How to handle a lack of authority in your job

How to handle a lack of authority in your job

If you lack authority in your job, you will want to focus on building influence.

One of the key activities that a product manager does is bringing back market intel to the development team to help them understand what should and shouldn’t be built into the product.

Influence instead of authority

If you find yourself in a product management role, or any role for that matter, where you lack authority but need to affect change, your best tool is going to be influence.

There are a few ways to increase the amount of influence you have, and one of these is by far my favorite.

  • Build relationships - the better your relationship with the end decision-maker, the better chance that you will be able to gain some influence over them.
  • Support claims with data - unsupported claims are easily ignored. However, it's really hard to ignore cold, hard data that supports the recommendation you are making.
  • Build consensus - having other people on the side of your recommendation will go a long way with a decision-maker. For example, I teach my team to have built a relationship with their Delivery Manager and try to get their support for recommendations being made. When both the product manager and the delivery lead support something, the decision-maker(s) tend to pay more attention.
  • Be right - when you are right, you are right. The more often you make recommendations that turn into good decisions, the more influence you will have in the future.

One of the lessons I have personally learned the hard way is that it's “hard to be a prophet in your own town.” What that saying means, in this context, is that people aren’t going to heed your recommendations simply because you say so. This can be particularly true if the decision-maker has more experience than you do.

The best way to combat that, and my favorite way to gain influence, is to have someone else make the recommendation for you. Your recommendations can’t be because “I think we should…”. They should be “They think we should do XYZ.” My favorite “they” are the customers.

When customers tell you that they need a certain feature, and the data and research validates that need, it is infinitely easier to get that feature prioritized.

Another they that might lend you influence is a team that has built a similar product before and had to make those tough trade-off decisions that occur between features.

What to do if you have no authority and no influence

I hate to say it, but if your role comes has no authority or influence over product decisions, then you aren’t a product manager. More than likely you are acting more like a project manager than a product manager. Or your team doesn’t trust your abilities.

If either of those scenarios is true, then you are in the wrong role and/or at the wrong company.

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