How to … gain authority

by 03 Apr 2007

What is it?

All too often, authority is confused with or mistaken for power. Simply being a manager does not grant you authority, nor does it give you the right to coerce others into acting. In the modern, ethical sense, having authority means being able to positively influence people at all levels within an organisation because you are a trusted and respected figure and are perceived as having expertise and knowledge in your field.

Why is it important?

To be a competent and credible manager, it is vital to have authority. Realising objectives, meeting targets, motivating teams and negotiating with the board all depend on a manager being able to influence the actions and behaviours of others. Even an entire department of self-starters won’t have all of the answers all of the time, so they will need someone to whom they can turn.

While some people are naturally more authoritative than others, it is possible for anyone to gain the necessary skills and attributes to be regarded as a credible authority. Having personal authority will not only help you effectively drive and deliver your organisation’s HR policies but will help you to be more effective and successful in your career.

Where do I start?

Discover more about yourself and how you are perceived by others. It is important to be self-aware, but close colleagues may be able to provide you with further insight.

Do people regard you as someone they can trust and depend on – a safe pair of hands? Are you viewed as an expert in your area by those above and below you? Do colleagues turn to you in a crisis? Do people listen to you?

Seeking answers to questions such as these will give you an indication of where you stand when it comes to authority.

Know your stuff

Make sure you understand how things work in the company and department at grassroots level, because you can’t expect to be taken seriously as an authority if you don’t understand the basics of your business.

Show employees that you care about what they think by asking for feedback on how things are run and about how they view their role.

The better your understanding of people and processes, and the more well-rounded and altruistic you appear, the more you are likely to be respected and heard.

Leverage your position

Consider ways that you can enhance your reputation and communicate your expertise and trustworthiness to others. Steve Martin, director of consultancy Influence at Work, says that hanging certificates and qualifications on your wall can help, but the most effective way is to have another credible authority introduce you as an acknowledged expert at meetings and presentations.

“Even a short two-line biography can set you up in the eyes of your audience as an authority,”explains Martin. “Second, have a way of promoting yourself as trustworthy. Research shows that to be seen as trustworthy, you should mention small drawbacks or weaknesses first. It sends a message that you are presenting all the facts and that you have nothing to hide.”

Work on your presence

When it comes to conveying authority, self-confidence and conviction are vital. These traits can’t be picked up overnight, but you can work on specifics to improve them, such as how you talk, walk, dress and generally act. Attending courses on presenting, assertiveness, public speaking and self-image provide an excellent opportunity to advance in these areas, as will taking on responsibilities in new areas outside your comfort zone.

For more information

The Trusted Advisor, David Maister, Rob Galford, Charles Green, Free Press, ISBN 0743207769.

By Scott Beagrie. Courtesy of Personnel Today magazine.