5 Tips for Leading Without Authority and Getting Things Done

For project managers, leading without authority can be a challenge. Follow these guidelines for guaranteed success.

The following is a guest post by Maxim Dsouza.

People believe one needs authority to get actions and results from team members. But such an assumption is far from the truth. 

In reality, a leader will fail sooner or later if he relies on authority alone to execute projects. 

Ask the team members of any successful leader. They will tell you how they love to work for their boss, whether he is their manager on paper or not. 

They respect the leader for his character, not the title. 

You quite often see the same behavior in sports. Many successful teams give their blood and sweat during the championship. They don’t do it for the title. They don’t do it for the money. They do it to make their coach proud. 

The secret to leading without authority and getting things done lies in the power of influence and rapport

Many new leaders and project managers struggle to wrap their heads around those areas. 

When they find the teams they’re working with not delivering to expectations, they throw their hands up in the air and curse them for incompetence.

Project managers and other leaders often work with teams they have no control and authority over. 

If you are a project manager or other type of leader, there are common problems you may have faced while leading without authority. 

Project managers and other leaders often work with teams they have no control and authority over. 

Common Problems When Leading Without Authority

Poor Quality

You expect the other team to deliver a specific task, but their work seems half-baked. You have to validate work and point out mistakes. Then you wait for them to correct mistakes and fix problems. You grow frustrated when it takes multiple iterations to get the job done as per the quality you desire. 

Sometimes, you even give up and do it yourself.

Missed Timelines 

You expect a job finished by a specific date. Though you have clarified the deadline well in advance, people fail to finish it on time. Your blood boils when they do not even have a valid reason to explain the delay. 

When I first took a manager role, I thought the above two problems were due to a lack of discipline and poor skills of the people involved. Over the years, I understood it was my inferior management skills which led to such gaps. 

How to Get Things Done When Leading Without Authority

I took advice from the experts. I experimented with different methods, made mistakes, and learned the hard way. Finally, I understood the right way to persuade people even when I did not have authority over them. 

Here are the top 5 tips to improve your influence on people outside your control. 

1. Explain the Why

Leaders and managers have a habit of assigning tasks and telling people what to do. But they often do not bother explaining why. 

When you hand over a job to a team member without mentioning the purpose, it comes across as an order. And if you don’t have formal authority, there’s no motivation for team members to follow orders. Leading without authority requires a different approach.

For example, let’s assume I am your neighbor. I hand you a $10 bill and request you to get milk. How would you go about it? You would go easy and visit the store when you have time. You may even forget the task until I knock on your door again.

But what if I told you the milk was to mix the medicine my baby needs? You would ask by what time I need it. You would also get details about the right brand to purchase. 

The task was the same. The “why” made all the difference. 

Simon Sinek explains the importance of explaining the purpose in his TED talk “Start With The Why”. 

To complete a task at the highest quality on time, people need to know why they are doing what they are doing. Assuming people will complete any task you throw at them will only lead to anger, conflicts, and frequent Monday blues

The task at hand and the overall purpose needs to fit as one whole piece together. 

2. Set milestones

A common mistake with deadlines is checking at the end to see if the team completed the work. 

When the person assigned with the job brings up a valid reason for not being able to complete the task, you have no choice but to extend the timeline. 

To make sure your team meets deadlines, identify intermediate milestones to evaluate progress. Not every employee is comfortable to speak about their obstacles pro-actively. Provide a platform for people to mention their current status. The roadblocks come into the limelight on their own.

As a project manager, you are leading without authority.

But as a project leader, your job is to continuously evaluate progress and help people achieve their deadlines. Even if it requires you to go the extra mile.

3. Give first and take later

Managers expect other people to get a project or task done. They never do anything themselves for the people working on those tasks. But as human beings, we reciprocate what we receive. 

Gary Vaynerchuk mentions in his best-selling book, “Jab Jab Jab, Right Hook,” about the importance of giving first. The more you give, the more people feel the need to return the favor. The logic applies both to your good and bad deeds. 

Throw filth on someone and the person will wait for an opportunity to hit back at you. Encourage and help other people. They will happily provide you the support you need. 

Giving does not always have to be materialistic rewards. The little appreciative words, a casual conversation beside the water cooler, or an interest in their hobbies make a difference in how they respond when you assign a project to them. 

4. Include people in decisions

when leading without authority include team in decisions

New managers and leaders take pride in the job of making all the decisions by themselves. The authority to make decisions boosts your ego. 

But as human beings, everyone likes to be heard and valued.

Whenever possible, include team members in critical decisions. Ask their opinion and hear them out. Not only will you make better decisions in the process, but also you will make people feel respected. 

Besides, the team members involved also show more responsibility to execute the project effectively because they participated in the decision.

Do not make the mistake of gathering people for the sake of it and making your own decisions after. It might work once or twice, but in no time, people will spot what you’re doing and label you a jerk.

Everyone likes to be heard and valued.

5. Celebrate success

when leading without authority celebrate successes

When an employee makes a mistake, many managers quickly highlight it. But when a team member does a good job, they take it for granted. 

The right approach is precisely the reverse.

As much as possible, appreciate the good work people did, even if the task was small. Some leaders believe that praising often devalues their kind words. Such an assumption is plain stupid. No one hates a pat on a back telling them how awesome they are, no matter how many times you repeat it.

If the person isn’t your direct report, send an appreciation email to their manager, and cc the person. The more you spread the love, the more diligently the person will work on the task you have for him. 

Do not always wait for a massive project to complete to appreciate or celebrate success. Pounce on every little opportunity to utter good words. 


Leading without authority takes a special approach. 

An ineffective manager looks at a project as a bunch of tasks to do. A competent leader understands that the people working on an assignment are human beings. When you shift your approach from the process and focus on the human side of people, things will fall in place. 

Take care of people, and they will take care of the work for you.

Author Bio:

Maxim Dsouza is a self-improvement blogger who has over a decade of experience with startups.  He has been a part of multiple failed start ups and learned the hard way.

On his blog Productive Club, he shares the lessons he has learned about productivity, time management, entrepreneurship, and cognitive biases.

Related articles: 5 Ways to Instantly Build Rapport for Increased Trust and Improved Relationships

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