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Responsibility Without Authority

Middle Managers: Responsibility Without Commensurate Authority

I was recently contacted by an organization with a need for my services.  The manager with whom I met was able to give me the details of what they sought.  However, when I submitted a proposal, she had to check with her up-line for approval.  The process of initiating this contract was slowed down immensely by the lack of authority vested in the initiating manager.

Sadly, this is not an isolated instance.  I also worked with an organization that recently launched a new business strategy designed to empower middle managers with decision-making authority.  The CEO boasted that this would allow his staff to use their judgment and thus free him up to do more important things. However, in my interactions with them, I found this to be an often expressed new direction that was rarely actualized.

Beyond adding to low morale, the above scenarios are sure-fire ways to slow down any progress your organization may be making.  In addition, those who are in the top positions are now backlogged with decisions that should really be made at the level they began.  Closely holding decision authority may feed some leaders’ need to be continually affirmed as the ultimate authority, however, it takes time away from other critical business requirements that are best lead by executive leaders.

An organization with a lot of red tape is certain to miss opportunity, and could possibly be rendered extinct if it is not careful.  If your managers are not allowed to take responsibility for their decisions, they well may leave you, become passive-aggressive, undermine that which they do not have control over, or give up and stop trying.  Want to kill a leader’s ability to lead?  It can easily be accomplished by withholding making-decisions authority.

For those of you on the short end of this stick, it may feel like a vicious cycle, but you can gain back your authority.  It must be handled with a bit of tact so that upper management feels comfortable with the transition of authority.  When your Up-line gives you the next task for which he would likely want to retain the final say-so, try the following approach:  “I know that you have a lot on your plate, and clear ideas about what you want from this contract.  I would like to have your delegated authority to assess this opportunity and make a decision based on the criteria we have discussed?”  This approach requires that you ask enough questions to know exactly what matters in your up-line’s opinion, and that you communicate well and reconcile your prospective if it differs. Both you and your up-line may find this exchange the most beneficial exercise you could ever experience.

John T. Butler, President @ CEO