You’re Not In Charge IT Manager – Now Lead!

by drjim on August 18, 2011

Image Credit How do you lead a team when you're not the boss?

How do you lead a team when you're not the boss?

Talk about whining! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been working with newly minted IT managers who come to me and complain that people aren’t listening to what they say. A little bit of digging on my part and I discover that they’re part of some sort of cross functional team or that they are working with vendors. They’ve found themselves in the classic situation where they need to lead a group of people who don’t report to them. Good luck!

All The Responsibility, None Of The Authority

How many times have we all found ourselves in this situation? Our management has tasked us with solving some problem and put us on a team that we are supposed to lead. Unfortunately, they forgot to tell anyone that we’re in charge!

IT managers can generally get things done by telling people who work for them what they need to be doing. Clearly this strategy won’t work when you are a member of a team of people who don’t work for you. All too often I find the IT managers that I’m coaching struggle to switch gears – they keep trying to tell people what they need to be doing. They then become frustrated when their directives go unnoticed.

Let us agree on one thing: when you are not in charge, you can’t just “take over’ by brute force. That’s never going to work. Instead, you are going to need to find a way to get the rest of the team to “elect” you to be their leader.

That Leadership Thing

In the end, this all boils down to a question of leadership. When you are a part of a team and nobody directly reports to you, you’re going to have to lead them, not manage them.

You really can’t ask the rest of the team to accept you as their leader, you need to show them that they should accept you. This is not a formal thing – no vote will be taken. It will be your attitudes, attributes, and your behavior that will make them accept you. If you can convince them to accept you as their leader, then it will just happen.

Finally, what are the criteria that will make the rest of the team accept you as their leader? It comes down to several things. Your reputation will be an important part of their decision – are you known for performing hard work? Are you honest? Do you have the ability to bring good ideas to the table? Your ability to be accepted as a leader will be based on how others perceive you on these topics.

What All Of This Means For You

IT leaders often find themselves in situations where they are expected to lead a team that does not report to them. At first this can be an overwhelming situation – how ever are they going to get anything accomplished?

The secret to getting a team to accomplish a shared goal, no matter if the members of the team report to you or not, is to show them leadership. Your ability to convey a clear sense of purpose, the ability to be relied on, and a demonstration of subject matter expertise will convince the team to follow your direction.

Although what needs to be done may be clear, by no means is this an easy task to accomplish. As I tell the IT managers that I’m working with, if leadership was easy, then you’d see everyone doing it. As you struggle to do this task correctly, take comfort in the realization that the skill that you are developing is exactly the skill that you’ll need when you get promoted!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: What’s the one thing that you can do to get a team that doesn’t report to you to accept you as their leader?

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