blog_graphic_2_22_16.jpgHave you ever found yourself:

  • Assigned to a project you know little about?
  • Unexpectedly changing, growing personally and professionally because you took a leap of faith?
  • Reflecting on a personal accomplishment that was way bigger than anything you had ever imagined?

If you have, I wish we could have talked. You might have saved me a little frustration and a smidge of anxiety!

As luck would have it, I recently found myself in such a position. In my case, the project was about how to help a well-respected, global company leverage technology to improve and sustain its quality and communicate its standards of performance. Piece of cake, right?

Initially, our project scope was limited to a specific portion of the company. Then it happened: it became obvious our “solution” would be very beneficial to the entire company and all of our customers! The project scope expanded, quickly escalating to enterprise visibility, including a larger project team and a hefty financial commitment. The only thing missing: a defined project leader.

If you haven’t yet experienced something similar, I’d be willing to bet you’ll have an opportunity if you’re open to it and keep the following tips in mind:

  1. If the seat’s open, take it.
    Occasionally, a project team can be tossed together without a defined project leader. Take note of open opportunities and don’t be afraid to be a worker bee that actually assumes the lead. If you’re waiting on someone to provide clear direction, assume someone expects you to figure it out. When you take the lead, empower yourself to push the project until they tell you you’re not-- then push a little further just to be sure. 
  2. Just go with it.
    Don’t be afraid to fail, as the takeaways will far outweigh the pain in the future. Any rational person would be a little anxious or fearful of the unknown. Just take that first step and know that it’ll get easier from there. Exposing your vulnerability doesn’t make you any less of a leader. A leader doesn’t always know everything; they just surround themselves with people who know a lot.
  3. Don’t be put off by a lack of visible executive support.
    Projects typically require an executive sponsor. However, sponsors may not be in the trenches with you. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a vested interest. But in the grand scheme of things, your project is among many moving parts in the organization.
    Your best bet is to simply establish a regular cadence for communicating with executives. Skip the minutia. Offer up your recommended solution for every challenge and exercise your new found leadership to the fullest. At the very least, just be grateful that they haven’t killed your project.
  4. New thinking can get messy.
    Whenever you find yourself blazing new trails, you’re going to encounter situations that don’t necessarily conform to the age-old company ways or policies. “The old ways” will work some of the time, but be prepared to help some executive leaders see things through a new lens.
    Corporate red-tape is often the most frustrating part of getting anything done. Sometimes, as leaders, we find ourselves faced with the option of asking for forgiveness because it is safer than asking for permission. If you MUST bend the rules, exercise extreme caution and remember: your integrity is at stake. If you lose that, it is nearly impossible to earn it back, so trust your best judgment.
  5. Write it down to make it happen.
    As the saying goes: When all is said and done, seems like more is said than done. Conversations are great, meeting notes are better. With every meeting, be sure that someone is writing down action steps and commitments to keep things organized and on track.
    Notes can provide structure, clarity of goals and expectations, drive results, not to mention CYA, when necessary. People tend to live up to what they write down. Thorough notes help teams hold themselves accountable and that’s a good thing.
  6. Stay Focused. Celebrate. Repeat.
    Well-intentioned activities don’t guarantee success. Stay focused on what you’re actually accomplishing (or not) relative to your plan. Our intentions can pave the way, but we win by actually achieving the goal. Above all else, don’t lose sight of your meta-goal: deliver first-rate, beyond-their-expectations, high-quality work product.
    Remember to celebrate even the smallest of wins. Be quick to reward and recognize members of your team if you’re going to create and sustain the right vibe for your project. It’s not just about plaques and parties, although those can be nice. It is about you, as the leader, giving credit to the team for every win, and always taking the personal hit for any failure along the way. (And don’t forget Rule #5!)

I hope you’ll find some value in these tips and, most importantly, that you’ll take the plunge the next time someone asks, “Who’s in charge?” and everyone in the room turns and looks at you.


About the Author

Heather Lipke is the Sr. Manager, Product Management - Hilton Garden Inn.

She is a results-driven professional and trusted advisor with experience engaging and leading diverse project teams across complex organizations within the hospitality industry. Strong record of developing and executing initiatives across 2500+ hotels. Advocate of global growth through customer focus and innovation. Resourceful problem-solver and business savvy decision maker, known for an ability to evaluate risks, remove barriers, focus priorities and gain consensus to ensure results.

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