At a recent project management workshop, a participant asked was “I have responsibility but not enough authority to do what I need to do as a PM. How do I get things done?”
I can't remember feeling as if I didn't have the authority to get things done as a PM. I decided long ago, that if the company felt I needed to manage a project, then–by definition–I had the authority to do what I needed to do. I took the authority. I didn't ask for it. I realize that doesn't work for everyone. So here's my take on responsibility vs. authority.
No manager ever has enough real authority to do what he or she wants to do. There's always someone with a bigger title. (Even if you're a CEO, you report to a board.) So even though titular authority is useful, it's not enough.
If the project is strategically important to the organization, I can act first and ask forgiveness later. You can too. You'll know if the project is strategically important by how many people ask about the status and what levels of people ask. The more people ask at the higher levels, the more strategic the project is.
If the project is not strategically important, why are you wasting time trying to accomplish it? In reality, if the project is important enough to the organization, you have the authority to do just about anything you need to do. (You need the self esteem to do what you need to do.) But if the project is not important enough to the organization, you can never get enough authority to do what you need to do.
Even if the project is strategically important, you may need to use your influencing skills to get done what you need. I attempt to lay the foundation for influence across the organization before I need it. Then when I need help, I can enroll other people to help me push my agenda forward. I've used sales, service, operations, and marketing people to help me move the project forward.
If you've been working in the organization for a while, you've probably built influence. If you haven't paid attention to your relationships (aka politics), do so. Politics is not a dirty word. Politics is the way you can accomplish things in organizations, especially if you don't have the resources to do it all yourself.
I see responsibility vs. authority differently than other people do. I see it more as responsibility to take authority, rather than wait for someone to give me the authority. Let me know what you think.