Sanjay, as a technical lead, wanted to schedule a couple of resources for training and he also wanted to hire one additional person from a consulting company. He felt he should talk this over with Uma, but Uma wasn't available. He decided to start negotiating with the consulting company for a good person for the best price. He also signed up two of his developers for specialized training at a cost of $6,000. He asked them to make reservations for training, airlines, and hotels using their corporate cards. He reviewed the contract with the legal department to make sure the contracts met legal requirements. He signed the contract with the consulting company for a consultant. Then Sanjay wondered if he was authorized to sign contracts. He decided to wait until he could meet with Uma.
The next day Sanjay met with Uma about these issues. Uma said she would have liked Sanjay to check with her before he authorized training. Sanjay responded by asking Uma to clarify what they, as team leads, can authorize and what they cannot.
Uma sent a memo to her core team reiterating that she directs and controls all work performed. She has control over high-level task assignment to the team leads and she controls and assigns the budget and master schedule. Each individual team lead can authorize expenditures below $2,500, but they must update her immediately. The team leads can authorize subtask assignments within their team. Any change in the schedule must be approved by Uma. All decisions also need prior approval.
This B2B project example raises the first central issue regarding work authorization. Project leaders need to make clear who can authorize work, under what circumstances, and with what spending authority. The project leadership responsibilities described in the initiation and planning stages should have covered this issue. The detailed project plan, communications plan, and stakeholder approvals should all be used as guides in determining who can authorize project work. Sanjay was uncertain about the limits of his spending authority. Uma needed to decide this, but instead her memo appears to be an overreaction.
The second key issue in work authorization is the actual authorization itself. Regardless of the level of work or level of the project leader, he or she needs to be capable of making appropriate decisions on a timely basis. Decisions need to be made about which resources to use; when, where, and how to carry out specific work assignments; and a myriad of other issues. Even with very good project plans, many prioritization issues are settled by appropriate authorization decisions. Decision-makers need to have access to adequate data to make informed decisions. They also must have the skill and confidence to make those decisions.
Junior leaders generally have more time and are closer to the action, so they are sometimes more available to make timely decisions. However, senior project leaders often have more perspective and can understand broader issues more fully. The key is to groom the junior leaders to be able to make more decisions as they prove themselves capable by making good decisions on small matters. These issues concerning decision-making also apply to the other project leadership responsibilities during project execution.
Uma is sending a very controlling message to her team. If the expense is in the budget, why is it necessary to receive a second approval? Leaders need to be consistent in their approach. Why delegate all kinds of authority but require extra controls when it comes to money? Is it a trust issue? Most lists of leadership requirements include "trust". If followers are not trusted, they often feel rejected. Uma has been leading in a very sharing manner, showing that she trusts the judgments of others. So then why does she need to be "updated immediately" if an expenditure below $2,500 is made? This is using "power over" rather than "power with". She is not empowering her team members and they may well resent it.
A Project Leader Needs to:
Accept that others may control some work authorization decisions
Have the courage to take responsibility for all work authorization
Exercise the wisdom to ensure that the process is clear to all.