DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a project manager, and the hardest part of my job is to make people respect my authority. I do not know how many times I had to say, "this is my project" because I have the final say on how things need to be done in the end. The men that work on my team are having a tough time accepting a woman holding this position. How do I ease the tension and at the same time get them to respect my authority? -- Boss Lady, West Orange, New Jersey
DEAR BOSS LADY: You cannot tell people to respect you. You must earn it. Start by developing a strong relationship with your boss, because you will need support if your team members challenge your authority. Rather than bandying about your power, figure out creative ways to encourage your team to do their job. Though you are ultimately responsible, encourage them to come up with ideas on how to do a better job. They will become more motivated if you show them that you value their contributions. As you do this, gently remind them that even the best idea needs a sign-off from you.
Instead of requiring people to come to you directly with their forms, place a bin in a neutral location where they can put their requests. This way, at least early on, they do not have to interact with you in order to get approval. Over time, as they see how you work and what you approve, little by little some of your team may begin to talk more openly with you about ideas.
While this may seem ludicrous and the fruit of sexism, it actually is a way to work within views and judgments that seem to be old and crusty in an effort to soften up the team and get them to view you and their work in a new way. If you are able to stay positive and chip away at their stereotypical beliefs, you may ultimately win them over, and, therefore, prove to them that there is no reason for them to doubt a woman's credibility. It will likely take time, though.