Have you ever started a contract tasked with overseeing a project and leading some of the client’s employees, only to have no authority whatsoever over those people? It’s a common scenario for IT contractors, especially Project Managers. You’re accountable for a project and are required to motivate individuals to complete tasks on time and to specific standards, but have no official pull over them.
Leading without authority is no simple task, but there are strategies to master it. Here are five tips to consider next time you’re stuck managing a team in the capacity of an independent contractor:
1. Accept That You’re Not the Boss
You must come to terms with the fact that, no matter how much it feels like it, you are not the boss. You have no official authority and cannot dole out consequences, so don’t act like a tough manager. Instead, you’re a leader. Provide logical reasons for why tasks need to be done a certain way and explain the natural consequences of what will happen if they’re not (ex. the project will fall behind). The team does not need a micromanager dictating how to do every little thing, but rather an expert who understands the situation and can clearly communicate the objectives and outcomes.
2. Communicate Regularly
Speaking of communication, that is the next key to leading with no authority. Communication is a two-way system and it needs to happen regularly and positively. While you may lead the conversation, ensure that you are not completely driving it and others have a chance to speak. This is how you can ensure the team is all on the same page and following the same goals. You can work together to set expectations and make agreements on when/how work will be completed. When these are created as a team, they are more likely to be adhered to.
3. Lead by Example
Actions speak louder than words and if you want people to follow and listen to you, you need them to trust you. It’s important to take action and show that you’re as committed to the project as they are and working just as hard. On top of that, offer to help your team when they’re backed up or going through a crisis.
4. Be Humble
Your extensive credentials and massive amount of experience compared to other members on the team is irrelevant… at least to them. While it is alright (and necessary) to demonstrate your qualifications, there is no reason to regularly remind people. It’s important to publicly thank people, give credit where credit is due and, most importantly, recognize when people are smarter than you.
5. Get Ahead of the Negative People
Regardless of how much you follow tips 1-4, you are going to end up here at #5, dealing with the negative person who resents you and refuses to respect your position and your efforts. The good news is, if the person is openly resisting you, it’s often a sign that they care about the project. Embrace this individual’s passion but don’t let them waste your time. If somebody has no desire to work with you, do the minimum you need to with them, and work closer with those who are willing to work as a team. When you meet with your client, you can discuss the performance of the employee and develop a way to better engage them.
Leading is not an easy task in any role, and when you have no authority, it is a completely different challenge. As an independent contractor, you must remember that employees have invested themselves into the organization and the project. They are passionate and want to know it is going to work. When you display that you want to work with them, towards the same common goal, leading starts to get much easier.