Authority and the Project Leader

When a project is going well the team exhibits clarity of purpose and confidence in its ability to get things done.  Defined roles and responsibilities that are embedded through behaviour add significant value to a project team’s performance.

But what about the project leader?  Even with a defined role and effective leadership behaviour, the host organisation must ensure the leader also has the authority to do the job.

An experienced project leader will work to establish the requisite authority as soon as the appointment is made.  The authority conversation should balance the specific requirements of the role – ie what the project is designed to deliver – with the authority required to deliver it.

Authority to make decisions should lie with the project leader and the project governance body (project board).  However, even a project board with senior representation will not be enough if the host organisation’s culture demands deference to business as usual decision making structures.  Where this is the case, the project will hesitate to make decisions, lack agility and pace, and probably deliver behind schedule.  In the classic ‘Art of War’ by Sun Tzu, the author identifies a risk that the ‘ruler’ interferes with the ‘general’.  In our case, read, if the ‘host organisation’ interferes with the ‘project leader’.  Once the project leader has been given responsibility for delivering the project, the host organisation should allow her to do the job without interference.


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