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Monday, 4 July 2016

5 methods to gain "task sign-off"irrespective of an absent boss: Safety@Work

5 powerful strategies to secure "task sign-off" irrespective of an absent boss: Safety@Work

Delayed sign-off on any work that negatively impacts your organisation has potential consequences for you and safety@work. 

Let’s say you’re running a program, project or major event, inter or intra department submission or multi-million dollar work contract – and you now need your manager’s sign-off to commence implementation.

The only problem is, your manager rarely responds to emails and only visits their office to grab their briefcase. Their diary is consistently full and if you're lucky enough to schedule a meeting, it's usually bumped. Your manager is clearly struggling with a mix of “competing priorities.”

Depending on who you’re dealing with and the type task you're progressing, this situation has the potential to be very dangerous for you and for the organisation.


Firstly, you are measured on your ability to effectively influence or persuade people to deliver results irrespective of the challenging work environment and changing conditions. If you can’t get sign-off from your non-existent manager then you may be told it’s your fault. 

Secondly, if the project, submission or work contract is a priority to your agency's business or people, then any delays may erode safety@work.

 #1: BE COMPASSIONATE: Your manager may be dealing with a risk averse boss.


Try to put yourself in your manager’s position. 

They may be working to one or more inexperienced, risk averse, micro-managing and therefore stressed out, time poor boss(s) who has stipulated that all work programs must go through them first. In which case, your project is languishing in another person's intray. 

It’s also possible your manager somehow doesn't gel with their colleagues (perhaps your boss is just too capable and is viewed as a threat) and so is finding it difficult to gain traction or interest on this particular task. If so, sit down with your manager and ask what they need from you to get the approval and sign-off.

Be aware that your manager may also be wise in the way of (for example) the public service and decide to delay sign-off as a new government may result in the project (or work activity) being unwound by the incoming government (or a new head of agency). Sometimes, sitting on the sign-off process saves time and resources in the long run. I’m not saying this is right, it just is.

#2: EMAIL (or other text-based cyber communication technology): Use emails to raise your program’s visibility and decision/approval requests.

Emails provide evidence of your progress and decision requests. If you want to know how to use online work communications to boost your brand and interactions, then read my article “30 potent nEtiquette tips to boose personal brand & effective communication” The general rules for emailed progress reports are:

1. Decide how often you will send the update & be consistent (e.g., 10am Friday).

2. Use consistent email title & headlines (e.g., project name | day month year).

3. Strategically use cc’s on the original email (e.g., key sponsor and project owner).

4. In moderation, disseminate your boss’ “thanks for the update” reply email (e.g., to staff, external clients etc.) so people know your boss (the key decision maker) is aware of progress and any approval deadlines.

5. Keep comments concise and, if something is going pear-shaped, be solution oriented.

6. Use dot points & lists.

7. Attach long pieces of information to the email. 

8. Keep the email short (3 short paragraphs at a maximum).

9. If you are seeking sign-off or approval, make the process as easy as possible for your boss or key decision maker. 
  • Make the subject and title clear e.g., “Request | Approval for Phase X of Project XX”. 
  • Attach any long pieces of background material to the email - the last thing you need is a long email that no-one will read especially your time-poor boss. 
  • Be clear about the approval's upcoming deadline (e.g., approval by [date/month/year] will allow the purchase of xx equipment, which is currently at 50% reduced price). 
  • Include a one liner that clearly articulates what will happen if this work activity doesn't remain on schedule (increased costs, reputation damage to agency, impact to safety@work etc.) 
  • See if you can embed a drop down menu into the email so the decision maker can quickly and easily indicate “approved” or “disapproved”.

#3: GOVERNANCE PROCESSES CAN BE YOUR FRIEND: (Boards, Committees, Program, weekly team or ad hoc group meetings etc.)

If you’re lucky enough to be in an organisation that includes an effective governance suite, then sit down and think about which committee your project, contract or documentation aligns to, and seek permission from the committee administrator(s) to place your item on an upcoming meeting agenda. 

