Federal Coach

By Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service

Blog archive

Federal Coach: Leading on the dotted line

(Fox's Federal Coach column was originally published on The Washington Post On Leadership site.)

In September, I held an online training for GovLoop members around the three key secrets for rising up to the challenge of leadership. For today’s column, I wanted to share a question from a participant of this training.

Do you have the same recommendations for dotted-line managers—for people who must pull together different teams, perhaps from different offices or agencies, depending on the issue at hand?

Solid-line management refers to a clear chain-of-command based on organizational structures. Dotted-line management, on the other hand, applies to organizations that supplement a traditional chain-of-command with reporting structures based on collaboration around shared functional expertise, special projects or other circumstances.

We’re all dotted-line managers to some extent. While positions and titles offer some authority, the best leaders understand that success depends on building relationships and understanding agency culture and politics when working with people from different areas who have other supervisors for many day-to-day activities.

Here are a few ideas to help assess your current success pulling different teams together while also identifying some concrete next steps to become an even stronger leader.

· Take stock of your solid and dotted lines. If you’re a dotted-line manager, it can be difficult to keep track of your various relationships across your agency. I recommend keeping a list, drawing a chart, or perhaps even putting together an internal Facebook of everyone.

· Assess the strength of your relationships. Are you working well with everyone on your diverse team? Do some of your relationships flourish while others languish? Can you identify any patterns or trends that may be affecting those relationships? You’ll only succeed through influence, and influence requires understanding others’ motives, styles and preferences.

· Restart your relationships. A friend who is a certified program manager once said that 90 percent of project management is communication. For dotted-line managers, this may be actually closer to 100 percent. You need to set about building rock-solid relationships with every member of your team. Schedule one-on-one meetings to discuss what’s working and what’s not, and then work with each team member to establish a plan that will help you build a foundation of trust and an even better relationship.

· Don’t neglect team building. Even if all of the members of your team don’t always recognize themselves as teammates, you should find opportunities to reinforce a sense of team and recognize their results. A team lunch to review plans or an email celebrating a job well done can go a long way to establishing a stronger team across the dotted lines.

Dotted-line management is a trend that I see on the rise in every sector.

Posted by Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service on Oct 28, 2011 at 4:02 PM

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