Leading Without Authority

Based on his research into the experience of Senior Responsible Owners in implementing Public Service Agreements

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Leading without Authority

Background

I am writing this article on the back of research I conducted in 2008/9 into the experience of the 27 Senior Responsible Owners (SROs) of Public Service Agreements, (PSA) in the UK, in leading the implementation of these 30 cross cutting priorities of the UK Government. The PSA regime has been discontinued under the administration which took office this year but the lessons are still valid and the need to work across the system without formal authority has not diminished and if anything is becoming more necessary. So it’s a good place to start understanding what is involved in leading when you can’t compel anyone to do anything.

Is it?

The rest of this presentation focuses on what I found out with regard to the experience of how the SROs attempted to work across their organisational boundaries and what that meant in terms of how they led when in reality, and to put it crudely, some of the people that they needed to work for did not necessarily even knew who they were or why they should have a conversation with them. That at it’s most basic is what powerlessness means. My research surfaced quite a bit of data on leading without authority which was not a surprise because the ‘agreements’ had been set up to foster a greater spirit of collaboration between government departments. They were intended to make the public services more responsive to the needs of citizens and ensure that important aspects of leading for citizens did not fall between the departmental boundaries. Other reasons were around attempting to harmonise policy tensions; make better use of resources; enhance communications and ultimately a more integrated set of publics services.

It may have come as a bit of a shock that the rules of the game were changed when we weren’t looking and more and more we are being asked to do this thing called ‘leading without authority’. We might as well all be contestants on the apprentice. It may be useful, at this point to step back and examine this phenomenon. Lets ask some questions and suggest some answers: the first question is, what does leading without authority mean and why is it necessary and why now? Second, what is involved? Third, what skills do I need; fourth,
what are the leadership challenges? And finally, what support is available and how do I access it?

‘Dan Harris tried unsuccessfully to assert his authority in a desperate attempt to show the other contestants who was ‘boss’ in the first episode of series six of The Apprentice’

The rest of this presentation focuses on what I found out with regard to the experience of how the SROs attempted to work across their organisational boundaries and what that meant in terms of how they led when in reality, and to put it crudely, some of the people that they needed to work for did not necessarily even knew who they were or why they should have a conversation with them. That at it’s most basic is what powerlessness means.

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