I work on a small team (10 people) that has about the same number of engineers, technicians and and scientists. I'm an software engineer with a science background, just under 2 years out of undergrad, and the most junior except for one tech. The team needs to decide whether a particular metric is suitable for a report we're putting together. A couple people have done some work on this, but it's been largely unfocused and not very fruitful. My job as I understood it was to implement the algorithm for others to do experiments on.

After a recent progress meeting (during which very little progress was shown), the team's manager asked me privately to take responsibility for the work getting done, but not in so many words. He also implied, but did not state, that I could give tasks to others. The work involved for this is probably on the order of hundreds of man-hours; I can't work full time on this project.

It feels as though I have been given (a large) responsibility without the power to make it happen. I think I'm capable of designing a test plan for this problem, but I'm uncomfortable about how to communicate about it and get the other team members to do their part of it. It's possible the manager expects me to send it to him to ok, and then he will tell everyone else, but generally speaking he's very laid back and uninterested in anything except results.

Question: How do I make a plan which involves the efforts of several people without an official way to set tasking? What's the best way to introduce something like this to my more experienced coworkers?

  • @JoeStrazzere Very squishy... I intend to ask for clarification. I put together a quick outline and estimates and I'm meeting with him soon. But the chances are high that he'll equivocate, so I'm also looking for general communication strategies in the event that he won't give clear direction – NateTheGrate Mar 6 '20 at 15:27
  • Are you using an agile method like Scrum or Kanban? How are tasks usually assigned who is deciding the priorities, is there a product owner? – Helena Mar 7 '20 at 14:36

asked me privately to take responsibility for the work... but not in so many words

He also implied, but did not state, that I could give tasks to others

If even you're not 100% clear on whether you have official responsibility for this work and/or have the authority to assign tasks to others, there is no chance that anybody else will be.

This is especially true since you're more junior than others who'll be working on this, so you don't even have natural authority on your side. Frankly you probably should expect resistance. You'll be swimming against the current.

Go back to the manager and get these two points clarified explicitly, so both you and everyone else has this in black and white. If possible, get the manager to tell everyone else directly.

Once this is established, simply assign tasks to people as you see fit. You should encounter no issues, assuming your colleagues are professionals, but if you do then you can politely insist referring back to what the manager said - this is why it's so important it comes directly from them. Of course if it persists further, you can report it up and know you'll have the full backing of the manager who assigned you these responsibilities.

  • It would also be important to get the manager and the team together to see where the OP's task falls on the priority list for everyone. – pboss3010 Mar 6 '20 at 15:10

Your boss potentially just created a lot of issues.

It's incredibly difficult to set tasks for people that do not report to you. It can create a lot of tension and a hostile work environment. The best you can do is try to come up with a plan that would get the tasks completed and have a meeting with your manager to ask for help implementing the plan.

Without authority coworkers, especially senior coworkers will most likely not listen to what you have to say. Unless they respect that what your putting forth would positively impact the assignment, or unless they just genuinely like you.


Given that you are relatively new to the workforce, you might not have learned one of the most important lessons on how to be successful: Ask your manager!

Your manager's job is to provide you with the knowledge, tools, plans, etc., to be successful. This isn't based on any altruistic impulse, but based on the simple fact that if you aren't successful, your manager cannot be successful either.

If you manager assigns you something that isn't clear, ask for clarification. If you aren't sure on how to accomplish something, ask them for a plan on how to do this.

Ask if you are indeed responsible for getting this thing done. Ask if you are responsible for assigning work to others. Ask how you are supposed to do so, given you don't have the formal authority.

I think new employees often think that if they ask for clarity, or ask for help, that they'll somehow "look weak". This is the wrong mindset, it is self-defeating, and it is really hard to succeed with it. Instead you need to change your mindset to one where you try to get as much clarity, advice, resources, suggestions, etc., as you can get, as the more you can get, the more likely you'll both be successful.

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