We all know our place in the office—manager, employee, office dog (OK, the last one is wishful thinking that we have dog readers). And while some lines aren’t meant to be crossed, others get blurred when teams are shaken up, priorities are shifted, bosses go on vacations, and people quit before their replacement arrives.
So, when an opportunity opens up to take charge, it can be pretty damn tempting to step up and show off our leadership capabilities.
But how can we put ourselves in a position of power without overstepping our boundaries (or worse, pissing people off)?
Here are three times it’s completely OK to take control at work—no matter your role (oh, and how to do it right):
1. When You’ve Been Given Permission
Pretty obvious, but still worth mentioning. When you’re made the point-person for a project, that’s your cue to take charge, make sure things are running smoothly, and keep tabs on your team’s progress. Because if things don’t go well, it’s ultimately your head that’s on the block.
However, this isn’t permission to boss your teammates around—that won’t help anyone be more productive (and it sure won’t make people like you more). Rather, make sure everyone has the resources and support they need to get stuff done on time and in good fashion.
2. When a Key Player’s Missing (and No One Else Can Do the Job)
Maybe one of your higher-up colleagues caught a cold and you’re the next person most involved in your team’s initiative. Or, your boss is out on vacation for the week and no one else can step up to take on their responsibilities.
This is your chance to show your leadership potential without stepping on other people’s toes. While the person’s gone, keep the momentum going and carry out their vision. Just note: This is not your opportunity to run with your own ideas—instead, use this time to show your manager you respect their decisions and can hold down the fort when they’re not there.
When they come back, they may take charge again (as they should), but they’ll (hopefully) recognize the work you’ve contributed and give you more opportunities to lead in the future.
3. When the Other Person’s Flaky (and It’s Your Reputation on the Line)
This is a bit trickier to navigate, as it’s not your job to take on someone else’s work, and doing so can ruin your relationship with the person.
However, there are times when there’s a big deadline looming and your reputation’s on the line, and the other person just isn’t pulling their weight, so you decide to do it all on your own.
When this is truly your only option—you’ve sent them many follow-ups, looped them in on your decisions, and have little time left to get it done—the best thing to do is (kindly) let the person know why you decided to take it over.
It could be as simple as saying, “You did great work on this, but the client wanted it finalized by this week, and as I know you’ve been swamped with other projects I thought it would be best if I just finished the pitch myself.”
If you’re honest about your intentions (a.k.a., you didn’t do it just to get on your boss’ good side) and respect and acknowledge the work they’ve contributed, they’ll probably be grateful you stepped in. And if they’re not so happy you took over, you can at least go home feeling confident you did everything you could to salvage you (and your co-worker’s) job.
Even if it’s not in your job description to be the person in charge, there are times when it’s in your best interest (and others’) to do so. As long as you approach the opportunity as any respectable leader would—without ego and with a desire to help everyone succeed—you’re sure to handle it like a champion, and open more doors for yourself.