Managing Without Authority: Becoming a Manager without the Manager Title

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It’s a workplace scenario that you may have experienced. Your boss, who’s constantly overwhelmed by work, asks you to assume direct supervision of an ad hoc team to tackle an urgent and unexpected need.

Even though you’re not a manager by title, or even experience, you’re suddenly thrust into this new de facto role, fraught with uncertainty and insecurity. Lacking formal authority, you must act as the manager. How do you earn the respect of your new “subordinates,” and how do you mold them into a team that’s willing to work for you and achieve results? You feel as if you are tip-toeing through a mine field.

Managing without authority is a tricky proposition – and it’s one that’s all the more common as COVID-affected workplaces thrust people into new or modified roles. You can benefit from preparing yourself for this challenge.

Think of it as an opportunity to shine and to add an accomplishment to your resume that can help you move up in your career when the time is right. With that in mind, here are a few key points to consider when assuming authority without the formal title to back it up.

It Comes Down to Developing your Sources of Authority. Here’s How.

You may not have the title, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t draw upon other resources at your command to inspire coworkers to follow your lead. Here are a few things to consider:

Your Expertise

Knowledge and skill always command respect, so leverage your expertise to convince others that you know what you’re doing. Colleagues will see you as both an authority and a resource, someone whose guidance and recommendations are worth following.

Build Relationships through Emotional Intelligence

Effective leaders understand that positive relationships with colleagues are essential to winning their loyalty and willingness to work. Such relationships are built on trust, honesty, respect, and a powerful soft skill called “emotional intelligence.” As marketing specialist, Kelsey Miller, wrote in The Harvard Business School Online:

“Emotional intelligence refers to your ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as recognize the emotions of those around you. Taking the time to truly get to know the people you work with can mean the difference between a potential ally who wants to help you succeed and someone who is indifferent to your success or failure.”

Keep this in mind when you gather together your team members for the first time.

Understand your Corporate and Organizational Structure

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To accomplish tasks, most companies have clearly defined processes and structures in place. If you’re the person who knows how to get things done by working through these processes correctly, and successfully, your coworkers will respect your ability and want to be associated with you. The more you understand how your company or business operates, the more effective you’ll be in a managerial role. Therefore, take every opportunity you can to sit in on planning meetings, talk with management, and read in-house documentation to build your knowledge base in this area.

Project the Right Attitude, Do the Right Thing

Your tone of voice, your choice of words, and your willingness to acknowledge difficult situations and work towards solutions are compelling indicators of your ability as a leader. Influence your team members by being honest and straightforward with them at all times. Be prepared and organized at meetings; don’t waste anyone’s time. (When the supposed leader seems lost, who’s going to want to follow?) Communicate information with urgency but not stress.

Keep Communication Lines Open

Communication, or the lack thereof, is one of the most important factors affecting the success or failure of any project or business relationship. Maintain an “open door” policy so your team members feel free to meet with you. Encourage a frank, judgment-free environment where people can speak their minds about work-related topics without fear of ridicule or rebuff. Have the discretion to discuss sensitive issues with the relevant parties in private.

Clearly Define Goals

As a manager it’s your responsibility to delegate tasks, and those tasks must come with clearly defined goals. So be clear and decisive. Also, be sure to acknowledge team members’ efforts. Nothing is more demoralizing that spending hours or days on a work assignment only to have it vanish into a black hole with no acknowledgement of the effort it required.

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Always sincerely thank team participants when they deliver the goods.

Motivate Through Proper Task Assignment

To be an effective leader, you must understand respective strength and weaknesses and plan accordingly. Studies indicate that performance-related problems generally fall into two categories: those caused by a lack of worker motivation and those caused by a lack of necessary resources. Motivation arises when people embrace the importance of what they’re asked to do and they feel qualified to do it correctly. Motive your team by assigning tasks suited for each individual.

Be Flexible

Accept that nothing is written in stone and that workplace conditions can change rapidly. If you have a challenge that keeps showing up, consider the possibility that you may be part of the problem. Maintaining the status quo could sustain the problem or even make it worse. Therefore, you must be flexible in the way you lead. Find out what works for your team even if you have to markedly change the way you do things.

When Nothing Works

Sometimes, even these tactics and your best intentions won’t be enough to convince others to follow your lead. It may become necessary to ask your boss to step in and make it clear to everyone involved that you've been tasked with leading the project and that they should support you to the best of their ability.

Become the Leader You Want to Be

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The experience of managing without authority adds significant value to your resume as it establishes you as a solid candidate for managerial positions. HR staffers and recruiters are always on the lookout for strong potential leaders, and your experience in this way demonstrates that you deserve consideration.

Remember that leadership is a skill coveted by companies. When you get the chance to demonstrate your leadership skills successfully, especially in situations where you’re managing without authority, you’ll find pathways opening up that you may not have envisioned. That’s a tantalizing proposition for any career-minded person.

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If you’re strugglingto find your leadership skills within, we can help. Contact us to discuss your leadership skills and how you can show them off to potential employers. Helping you advance in your career is what we do.

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