Managing When You’re Not a Manager

The word “manager” may not be in your job title or background, but don’t be surprised if at some point you’re asked to temporarily supervise employees or perform other duties typically associated with management at your company. In today’s collaborative workplace, the emphasis is on selecting the best people to fulfill specific needs, rather than on status in the organization. In IT, you may be called upon to lead teams consisting of individuals from within and outside your department, even if you’ve never directed others before.

Managing when you’re not a manager can be an excellent way to boost your visibility in the company. If you lead your group to success, you may be in a stronger position for advancement. However, uniting people when you lack formal authority over them can be difficult. Here are some tips for overcoming that challenge.

Make a Connection
Before an initiative begins, take the time to get to know all of the people on your team and how they will be involved in the project. What are their strengths? How do they feel their talents can best be used in the task at hand? Do they have any other work obligations that might conflict with your assignment? Learning more about each participant early on will help you put their skills to good use, which can not only help the group in general but can help support both you and the project. By meeting with team members, you also can address any concerns or questions privately before they become major issues.

Steer the Ship
Since you haven’t managed before, and therefore don’t have a familiar track record as a leader, people may have some reservations about your ability to get the job done. So, be sure to enter your first meeting with a plan that includes a timeline of events, individual assignments and broader goals. Showing everyone you have a vision for what’s ahead can put minds at ease and generate respect for you as a manager.

As you develop your strategy, be sure to allow some room for input from the group. People will want to have some say in the process, and soliciting their recommendations will make them more committed to the project. Be open-minded and willing to make some modifications to your original game plan.

Tread Lightly
Be careful not to dictate commands. You want to give employees the information necessary to do their jobs without micromanaging. For example, someone may want to start software upgrades in one department, while you prefer he start with another department. If the end result is the same, you’re better off dropping the issue rather than risk building animosity.

Gaining respect from everyone in the group may not happen overnight, or at all. Despite your best attempts at team building, there may be some individuals who are critical of your management ability. In these situations, take immediate action and meet privately to discuss concerns. If there’s no improvement afterward, you may need to take up the problem with direct supervisors and find replacement workers.

Get Your Hands Dirty
Even though you’re the manager of the group, it’s important to show that you don’t see yourself as superior to others and above handling mundane tasks. For instance, if no one has time to contact a supplier to make sure a computer delivery will be there on time, do it yourself. The best leaders set the example for the entire team by helping when needed.

Assume Responsibility
It’s easy to take credit for your team’s efforts when all goes well, but it’s just as important to shoulder the blame when things go wrong. Even if mistakes are made on an individual basis rather than by the entire group, you should be willing to take responsibility. You’ll show that you understand what it means to be in charge and may gain new supporters because of your commitment.

Offer Thanks
Finally, be sure to acknowledge contributions made by those on your team. Telling people how much you value their work can keep them motivated to do their best. If certain employees go above and beyond what is required, take the time to let their direct supervisors know of their extraordinary efforts.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. She can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

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