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Establishing Your Project Management Authority

Role of the Project Manager | By Harry Mingail | Read time minutes

Friendly successful project team of young executives

It's been a tough climb to your project management position. How do you establish your authority and inspire respect? What must be done to influence project results and growth and make your stay long and productive?

The Predecessor

To begin the style of your predecessor determines how comfortably you settle in. The greatest challenge falls on the shoulders of a company insider who succeeds a strong predecessor. In this case, imitation by the new manager will seem inadequate, at worst foolish. An outsider who follows such a leader has slightly greater chances at being successful.

The insider of a weak predecessor should immediately try to win over the supporters of the old regime. The outsider who takes over from such a manager has more favourable chances to start afresh and win a loyal following.

The Honeymoon

With any management inauguration, a honeymoon period exists. During this time the incumbent is virtually exempt from criticism. For this reason, the new manager should use this time to establish authority and perhaps introduce changes.

To emerge in a positive light once the honeymoon concludes, the manager should secure an understanding of the organisation's finances. Finding and gaining control of the group's purse strings should be a priority.

The Chart

Organisational charts depict positions together with authority and responsibility. These charts should be scrutinised to calculate the proper types and levels of contact. For example, if the company structure renders the manager to be a mere figurehead, negligible authority exists.

Subordinate Types

In most organisations, subordinates can be divided into four groups: personal assistants, staff, subordinate managers and the rank and file. The larger the organisation the more layers exist.

  1. Personal Assistants: These individuals must remain under the direct and exclusive control of the manager. They must also be restrained to ensure that they do not wield authority over staff and subordinate managers.
  2. Headquarters Staff: These staff are responsible not only to the manager but also for dispersing information and advising subordinate managers. Major staff officials should be unequal in rank, pay and influence to keep the organisation in a state of positive conflict. Staff officials should be constrained from assuming too much responsibility. Regular meetings should be held between these individuals and the manager.
  3. Subordinate Managers: These individuals should be encouraged to assume as much responsibility as possible. Giving this group of subordinates greater autonomy, inspires their sense of commitment. As their commitment and contribution is reinforced, so too is their authority.
    Be cautious. Authority should be delegated to subordinate managers if (a) the manager is in control of the organisation's finances (b) department performance can be objectively measured (c) the subordinate manager is not a contender for the top position.
  4. Rank and File: The manager has little direct contact with this group. However, each and every individual of this group should feel that the manager is their ultimate guarantee of justice. There should be in place a procedure whereby any individual can communicate with the top if the need arises.

Subordinate Conversations

Subordinates initiate most conversations with managers. However, the boss launches most of the activity from these conversations.

Most subordinates prefer to minimise their contact with their manager. Others expand connections with their manager. These people are either insecure about exercising their autonomy or feel they gain by cultivating a close affiliation.

Wise managers will not count too heavily on the loyalty of subordinates. They will enjoy rather than be overwhelmed by expressions of devotion. During performance appraisals they should carefully limit how this is weighed.

Third Parties

The introduction of a third party into the superior and subordinate relationship, transforms the dynamics of communication. Any third party, whether a subordinate's peer or a superior's peer, decreases candid communication. The intensity of the effect varies according to the identity of the third party. In order to inhibit this effect, managers should rely upon increased one-to-one communication with the subordinate.


Groups consisting of three parties quickly generate combinations of two against one. Pairing off is called a coalition. Groups of three are triads.

Coalitions may take various forms. In the case of a rebellious type of coalition, two subordinates may organise to dominate a manager. A so-called improper coalition would find a manager and a subordinate dominating another subordinate. At the same time, the manager would dominate the subordinate with whom he or she forms a union.

Effective management strives to prevent these type of coalitions from forming. Reasoned thinking and behaviour rather than gang influence should win progress.

Crisis Management

It's inevitable. No matter how long or how well a manager may have done the job or exercised, the occasional crisis will rear its menacing head.

In hard times it is essential that a manager follows a sequence of crisis activities:

  • Recognise the crisis
  • Be present on the scene
  • Recruit a crisis council
  • Mobilise resources
  • Enact a plan
  • Announce the outcome
  • Distribute awards

Very importantly, react positively when you hear that something is amiss. Thank rather than "shoot the messenger of bad tidings."

The Boss

A strong alliance with the boss translates into power and influence for you. Deficient boss support dooms you to struggling with your authority and eventual failure. Too much competition and conflict leads to similar unhappy ends.

Empower Employees

To perform their jobs effectively, employees need authority commensurate with responsibility. Give it to them. Don't battle them for what is rightfully theirs. For example, assigning work or giving commands directly to the staff belonging to your subordinate boss, undermines the authority and effectiveness of the subordinate.

Check Your Authority

  • My subordinates come to me for advice and instruction. Rarely do I have to send for them on routine matters.
  • My suggestions to subordinates are heeded. They are not misconstrued as orders.
  • I can go anywhere within the organisation without experiencing embarrassment or constraint.
  • My closest working associates are those who are closest to me in formal authority.
  • I am the first to hear about a new organisational problem.
  • My subordinates are comfortable making decisions on their own.
  • If I have been away, I do not return to a crisis situation.
  • My subordinates have differences over organisational policies. However, these do not lead to personal quarrels.
  • Rank and file members of my organisation seem pleased to meet with me when we unexpectedly see each other.
  • When presiding at meetings of subordinates discussion of issues comes easily.
  • When I attend a meeting run by one of my subordinates, it proceeds smoothly.
  • My group has low turnover and absenteeism. When a position under me becomes available, there is considerable competition to fill it.
  • I do not have to deal with a rebellious coalition and do not partake of a coalition myself.

For a manager to be loved and respected, the organisation's program must be successful. The manager must be directly responsible for its success and must have a reputation for acts of kindness to individual subordinates.

A feared and respected manager fosters a reputation for decisive action in the interests of the organisation. This ability, called charisma, arouses both fear and love among followers. Charisma empowers the manager with vast amounts of authority.


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