Remember the first time you were trusted — truly trusted — to act on behalf of someone? Maybe it was babysitting your kid brother so your parents could have that special night out or taking care of your aunt’s favorite plants and her beloved old dog while she went on vacation. You know the kind of trust I’m talking about: the kind that weighs on you a little and causes you to take a deep breath and say to yourself, “I can do this! This is really important and I can do this!” Remember what that felt like the first time you experienced it?
That kind of trust can be a powerful motivator. And it can be even more compelling when it’s accompanied by the full authority – money, tools, decision-making power – to take action. Feeling the responsibility for handling an important job and knowing you have the authority to make things happen somehow helps you stand a little taller and strengthens your resolve to do great work — to prove that the trust isn’t misplaced. So, in the end, trusting people completely can inspire them to do their best.
So You Say You Trust Me? Prove It!
To clarify, it’s not enough for you to say, “I trust you to do this job” and then withhold meaningful authority by requiring me to ask your permission to make simple decisions or by forcing me to beg for resources to get the job done. No. If you really trust me to do the job, then you’ll give me the full authority (decision-making power, money, tools, people, etc.) that enables me to do it. By granting me this breadth of authority, you prove that you trust me. And, given that proof, I will be more likely to work hard to ensure that your trust hasn’t been misplaced.
This balance between authority and responsibility is an important component of all sorts of human relationships. When we strive for and maintain this balance, we ultimately prove that we respect the dignity of those whom we’ve tasked with doing a job. In ethical terms, getting this balance right is simply the fair and decent thing to do! Whether the work to be done is within the context of your family, a formal work team in an organization or society at large, it’s critical to achieve. (Click here for a five-minute video that helps illustrate these concepts. You’ll find it in my YouTube Playlist, Project Management [General Topics]: https://www.youtube.com/user/greerspm/playlists)
The questions below can help you make practical use of these ideas.
Reflect on these questions:
- Are you conscious of the authority/responsibility balance when you assign work to team members?
- Do you have enough authority to do all the chores assigned to you? (If not, how might you get this authority?)
- What specific actions could you take on behalf of your project team or yourself to better balance the authority and responsibilities of everyone working on your projects?
Ask your team:
- Do you feel adequately empowered to do the work assigned to you? (If not, what additional power or resources do you need?)
- Do you recall any specific situations in which you lacked adequate authority (resources or power) to do your job? (If so, what can we do to prevent this from happening again?)
Project Manager Challenges
- Make certain that everyone on your project team has the power to get and use all the resources they need to do their assigned tasks.
- Make certain that everyone on your project team has the power to make all the routine decisions necessary to keep from getting “stuck.”
- Make sure you don’t micromanage your team.
- If you are currently being micromanaged by your senior managers or don’t have enough authority to make key decisions to keep your project moving or lack the resources (people, tools, money, etc.) to get good results, then resolve to do what you need to do (have that “tough talk” or confront that difficult senior manager) and get your authority and responsibility in balance!