A Question Of Authority

It’s amazing what we don’t discuss.  Most of us want the authority to make decisions, hire who we want or make choices that impact our projects.  But we rarely ask if we have been given that power.

Imagine we charge into something with the belief that we have all the authority to approve things.  Conversely, we might go into a project with the idea that the boss or committee is going to want to approve every step.

Either way, we’re often caught out, when we discover the other people involved have a different idea because it wasn’t discussed.

If you’re charging forward making decisions, you may bump up against an agitated person who’s adamant they should have been consulted.

If you are checking at each step, people may doubt your ability to lead the work and then your reputation gets dented.

Taking the time to think about what authority you are asking for, or granting, can save a lot of headaches later.

So how do you discuss authority?
Here’s an easy way to think about authority and what you are offering when you delegate to someone.

4 Levels of authority
1.  Bring me your recommendations and I’ll decide
2.  You decide, talk me through it, then act on it
3.  You decide, act on it, then let me know what you’ve done
4.  You decide, act on it, let me know if there is a problem

With each step you are giving the person more authority.  In the 4th you are offering them full authority to make their own decisions, but your support is there should they have an issue.

How this plays out in real life
If you’re a senior manager, you probably assume you’ve got the third or fourth option in the levels above.  Take time to clarify this with your boss as you get started on a project.

By discussing it, they may leave you with more autonomy on your project, because they’re clear that you are running with things and they can take a back seat.  If they do act annoyed later, you’ve got the strength of your conviction because you discussed the decision-making early on.

If you’re in a more junior role, you may think you’ve only got the first level of authority.  This means you’ll spend a fair amount of time checking each step with your manager, because you think it’s expected.   Your boss may see this as a lack of confidence, uncertainty about your abilities or a hesitation to make decisions.  That’s not going to help either of you.

Take a deep breath and ask them what they would expect you to handle yourself and what they’d like to be consulted on. Then you’ll know what’s in their head.

If you do get stuck on a decision, feel free to check in with your boss. But if you are feeling in charge and in control of your project, it will do wonders for your sense of achievement to have done it on your own.

Getting more authority
Be conscious, when you take on a project or assignment that you may have different expectations about communication.  Ask what they would like in the way of approvals and discussions.

If you want more authority, explain your thinking.

Tell them you’d find it motivating to manage the stakeholders or be responsible for the outcome, dealing with the decisions along the way.

Help them understand what they’ll gain, i.e.: we’ll be able to move more quickly on the project and you won’t have to be available for all the meetings.

If you are the one doing the delegating – put the other person in the know.  If you want them to make the decisions themselves, get a temperature check for how comfortable or excited they are about that option.

If they’re nervous, leave them with that authority but offer your support if they want to talk about it before they make their decision.

Authority is a simple undercurrent that runs through much of what we do.  It is the invisible wire we trip over.  Talking about it lets you see where the hurdles may pop up, so you get a clear run.

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