Commanding the respect of an entire team isn’t easy. Even with the title of “manager,” you’ll inevitably have employees who question your authority—who answer your instructions with excuses, an endless stream of questions, or a blank stare.
This can be a challenge for anyone in a leadership position, but especially for new managers who may still be learning the ropes of their roles.
To be a successful manager, you have to learn to communicate with authority—so that your team takes you seriously, respects your leadership, and follows your direction.
Fortunately, learning to be a little more commanding doesn’t take a complete personality 180. You can learn to be more authoritative with a few simple communication techniques—ones that can completely change the way you’re perceived by your team.
1. Use Statements, Not Questions
To avoid becoming an order-spewing manager, you may fall into the trap of phrasing your instructions like questions: “Alex, can you take notes during the team meeting today?” or “Melissa, will you put together a PowerPoint for the client presentation tomorrow?”
On the surface, questions seem less confrontational than direct orders—but in reality, all they do is open you up to excuses.
Because you started with a “can you” or “will you,” your employee can easily answer with a “no,” plus whatever excuse he or she has on hand: “Sorry, I have no time today!” or “I’m not the best choice; I’m really not very good with PowerPoint.”
The better option is to state it directly (e.g., “Alex, I need you to take notes during today’s meeting”), which asserts your authority and provides less room for pushback.
2. Maintain Confidence as You Speak
This may seem like a no-brainer, but to convey authority, you have to speak with confidence—through the very end of every sentence.
The end—that’s the part that can trip you up if you’re not speaking confidently. For example, the beginning of your sentence may start just fine, but when you get to the end, you may raise your voice slightly, turning the thought into a question (e.g., “Hey Kathy, I wanted to check in on the report due on Monday? I’ll need a draft by end of day Friday?). Or, you might quiet down, turning the last few words of your sentence into nothing more than a mumble.
Either way, you’ll sound unsure of yourself—which won’t inspire much confidence in the people you’re talking to.
3. Give Clear Directives, Not Suggestions
As a new manager, you may feel like you need to toe the line between being strict enough to be respected, yet laid back enough to be relatable. Often, that can result in your directives coming across more as a suggestion, rather than firm instructions.
Too often, managers will say something like, “Jeff, it’d be great if you could talk to someone in finance to get input for your quarterly report,” which implies that it’s simply something he could choose to do, rather than something you’re directly asking him to do.
Instead, try: “Jeff, please collaborate with someone in the finance department and incorporate his or her feedback into your quarterly report.” Changing just a couple words can make a big difference in how your request comes across. Now, instead of simply a request, you’ve given a clear directive.
4. Add a Deadline
Whenever a boss gives vague instructions without a timeline attached—e.g., “Can you get in touch with this client to resolve the contract issue?”—it’s all too easy to put it at the very bottom of your to-do list, which inevitably gets pushed to the next day, and then the next, and the next.
This is exactly what you don’t want to happen as a manager. Because when you allow your requests to go undone for days, you’re showing your employees that your directives aren’t priorities—and that you’re OK with that.
Attaching a deadline to your instructions, however, adds urgency to the request: “Bethany, please call the client and resolve the contract issue by the close of business today.” Now, you have something to hold Bethany accountable to—which puts you in the position of power.
5. Repeat Your Request
Even with these suggestions, employees may occasionally still question your authority—often, by pushing back against your request.
Maybe you instructed an employee to have a draft of a proposal ready by the end of the day, and she explains that she doesn’t think it really needs to be done by the end of the day, since it isn’t scheduled to go to the client until next week.
If the employee has a valid point, by all means, take it into consideration. But if not, simply repeat the request: “I appreciate your input, Rachel, but we need to allow time for editing and finalizing the proposal, so I do need you to have it done by the end of the day today.”
Speaking with authority doesn’t always come naturally—especially when you’re new to a leadership role. But try incorporating these techniques into your communication with your team, and you’ll find it much easier to embrace the role of an authoritative, respected leader.