Leading product design and development without official authority
"It's my job to decide what we build, but I'm not the boss of the people that build it."
As a PM, you rarely have people-management responsibilities. Instead your role will be to guide people to do things that will make the product a success (how you define "success", is another blog post). You won't have the authority to clear people's schedules to work on your project. You won't have the authority to ask people to prioritize your project's needs over the needs of other projects. In largely collaborative spaces, trust, leadership, and authority is earned. Knowledge of the user needs and product vision, however, is Learned.
The PM's authority comes from deep cross-functional expertise across design, development, business, and strategy. From my experience, the best way to build trust and gain influence is to be vocal about the product vision by consistently prioritizing user needs above all else. This way, you will communicate the potential impact of your vision and motivate others to go above and beyond to make the vision come true.
I've thought about this from a user-centered design perspective, so I thought I would share tips I've found helpful in establishing close relationships with team members:
1) Know their priorities. They are humans with real passions and priorities. Invest the time to learn what kind of skills they want to work on, and do what you can to provide those opportunities for them. Find ways to reward their values. Odds are they'll bring really valuable skill to the table you didn't know was there.
2) Help clear their plate. Be helpful - maybe they have a pile of small tasks you can help with. Perhaps they need feedback or suggestions on something they're struggling with. Help them write an important email. Help them organize their daily tasks. In other words, do what it takes to streamline their workflow so that they have the opportunity to focus on your priorities. This way, they get help, and you get help, it's a balanced partnership.
3) Make some of their problems your new problems. Empathize - You can use your user needs researching prowess to determine what is keeping them from starting a project. Maybe the designer or developer doesn't have all the information they need to start working on a feature of your product - help by scheduling a meeting with the right people to answer their questions and address their concerns. They might be putting off making an important decision because it required some negotiation with the client - help them by offering to pick up the phone and have that difficult conversation with them.
What are some of the methods YOU use to lead without written authority?