some people assume giving team members autonomy means being completely hands-off, but there's actually a lot involved in properly coaching from the sidelines. If a team member is acting in a way that you want others to emulate, let everyone know it. Recognize and celebrate your team members when they make good decisions, make it clear you're available for questions and assistance when they hit a wall, and support them when they make errors. Once the team members know you're available and invested—for both the project's highs and lows—they'll feel more empowered to perform their best work. At the same time, you need to draw clear lines for what behavior you won't tolerate—and follow up if it happens anyway.

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These tips can help you lead a project in environments where you do not have direct power. In fact, these actions will help you to speed up the process of creating personal power inside the organization, boosting this project and all the ones that follow it. PM

img Javier Augusto González, PMP, is a project manager at Televes, Santiago de Compostela, Spain.



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