When your boss hands over the reins of a project to you, it's a sure sign your talent and hard work have not gone unnoticed. Take full advantage of the opportunity by highlighting your managerial and leadership skills.
What do you do if you're put in charge of a project without being given formal authority? In this situation, exerting influence and taking control can be a challenge. Here are tips on how to be a do-it-yourself leader.
1. Lead by example
Any attempt to rule with an iron fist will go down like a lead balloon – after all, your coworkers don't report to you. The best way to motivate your colleagues is to set the example of how you expect others to approach the project. If you're enthusiastic, they'll be enthusiastic. If you snipe and make snide remarks, so will they. Even if you're inwardly grumbling about the extra pressure and workload, avoid complaining around your teammates.
2. Talk less, listen more
When you first step up in front of the team, your instinct might be to do all the speaking in order to assert your role as pack leader. But one of the most vital managerial skills is encouraging dialogue. To get people talking, you need to listen; really listening means being receptive to other ideas and opinions. This will demonstrate your respect for each team member, and they'll respect you in turn.
3. Don't play favorites
Avoid assigning friends plum assignments and not-so-close colleagues the grunt work. Now is the time to bring out those leadership and collaboration skills to encourage everyone to do their best work and meet deadlines. Remind the team of short and long-term project objectives, and celebrate when each one is met.
4. Do your fair share
Even though you're the project leader, you still have to do some of the heavy lifting. Others will notice if you aren't pitching in or continually push off unexpected and last-minute problems to someone else. You'll exert the most influence when others see you working as hard – if not harder – than they are.
5. Be yourself
Although "be yourself" may sound like trite advice, the most respected leaders are personable and genuine. Stepping into a role that requires managerial skills doesn't mean you need to adopt a false persona. Your colleagues would likely see right through that, anyway.
6. Take responsibility
When projects go well, good leaders point to their teams' hard work and share the praise. And when there are failures, they take ownership, regardless of how mistakes were made. If and when something goes wrong, avoid pointing fingers. Instead, work with your team to address the issue and identify ways to prevent it from happening in the future.
7. Develop your leadership chops
Some people are born leaders, but most of us have to learn it the hard way. The best way to hone your managerial skills is to be a manager via on-the-job training. Other approaches are to emulate the qualities of authority figures you admire and read books and articles on the subject.
Being entrusted with a team project is an exciting opportunity to demonstrate your managerial skills. Even though your official title hasn't changed, there are many ways you can show your boss and colleagues that you've got what it takes to be a leader and earn their respect.