Responsibility and Authority in Project Management

I am constantly surprised by the large number of people acting as project managers who tell me that they have all the responsibility for the success of a project but little or no authority on the project.

This means that they have the responsibility to deliver the project on time, on budget and to the required specifications but they do not have the authority to get the resources they want, manage the budget or to make decisions affecting critical parts of the project.  If you have more responsibility than authority then you are not a project manager. You are a project administrator, expeditor, facilitator, coordinator or more often than not, simply a scapegoat in waiting.

Would you accept the job of General Manager for Microsoft and then be told that you had no authority to hire and fire, to track and change budgets, to develop and market products and to influence the organisation strategically? Yet the Board of Directors will be measuring you against all these factors and if the company doesn’t do well you will be fired? No you wouldn’t, so why accept the same in project management – after all a project manager is the general manager of a project.

Allowing this situation is setting you up for stress, failure and an early exit from the profession of project management. If the level of responsibility you have is greater than the level of authority that you have then it’s like heading to the guillotine with no way to stop the blade from dropping – don’t do it!

I sense the frustration these people have and I can see the look of surprise and amazement when I tell them that a true project manager has equally high levels of authority and responsibility.

So how do you get equally high levels of responsibility and authority?

Start with your job description. If you have the title of project manager then you should have equally high levels of responsibility and authority. If you don’t, then downgrade your job title to reflect your actual position. Sure, the job title isn’t as good as you want but you will be happier. Make it clear that you will not accept full responsibility without full authority. Furthermore, you won’t accept unequal levels of responsibility and authority.

If you are going to be fully and solely responsible for delivering the project then you need the authority to get the resources you need when you need them, to control the project costs and budget, to oversee and manage changes to the project and to maintain and enhance client relationship to name just a few of the areas you must have authority in.

Only by having equally high levels of responsibility and authority can you truly be a project manager