Unassuming Authority – Proactive Project Management

In many aspects of Project Management it’s vital that people understand not only what they are required to do, but the level of authority they have to act within.

On a personal level, the degree of autonomy with which someone can work is important to the success of their contribution to a project and critical to their motivation in seeing it to a finish.

When a project is drawing together people from several different companies, it is all too easy for one partner to steam ahead in the false belief that they have the authority to proceed. Potentially worse, one partner may introduce costly delays for all parties in a project by sitting on their hands unnecessarily waiting for that authority.  

Most experienced Project Managers will include a task (or to-do) list and regular update meetings/reports to circumvent either possibility, which is a good reactive control to the situation. But there is a pro-active alternative.

As well as agreeing which partner undertakes which task, you can add another dimension by allocating a level of authority based on something we call the “do-it” table. Each member of the project is allocated a level that determines how much of the project they can “do” independently before reporting back to the stakeholder team.

Five descending levels of authority will fit most roles within a project, running from an executive level to new starters.


  1. Report only on completion
  2. Report only at completion including details of any remedial action taken.
  3. Report only at completion or if the project goes out of scope (timetable, cost, quality etc) suggesting remedial action.
  4. Report on the results to the stakeholder team at agreed intervals. Stakeholders must agree any variations.


  1. 5. Research only – investigate, suggest and cost solutions. Stakeholders must agree how to proceed

For many managers, working at the top end of the list involves going outside of their comfort zone. However it is important to realize that in many modern project management situations some stakeholders have considerably more autonomy than in others.

Consider the example where an external project manager is providing oversight for a project involving the customer and multiple suppliers.  A supplier new to the customer may be kept on a tight leash, whereas one that has consistently acted in the customer’s interest on previous occasions may be given complete latitude to supply free equipment uplifts without needing to advise the customer in advance.

A good project manager ensures everyone in a project knows what is expected of them, an exceptional one wants them to know the level of authority with which they are entitled to operate.

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