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How to Lead When You’re Not the Boss


Managing people when you’re actually in charge of them is far from easy, but at least you have a variety of carrots and/or sticks to bring into play. When you’re the technical lead on a project, but not actually the boss, things get confusing in a hurry.


(Photo Credit: ambro/

“[A]ll too often I hear complaints or frustration from people working in these groups around accountability, responsibility, and getting things done,” writes Janine Popick, founder and CEO of VerticalResponse, in a column at Inc. “Most often I hear something to the effect of, ‘But how can I hold people accountable if they don’t report to me?’ This always surprises me because it implies that just because someone reports to you, they magically have some greater sense of accountability. Maybe, but often times not.”

Do You Know What You're Worth?

Popick offers several tips worth considering, if you find yourself leading a group of people who don’t rely on you to rate their performance at review time (or give them raises). Perhaps the most important from the perspective of people working on a limited timeline is this one:

Deadlines are non-negotiable.

How do you achieve this ideal of the non-negotiable deadline?

1. Get everyone to commit to the date.

Don’t announce when things are due. Ask for feedback and be open to what you hear.

2. Be willing to hear something you don’t like.

In order for this to work, you have to be able to hear news that isn’t ideal. Be prepared for obstacles, including other competing priorities. That doesn’t mean that you have to give in; just that you have to be willing to listen.

3. Don’t rule with an iron fist.

If it’s your way or the highway, it’s likely to be the highway, especially when people are overtaxed. (And let’s face it, nowadays, most of us are.) Be flexible, be communicative, and be prepared to stick to your guns if necessary, and you’ll get things done on time.

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What are your favorite leadership tips? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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