How a New Manager Should Assert Their Authority
December 5, 2016
A manager’s first few weeks can feel paradoxical.
“On the one hand, you must establish quality rapport with your team,” LinkedIn Learning instructor and leadership consultant Todd Dewett said in his course, New Manager Fundamentals. “You have to create open communication and be seen as genuine and authentic. On the other hand, you have to establish that you're the boss.”
Interestingly though, Dewett argued those are in fact not competing goals. A new manager can establish their authority precisely by creating strong relationships with their team.
Dewett recommends any new manager do these three things within the first month of the job. These actions will both allow the manager to build strong rapport with their direct reports, while also establishing themself as the leader of the team.
Start by tackling small challenges first
There’s a temptation by some new managers to make big changes right away. That’s a mistake, Dewett said – you are far better off taking on smaller issues first.
“You have a choice as a new manager when it comes to asserting authority,” he said in his course. “You can do a cannon ball and jump in the deep end of the pool or you can politely stick your toe in the shallow end. When you look at the team and you view things you wish to change and improve, your best bet is to start with a small and measured target.”
There are two reasons for this. First off, you should spend your first few months as a manager understanding all aspects of the role and getting to know your direct reports. Without that knowledge, it’ll be difficult for you to successfully make any big change.
Second, if you can solve something small and measurable early, you instantly gain credibility. Later, when you want to take on something big, people will have more confidence that you can get it done.
Co-opt key employees
Whenever you begin as a manager, there’s likely a person or two you could see becoming a detractor down the road. Maybe it’s someone who wanted the manager job or someone who will likely be opposed to a big change you are hoping to make.
The best solution here is to “co-opt” them early, Dewett said. That means meeting with them, getting their input and possibly solving an issue for them.
If you can get those people on your side, the easier it will be to make bigger changes later on and lead your team.
Make a pro-employee change early
Being named manager doesn’t give you authority. You earn authority by showing your employees that you respect them and consider their opinions.
An easy way to show this is to make a pro-employee change early. For example, you could loosen a dress code or change a burdensome policy.
“A quick win like these shows employees that you sincerely see their needs,” Dewett said in his course. “Under these conditions, they are much more likely to support you on other unrelated decisions.”
Tying it all together
A new manager can’t just come in one day and demand authority. That’s going to turn people off and lower the chances that people will listen to them.
“Authority is your right to act, but strangely, it's not always easy to use,” Dewett said. “Just because you have authority, doesn't mean they will follow your orders the way you want them to.”
Instead, earn authority by respecting your direct reports and giving them a reason to trust you. And that’s done by following the three aforementioned steps, which will help you quickly gain the respect of your team.
Want to learn more? Watch Todd Dewett’s LinkedIn Learning course, New Manager Fundamentals, for free today.