SpeakStrong: Determine and Expand Your Empowerment Level

by Meryl Runion Rose
Previously published in the July 2015 issue of OfficePro magazine

How much power do you have? How much power do you assume? These are two different questions. Two admins with the same job description are likely to assume very different levels of power.

Years ago, an admin told me, “My job is a box. I don’t know how big that box is unless I push on the sides of it.” Her metaphor expresses part of the truth of administrative leadership. However, the metaphor implies your job is fixed, and your only responsibility is to find the limits. Instead, your leadership responsibility is also to expand and shape that description as your skills and the demands of your work environment call for. You can do that by following the motto of another admin. Her motto is, “Keep on walking until someone tells me to stop.”

After all, “It is easier to ask forgiveness than permission.”

Now we’re talking. Of course, I’m not recommending insubordination or deliberate defiance of expectations. I am recommending that if no one has ever told you you’ve overstepped your limits, you’re playing too small.

Your job title and description afford you power in some areas, and your assumed interpretation of your title and description leverage that power to give you more.

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 3.17.45 PM copy
“Years ago, an admin told me, “My job is a box. I don’t know how big that box is unless I push on the sides of it.”


Negotiated power

In addition, there’s another way to expand your power and increase your leadership role: Collaborative agreements. Sometimes you assume, and other times you ask and negotiate power that will help you be effective on behalf of your company, managers and yourself.

Let’s say your job description includes keeping the website up to date. What can you assume that means? Can it mean that you correct others’ entries? If so, do you simply correct typos, or edit for clarity? How about this: Could it mean that you create your own blog about the latest events? That has the potential of opening all kinds of doors for you and for your department.

Once you decide how you want to interpret your responsibility, your next decision is:

  • Do you just do it?
  • Do you do it first and inform people later?
  • Do you negotiate the agreement before you do it?


Phrases to Negotiate Power

If you just do it, you don’t need any phrases from me. Should you feel the need or desire to speak of your actions, here are some useful phrases.

  • My job description empowers me to keep the website up to date. I interpret that to mean I can correct errors and edit existing posts for clarity. Does that work for you?
  • I am responsible for web updates. To be able to carry that out, I’d like the authority to speak directly to the CEO.
  • There are a few people who ignore my requests for updates for the web. I plan to post that I am waiting for updates to make their non-responsiveness visible in the hope they will submit in a timelier manner. Are you comfortable with that?
  • To manager: Coming to you for routine approvals before I post is an inefficient use of our time. I’d like to have the authority to approve them myself.

Every Situation is Different

As a communication author, you might be surprised to know that I don’t recommend discussing every assumption of power in advance. You are the expert in your area, so take the lead and trust your own professional opinion. It is a waste of your manager’s time to make judgment calls that are your expertise. So:

  • Test the limits of your job description.
  • Let the situation and needs guide you to interpret and shape your own job.
  • Keep on walking until someone tells you to stop.
  • Ask forgiveness when it turns out you should have asked permission.

Finally, use any overreach as the opportunity to negotiate future boundaries. For example:

  • In the future, how would you like me to handle a situation where I need information from the CEO to keep the website updated?

SpeakStrong, Act Decisively, Be Indispensible

How much power do you have? How much power do you assume? As a leader in your administrative role, SpeakStrong and act decisively to operate at the highest appropriate level of power. That is how you make yourself indispensable.


Meryl Runion Rose is the author of 10 books, including Perfect Phrases for Offi ce Professionals and Perfect Phrases for Managers and Supervisors. She has presented at more than 1,000 events. Her books have sold more than 350,000 copies worldwide. Meryl offers a free communication style quiz at www.speakstrong.com/inventoryShe is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and holds a master’s degree in the Science of Creative Intelligence. Her clients include IBM, the IRS and the FBI.

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