The Qualities of a Leader: Managing When You’re Not the Manager

Good news! You’ve been performing so well on the job that your boss has asked you to take charge of a project team. It’s a great opportunity for you to stretch your abilities as an administrative professional and show your potential. There’s just one thing you’re concerned about: Some members of the team outrank you and you’re not sure whether they’ll follow your lead. In this situation, it’s crucial that you exhibit the qualities of a leader.

If you show good leadership skills, you can effectively manage coworkers even though you’re not their manager. Here are some specific ways to gain their respect:

Communicate Clearly

Before you get started, make sure you understand what your manager and other stakeholders want from the project and when they want it. This will allow you to give clear and consistent information to your team.

Also verify that your team members’ supervisors are aware of their commitments to the initiative, so there are no scheduling conflicts down the road.

Then, set up a schedule for project milestones that everyone finds agreeable, and ensure that people can access that schedule for the length of the project. Allow some wiggle room in the timeline so you can accommodate any work that’s taking longer than expected, without compromising goals.

Provide ongoing updates on the progress of the project. If any important issues arise, let everyone know immediately; don’t wait until that next team meeting. No one wants to feel blindsided or out of the loop.

Use your intuition to help foresee potential problems. The OfficeTeam guide Business Sense: Putting Your Intuition to Work can give you tools for learning to read body language and anticipating team members’ needs and actions. It’s far easier to address issues proactively than to deal with them after they’ve snowballed into bigger concerns.

Listen to the Team

People with good leadership skills focus their attention on the group and its goals, rather than making it all about themselves and bolstering their reputations through project management.

Remember, it’s not about giving orders constantly. One of the best qualities of a leader is the ability to listen intently to team members’ ideas and concerns. Good leaders also work with each participant to determine individual strengths and then divvy up the tasks accordingly.

Hold People Accountable

Also, make sure team members are pulling their weight and completing the tasks they agreed to handle.

As the work progresses, hold meetings to discuss assignments, so everyone is on the same page. Check in with participants on a regular basis to ensure all tasks are on track and take immediate action when they aren’t. For instance, you might have those who are ahead of schedule help those who are struggling to keep up with demands.

While you should give firm direction and deadlines, keep in mind that one of the more useful leadership traits is genuinely caring about those reporting to you. Encourage participants to take regular breaks and take care of themselves (let them know it’s okay to stay home if they’re not feeling well, even if there are looming deadlines).

Provide Just the Right Amount of Leadership

You may be a perfectionist when it comes to your own work, but remember that not everyone works that way. Allow people to use different strategies than your own to finish their assignments. And definitely make an effort not to micromanage.

Be sure your team has the tools they need to be successful. Go up the chain of command when necessary to lobby for additional resources when you need them. Don't hesitate, either, to offer suggestions to help the project along. You may not have seniority over others on the team, but you were selected to lead for a reason.

It’s tough to hold people accountable and earn respect when they don’t report to you. But it is possible if you follow a few steps and exhibit good leadership skills. When you tap into every team member’s distinct talents and encourage each person to complete their assigned tasks in the way that comes naturally to him or her, you’re more likely to end up with a completed project the whole team can be proud of. Even better, you can always point to this success to demonstrate that you have the qualities of a leader when pursuing a promotion.

What do you think are the most important leadership traits? Leave us a comment to let us know.