My first experience with management responsibilities was as an account manager for the consulting company where I was working. For my group of consultants this meant making sure their timesheets were in on time and compiling their annual review documents. In the grand scheme of management it was pretty low level. What was interesting, though, was the way some people treated me when they found out I was their manager. It was as if that tiny step gave me control of their entire career. I, on the other hand, pictured it as simply a means for the company to handle basic logistics that upper management didn’t have time to do.
Looking back I realize that the reality of the role encompassed both ends of the spectrum. It was a necessary, tedious part of management that someone had to pick up, but by contributing to someone’s annual review and permanent record it also impacted their career, too. I had Authority.
So, what do we mean by authority? A Webster definition of authority is “the right and power to command and be obeyed or to do something.” I like this definition because it covers both pieces. The right to do something without the power to get it done is futile. The power to do it without the right leads to tyranny.
The Project Management Institute defines authority as “the right to apply project resources, expend funds, make decisions, or give approvals.” This is a little too restrictive for the subject at hand.
A better definition is “the responsibility to manage resources (people, products and funds) to the full extent of your influence.” The use of the work responsibility implies an expectation to treat your resources properly. Substituting influence for the term power more accurately reflects reality as a project manager. Power implies force. Influence covers more options.
There are four main types of authority: Positional, Referent, Reward/Penalty and Expert. Over the next several entries we will look at each of these authority levels and then discuss how they work in both Matrix and Projectized organizations. I’ll even define Matrix and Projectized, too.
One key point to remember is that the purpose of authority is to accomplish the goals of a project or an organization. The purpose of authority is not to make you look important, control others or for self gain. There are numerous examples of authority being used to take advantage of others including hostile contract negotiations and sexual harassment. For each authority levels we will examine ways it should be used appropriately, how it can be abused and the types of challenges you are likely to face from others.
Thomas Cutting, PMP is the owner of Cutting’s Edge (http://www.cuttingsedge.com/) and is a speaker, writer, trainer and mentor. He offers nearly random Project Management insights from a very diverse background that covers entertainment, retail, insurance, banking, healthcare and automotive verticals. He delivers real world, practical lessons learned with a twist of humor. Thomas has spoken at PMI and PSQT Conferences and is a regular contributor to several Project Management sites. He has a blog at (http://cuttingsedgepm.blogspot.com).