4 Ways to Pass the Informal Leader Test

With a growing need to manage project based work coupled with the need to vet an individual’s leadership capabilities, organizations are assigning hi-potentials with informal leadership roles, or project manager roles, before giving them the positional and formal leadership authority over others.

As a chance to prove capabilities, those given project management roles need to understand how to succeed at both the task of getting the project done and the priority to get work done through others. Often these two priorities seem to be conflicting, when in reality they are not. Informal leaders often fail when they see the only goal to be getting the project done, and neglect to realize how the imperative of getting the project done will only be accomplished through the work others. This necessities strong people management, not just task management skills.

If you’ve been given an informal leadership role you should:

  1. Know and understand the members of your project team. Meet one-on-one with members and ask:
    1. What motivates them?
    2. What strengths to they have that they bring to the team?
    3. What are their stressors? In other words, what points of resistance or skepticism do they have about this particular project? What do they think should be done to help mitigate these potential issues?
  2. Build buy-in by creating a game plan as a group. Bring the group together and based on feedback gathered in one-on-one meetings, create a game plan together that includes timelines for implementation and project meetings, assignments and ownership for each team member.
  3. Practice what you preach. Set the tone for the project by following through on your assignments and commitments per the project plan and staying true to a meeting schedule that is set.
  4. Realize that providing support for others to get work done is your number one priority.  If a team member needs you, that is your first priority, not the list of tasks on your to-do list. This helps to take the first three steps to the next level.

Most hi-pos know how to get stuff done. That’s why they are hi-pos. But what will set you apart is being able to transition your focus on getting work done to getting work done through others. This is even more of a challenge when you do not have positional authority. But if you take the time to know your team, build buy-in, practice what you preach and provide support for others, you’ll prove that you have what it takes to be able to transition to a formal leadership role, because true leaders don’t need a title to lead.

Mary Ila Ward

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