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I am working for a US based organization as a contractor from their Vendor. Like me there are other contractors working with the same client. And also few employees also working in the same team. I have 2 years experience in the team and I was there with the starting of the project. The current work environment is politically sensitive. The politics between employee vs Contractor and Contractor from one vendor vs Contractor from another vendor are very sensitive and very dangerous.

Client management chosen me as a team lead and requested me to lead the team. I am also interested in this role. But I am very apprehensive and afraid about these politics. I don’t want to loose the opportunity. But I don’t know about risks, political pitfalls and Political land mines in this environment.

How to be safely lead the team without falling any political Dangers?

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    Are you sure you want this role? I have been in similar situations and it can be pretty stressful, but if you're being paid enough to make up for it, then my strategy was always the same basically. Just stay professional, assume everyone is out to get you, and cover your back with a paper trail a mile wide. Lead by example and stick up for your team, because their loyalty will pay off in achieving results. – Kilisi Nov 9 '15 at 1:05
  • "But I don’t know about risks, political pitfalls and Political land mines in this environment." Why do you think we would? Consider editing the question to make it a bit more general and focused on best practices rather than your specific situation. – Lilienthal Nov 9 '15 at 13:12
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If you are not prepared for this role, then you probably should not accept it. However, consider these things:

  1. You have been asked to do this. If you were the one asking for it, then it would be different. Management may be "setting you up for failure" or maybe they have real confidence in you.

  2. You are in a political minefield - and everyone else probably knows it also.

  3. If there are people there with more experience, then you being asked to do the job should be a red flag. However, you have been there since the beginning of the project and there probably is no one more qualified to lead the project.

All of this said, you may not be the right person for the job. Although you have interest you should determine if your interest is in "promotion" vs "management." If you really want to learn about management and spend less time on technical work, then you should talk to the person/people that are requesting you to do this.

One approach is to tell them that you would like to do a good job, but maybe you should be placed in the role on a "temporary" basis. After a period of time (3 months? 6 months? A year?) you will have a review period where you (and leadership) can decide if your new role is working for both you and them. This can be followed by another "trial" period, giving you time to evaluate the stability of the situation and also have time to adapt to your new responsibilities.

If asking this is too much of a risk, then things are complicated indeed. If you must, take the position and do your best. If you are this anxious going into it though, it may be best to avoid it until you feel more prepared. It should be acceptable to (and even respected by) your management to tell them that you feel that your contribution to the team is best where you are now, or even in a support role to someone that has more experience managing teams like yours. You can also suggest that you can fill the "lead" role temporarily as they search for the "right" person.

The client sounds like it needs leadership. It sounds like you are the best candidate, but may not perform to expectations. You are wise to find a politically acceptable way to handle this. And, given your wisdom, you may actually be the best person for the job. So, just work on setting expectations about your performance and role. Ask for support in your new role, or for assurance that you are fine in your current role.

Continue to assure your client of your support, cooperation and interest in the success of the project. That clearly is your position and your management should be aware of it. (Not to be confused with indecision or lack of self confidence - awareness of self limitations is a valuable trait.)

EDIT:

The core of this question is, "how to safely lead" but in the case of accepting a new job in a complex business setting. An answer to address day-to-day leadership for continued safety of your job requires specific questions about specific problems when they arise, and out of scope for a question regarding the initial evaluation of accepting responsibility for a leadership role.

My answer attempts to reduce the political risks associated with accepting a leadership role, and thus increasing the safety of performing in that role. Eliminating political dangers is impossible, while reducing political risks is a possibility and evaluating them prior to accepting responsibility minimizes the risk of encountering political problems, can enhance support when faced with political problems and increases safety in performing the job required.

Also consider that you may fall victim to politics that are unforeseeable at the time you make the decision. This is where many people undervalue the performance of leaders; when those that are truly skilled at leadership make it look easy. As you progress in this job and in your career you will likely fail at times - how you handle failure is a key leadership skill. Your superiors cannot expect perfection, but also may try to take advantage of inevitable problems/failures in your leadership.

All people are subject to political and other risks, regardless of skills, ability, experience or anything else. How you handle success, failure and the times in between is what makes someone suitable for leadership or not. Safety is about how to improve the handling of the given situation and, in this case, it is about improving the security (not success) of assuming a leadership role.

  • There are lots of administrative things to line up in this situation that the client is likely not thinking about. The basics include who gets notified if staff from the client or another vendor are out sick, on leave, etc. Who needs to approve that if it is in a mission critical period? How do performance problems get handled? How is required training, equipment, licenses, etc arranged for and paid? What is the escalation path if someone is not working well with the team? All of this should be sorted out before starting in such a role. – Eric Nov 9 '15 at 3:01
  • I edited my answer to clarify that it is focused on making a decision regarding political safety of assuming a leadership role. – Jim Nov 9 '15 at 4:01
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This is a role that could make your career, if you want to take it on then here's some (very) basic guidelines to work on in potentially volatile situations.

1) Make sure you have a CLEARLY defined role, with a clear knowledge of your responsibilities. Do your best to make sure you fully understand what everyone elses role and responsibilities are at least as it pertains to any interactions with you and your team. Make sure you understand the hierarchy and problem resolution protocols.

2) Document everything, especially any dealings with clients and third parties, get a job tracking system for your team and make sure they use it properly.

3) Be pedantic in your work and make sure you have a paper/digital trail a mile wide to reference if there are any disputes on what your team has done/is doing.

4) Do not stress on things you cannot change, focus on making sure your part in anything is up to scratch. Support your team members as much as you can, because their loyalty will help you achieve goals.

5) Be professional at all times and enjoy your new challenge.

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    And make sure, above all, that you do not get saddled with responsibility without authority. – HLGEM Nov 9 '15 at 16:17

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