Here are 10 ways to exude confidence and appear more authoritative at work:
1. Get clear on your own authority. Often, managers and others with authority squander it by acting as if it's not part of their role. So if you have the authority to make decisions, move projects forward, give feedback, resolve personnel problems, and so forth, act like it. Get very clear in your own head (and with your own boss, if necessary) about precisely what authority you have, then speak and act with the confidence of your position.
2. Get aligned with your boss behind the scenes. There's no faster way to destroy your authority than to say one thing and then have your boss reverse it later. To avoid this, get aligned with your supervisor on tricky or sensitive issues ahead of time. By getting in synch upfront, you'll be able to act with more confidence, knowing that you won't later learn that your boss had an entirely different take on the topic than you did. (Plus, your boss will probably appreciate the opportunity to get aligned ahead of time, too.)
3. Know what to say when you don't know the answer. You might not know how to handle every situation that comes your way, but you can still respond with confidence. Phrases like "You've given me a lot to think about, so let me get back to you" or "I appreciate you raising this, and I’ll think it over" let you exit tough conversations gracefully.
4. Don't get angry or upset. People who are confident in their own authority know they don't need to get angry or upset with others because they have the authority to fix problems. Getting upset will undermine you, since it signals that you don't know a more effective way to respond. For instance, if you're talking with an employee about a performance problem, you might sound concerned, but you shouldn't sound angry or hostile. You should be confident that you have the tools to back up your words with action if you need to.
5. Stop worrying about being liked. Your focus should be on being respected and effective, not on being liked. And to be effective, you'll need to assert yourself without worrying about others' approval, deliver hard messages, and make decisions that not everyone will like. But if you're deeply invested in being liked, you're likely to sacrifice the very behaviors that will make people take you seriously.
6. Pay attention to your tone of voice. Don't shy away from declarative statements, and don't end sentences with a question mark unless they're truly questions. If you sound hesitant or unsure as a habit, people will assume that you either don't really have the authority you should or that you're not willing to use it.
7. Get rid of fillers like "um," "I think," etc. Be disciplined about erasing these fillers from your speaking, because they'll water down your point and make you look nervous and less confident in what you're saying.
8. Become comfortable with silence. If you've ever seen someone rush to fill silence by chattering nervously, you know how it can diminish their authority. So when you're speaking, make your point, and then stop. Similarly, it's fine to pause before responding to a question. Confident people assume that others will wait for them to speak, and that they don't need to rush in to respond before they've formulated their thoughts.
9. Drop the defensiveness. While responding defensively when your decisions are questioned is generally an attempt to protect your authority, it will actually make you come across as less confident and less in charge. Confident people are open to the possibility that they might be mistaken or that there might be a better way of doing something.
10. Be direct. Rather than shying away from difficult or awkward conversations, you'll appear far more authoritative if you simply say what needs to be said, directly and straightforwardly. Assume that addressing problems head-on is a key part of your job, and act accordingly.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.