Ask the committee administrators to email both you and your boss (or the key decision maker that relates to the work task you're trying to progress) with the date & time your documentation will be tabled. 

Done well, this strategy subtly demonstrates that you’re serious about implementing the project or contract. If the work activity is deemed such a low priority by this governance committee or board, then you may need to take some time out to walk them through the issues, or think about reshaping or dropping it.

Project management committees or boards are great if you’re not frightened of logging in an Amber or Red against your schedule. Many people think that a Red Light against their project means they’ve failed or are a bad project manager. Think again! Your agency's project management committee should understand the importance of your project within the context of the broader organisation, and is there to provide guidance and help, so use them.

If you don’t have a project or program committee, and need to arrange a meeting with key decision makers to approve your document or work activity, think about arranging a pre-meeting with key sponsors or influencers so key decisions are made before the main meeting.

Also, think about tabling a two or three item Agenda and insert a “decision” column against each item. This will help to focus your discussions and expedite sign-off. 

Always ensure you bring along a hardcopy of the document you need signed off, and ensure the signature page is the last page (or a stand-alone page) so any minor amendments to your document can be done at leisure. 

Be aware, if your key decision maker really doesn't want to confront you or approve your task, they may send a representative to your meeting who won't possess the necessary delegated authority. In these situations (and if your manager’s boss also doesn't want to help you) aim for a half-step approval. For example, instead of approving the full project or Event, or contract, ask for a decision of phase 1. A. What you're now aiming for is some forward momentum. It’s quite likely a half step can be approved by the existing members in your meeting.

#4: LEVERAGE KEY INFLUENCERS: Engage and leverage other influencers.If you’re really stuck, sit down (perhaps with a group of trusted co-workers) 

If you’re really stuck, sit down (perhaps with a group of trusted co-workers) and talk through what the other areas (internal or external) you think may be interested in the outcome of your project or paper. These key influencers are not necessarily members of management, executive or the Board (although they can be). Often external sponsors can be easier than internal sponsors, as internal organisational politics can sometimes make this type of activity tricky.

Influencers may include other project managers in other programs that are reliant upon your project, or a policy or delivery person who’s been in the organisation since day dot and has experience in subtly motivate decision makers. 

Get creative.

Think about how your work activity, project, Business Case etc. potentially benefits the influencer (this is also known as WIIFM or “what’s in it for me”). If a clear benefit links your work task to the influencer, your next step is how to best approach the influencer so you can canvas their interest, and capacity to support you. Some people prefer emails, some prefer an ad hoc corridor conversation, some people like official meetings so they can better schedule their diary. Ask around and find out what approach works best for your potential influencer(s).

If there’s no clear WIIFM with your key influencer(s), think about what else they may be interested in that you could offer. They may wish to be invited as a key speaker to workshop, or are keen to open an event or a presentation. 

Ask, and find out.


This may sound a bit manipulative or unfair, especially if the idea for the project or initiative originated with you. However, if your manager is inexperienced, insecure with their position or with their boss, and/or feeling a bit vulnerable you may want to think about letting your manager take credit for this work activity (or part of the credit). 

Experienced managers know to share the credit where it’s due – this is called leadership. However, to get this work activity over the approval/sign-off hump, you may need to let your manager take the credit.

Just be aware that you will need to re-balance this by (for example) acknowledging key participants (including yourself) somewhere in the body of your document, or you will find yourself feeling disrespected (even though this was your choice). 

I also suggest that this should not be a long-term strategy, as it has a habit of biting back, especially during your performance appraisal.

Dr Flis has a BA SSc and a PhD in organisational social psychology and works with individuals and organisations as a consultant, speaker and trainer. She uses her social science expertise to enhance interactions between organisations and the people who lead and work in them by fostering new insights for diagnosing organisational problems, and build new capabilities and culture.

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