Leading without Authority in the world of Safety: Sticking to earned authority vs ascribed authority

Leading without Authority in the world of Safety: Sticking to earned authority vs ascribed authority

This concept seems so complicated but in reality, every person who works within the world of safety is an undercover expert in this matter.  When promoting, creating, and implementing different plans, activities, and concepts that introduce or maintain safety systems, cultures, or platforms almost 100% of the time the one person behind the plan is leading without authority.

Authority itself is defined as “the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.”  Leading is often defined as “organizing, directing, setting processes in motion, initiating action and showing the way to a destination by going in front or beside.”  Essentially these are two constructs that work together to reach the same end goal.  Authority just makes reaching the end goal easier but not necessarily in a better manner.

Leading with authority means the leader can focus on what they are communicating and reach the end goal only by specifying what the goal is and how they would like to achieve it. 

Leading without authority means leading without the reinforcement provided by the availability of authority.  Therefore, the leader must not only create the plan, communicate the plan and concepts but also prompt all stakeholders and the rest of the company to agree with, become involved, and endorse the end goal and strategy.  Sounds hard doesn’t it!!!  Guess what, it is really hard but almost every single safety professional in the industry is currently or has been involved in a project where they had to lead without authority.

Now that we understand everything let’s surprise ourselves and turn it all around!  Leading without authority does not mean leading with NO authority!! SURPRISE!

We can define regular authority such as job positions or titles as ascribed authority.  Ascribed authority has been given to the person.  Technically that person has authority because they have been given it therefore they can tell people what to do.  A different type of authority is known as earned authority.  Earned authority is based on the concept that people always follow who they trust.

How do we achieve earned authority?

Continuously focus on building character and growing trust to achieve earned authority by adhering to the strategies below.

1)  Be transparent:  Transparency initiates trust because people will understand that you are not manipulating them or the environment.

2)  Always be consistent:  Consistency always builds trust and loyalty because people understand the concept, the environment, and the strategy that is defined by consistency.

3)  Do what you say you are going to do:  If something changes or you cannot do something explain why and be transparent.

4)  Social Intelligence: “Get” the people around you and understand what is going on both in a work environment and in an interpersonal environment. Teams feel supported by someone who understands what is going on and helps the environment interact and work well together.  Improve your social intelligence by l         listening before you speak so you understand and really watch what is happening around you on all levels.

5)  Always be kind: Refocus minds, hearts, and actions away from individuality and towards kindness in order to grow trust and inspire.

Why should we lead with earned authority if ascribed authority is easier?

1)  There will always be a greater buy in from the teams around you if they trust the leader

2)  When the company or team trusts the leader, they will trust the end goal and be inspired to reach it

3)  Overall maintenance of the goal or adhering to policy changes will stay in effect.  When everyone has buy in and trust the end goal will stay in process instead of being treated as a fad and soon disappearing it will become part of the fabric of the company.

If so many people in safety already participate in leading without authority, why are we talking about it?  The two main take-aways and most important bits of this blog are described below:

1)  As you move up through the industry you should always lead with earned authority even after you gain ascribed authority:  Making sure safety is led this way increases the trust that is built throughout the industry and allows all of us to create a safer world across multiple industries and environments even without being given the authority to do so.  Help make safety trustworthy by leading with trustworthiness.

2)  We need to have a clear name for the concept within the industry:  No one really talks about how we lead in safety but everyone understands what we are talking about when we describe experiences of leading without ascribed (given) authority.  Ex: “Last week I had to blow plant A’s budget         out the window because they forgot to include safety helmets in the budget and I had to ask them to purchase all those helmets.  You try convincing the manager’s that their budget bonuses are less important than safety helmets.”

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” Dwight D. Eisenhower

Happy Leading!

*Thanks provided to Tanmay Vora for another amazing Sketchnote http://qaspire.com/2015/07/27/sketch-note-how-to-influence-without-authority/ and his reference to an amazing leadership blog by Jesse Lyn Stoner “How to Influence without Authority” with such important guidelines on how to influence without authority!

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