Leadership is many things. It can be a role, a skill, a talent, formal and informal. Leadership and management are not the same thing. Power and strength are not the same thing. A sword and a shield are not the same thing.
As a technical team member, you likely have a critical role in the success of any project or initiative that you are attached to. You work closely with your leaders, teammates, and stakeholders to ensure that technology is aligned with business objectives and that risks are effectively managed to produce awesome outcomes. In order to do this effectively, it's important to understand the importance of "managing up" - building strong relationships with your leaders. This can be very uncomfortable. It requires authenticity, honesty, openness and genuine regard for the team, company, organization, or enterprise.
Here are a few things to avoid when managing up:
Being passive-aggressive. If you have an issue with a project or your leader, address it directly and professionally, rather than being passive-aggressive or undermining their authority.
Being overly critical. While constructive criticism is important for growth and improvement, be mindful of the way you give it. Being overly critical or harsh can damage your relationship with your leader.
Being emotional. Emotion is not the same thing as passion. Emotional responses and action will exacerbate existing conditions.
So, how can you manage up effectively? Here are a few steps to help you get started:
Set expectations. Make sure you understand what is expected of you and what your leader's priorities are. This will help you align your work with their goals and avoid misunderstandings.
Be ready. Be concise. Be precise and accurate. Use any time you have with executives very intentionally.
Communicate risks. You are in a unique position to identify potential risks that could impact a project or initiative. It's important to communicate these risks clearly and promptly so they can be addressed early or, hopefully, proactively. When communicating risks, be specific and provide recommendations for mitigation strategies.
Clarify priority. If you're unsure about the priority of a task or project, ask your leader for clarification. This will help you prioritize your work and ensure that you're aligned with their goals.
Know when to say no. There may be times when a request or proposal goes against your technical expertise, ethical principles, or your ability to be the authoritative source of delivery (accountability). In these cases, it's important to say no in a professional and respectful manner, even if it's uncomfortable. Explain your reasoning and offer alternative solutions that align with your expertise and principles. Craft a plan. Do not do this flippantly.
Balance your delivery. Be respectful, tactical and strategic. In a room where everything is aflame, someone or something will certainly get burned. If your objective is to resolve a problem, document and communicate risks, mitigations, deadlines, and outcomes.
In conclusion, managing up as a technical team member is essential for the success of any project or initiative. By avoiding common pitfalls, following these steps, and building strong relationships with your teams, you can help ensure that technology is aligned with business objectives and that risks are effectively managed.
Managing up is almost always uncomfortable. If you are able to execute successfully, respectfully and produce an outcome or a plan, you will almost certainly establish yourself as a trusted agent of your organization.