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How to get good team results when you are not the boss (part 2)

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of

This is the second of two articles.

PR practitioners often have to work on committees with people from other departments. One of the most common problems in such projects is how to lead or shape the project when you have no formal power or authority over the other team members.

How can you get good team results when you are not the boss or if someone else is nominally the boss and is quite ineffectual?

Good communication is crucial

There are various ways you can informally lead or influence a project outcome. You can lead such areas as communication (obviously!), team recognition for milestones achieved, project reviews, change management, measurement and reporting cycles.

These techniques are also suitable for projects in which you are formally the leader, because they help you avoid the problems of potential resentment and lack of cooperation that may arise when you outrank the other team members.

Project control

There are three general ways to increase your project control: project processes, influence and measurement. In this article we will look at communication. The key to success is good people management through good communication.

The project leader shapes projects, for instance receiving most progress information and controlling where it is distributed. Providing clear, factual status information can be a source of significant influence.

If the project is proceeding well, stakeholders are impressed. If things are going badly, factual information will document your actions to recover lost ground and gain visibility when you need help. Provide just enough data, never more than people need to receive, or they might try to second-guess your decisions and actions.

To a considerable degree, what you say and how you say it determines how you are perceived, especially by your managers and peers. Use all communication methods available to you. Effective project leaders tend to over-communicate – just stopping short of being annoying. Better to have too much information than not enough.

Repeat your messages

Recent research found that managers without formal power who repeat messages about tasks and projects in different ways achieve more successful results than formal managers who rely on their authority to send messages just once. For example, when a manager who doesn't have formal power sends an email after a face-to-face meeting to confirm decisions, their team gets more tasks done and with fewer stumbles than managers with power who appear to assume that employees will follow their requests (reported in the Harvard Business Review Daily Stat, 26 April 2011).

Similarly, in this role you can follow up a complicated written communication with a phone call and can document the content of a phone call or discussion in a follow-up email. This finding supports the general conclusion in public relations practice that messages need to be repeated in more than one way to be most effective – methodical communication throughout a project is one of the most effective control tools available to you.

Making progress

Another powerful motivational tool is a person’s sense of making progress with their project work. Researcher Teresa Amabile was part of a team investigating the motivations of 12,000 employees. The detailed research concluded that the most important motivator was a person feeling they are moving forward in their work. Making progress was most frequently associated with high motivation, positive emotions and innovation than any other workday event (Inventium newsletter, 6 December, 2011).

As a project leader, you can set goals to enable progress to be made and acknowledged. You can provide resources and encouragement to help people move through challenging periods or to meet fluctuating demands. And as individuals, we can set ourselves small goals to achieve and progress towards.


Recognition for work well done is another communication factor you can build into the project. You can write progress reports in which you acknowledge the good work of colleagues and highlight achievements. You can thank everyone on the team when it is appropriate. This appreciation can be conducted in a multitude of informal ways. Celebrate accomplishments at the completion of project milestones, during reviews and any other time, including nominations to the organization’s structured reward and recognition program. I have written a whole e-book on employee recognition because I believe it is so important and under-utilized:

About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website,, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.


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