“People aren’t going to read this book because they’re interested in your school district. They’re going to read it because you are an expert in this subject, and they want to learn what you know. You have authority on this topic, and you need to own it.”
These were the words of a good friend who met me for lunch last spring, as I was thick in the middle of writing a book. She worked for a time in book publishing, so this was my chance to learn how to keep the project on the fast track with my publisher, as well as an opportunity to pick her brain on a few passages I’d written that were giving me problems.
Writing is just what I do — virtually every day, in fact. I write for work because of my job, and I write for pleasure because I enjoy it. I didn’t need help with convention, but the point of view I needed to express was still falling short. I needed to find my “I’m writing a book” voice. I would flirt with it here and there, but it still wasn’t cohesive and clear. With more than half of my manuscript written before our conversation over Subway sandwiches, it clicked: I needed to find my “expert” voice. I needed to own my authority.
I went back through my manuscript with an editor’s eye, and page by page, the language changed. Edit by edit, the changes were subtle. But as the sentences and paragraphs shifted, so did my mindset. My voice evolved from casual storyteller to focused author with the confidence of both expertise and experience.
Over the last 10 years or so, I have slowly uncovered more of who I am as a professional. I’ve discovered my strengths and weaknesses through experiences, interactions with coworkers and abundant opportunities for self reflection. (When your behind-the-scenes work is largely played out on a public stage, it’s hard not to reflect on what comes easily — and what doesn’t.)
Owning my authority means acknowledging the value of those things — the skills, insight, point of view — that I bring to work every day because they matter.
This perspective is powerful, especially working as a transplant in a specialized workplace. For those of us serving as communication professionals in other fields — education, banking, social service, retail, government — we will always be outsiders, to a certain degree. Lacking the expertise and experience of a teacher or principal, the authority I have in this system can be obscured. But it is there.
Learning to own your authority involves a few simple — and important — standards. Try them on for yourself…
- I have skills and expertise that can directly influence the progress and well being of my organization.
- My point of view is valuable, even if (I dare say because) my skill set is different from my coworkers.
- I can confidently explain what I do, why I do it, and why it matters to someone else.
Whether writing a book, attending a meeting or responding to an e-mail, the ownership of authority is not arrogance, self-righteousness or bravado. Instead, it is a simple, quiet confidence that my voice — your voice — makes a genuine difference — and you’re ready to bring it.