With Trust Comes Ownership

“When should we expect to own a project and not require approval from our supervisors?”

And now for the rest of the answer.

Of all the questions posed to the NAMA Boot Camp Mentor Panel, of which I was recently a part, that was the one that I wish I could’ve spent more time discussing. I felt like I only half-answered the question.

My initial response to the ownership/no supervision question was “Never.”

I went on to explain that the best ideas, best work and fewest errors (and least amount of embarrassment) are the result of someone else reviewing your work – whether you’re crafting a status email to a client, writing a project brief, updating your budget tracker or preparing the set-up for a creative presentation. No matter your tenure or title, you benefit from having someone check your work for story flow, content, logic and technical accuracy, as well as grammar and punctuation. I’m the President and CEO of Rhea + Kaiser, and I routinely look to others as sounding-boards, reality checks and quality control of my writing and presentation.

As I was sitting on the stage with the microphone in front of me, I felt like I had answered the question with the right mix of moxie, reason and humility. It was about eight hours later when I was flying home, that I realized I hadn’t fully understood or answered the question from the man in the blue suit.

I suspect what he was trying to understand was when will his manager trust him to manage a project on his own. There it is, the linchpin of project ownership and less supervisor oversight: TRUST.

Earn trust to earn ownership.

Trust is the most important currency in our professional (and personal) lives. We gain trust and lose trust. We give it and take it away. Trust is the basis for getting more responsibility, coveted autonomy and project ownership. Trust is the essence of client-agency relationships and the catalyst for career advancement.

However, you can’t measure trust in days, projects, briefs or presentations. Trust comes from the heart. It comes from making eye contact with our peers, bosses, clients and vendors on the good, the bad and the routine work in our lives. You gain trust with integrity, follow-through and unrelenting quality control.

Increased ownership leads to increased collaboration.

To better answer the question from the man in the blue suit at NAMA Boot Camp, here is my final answer, in two parts, about when you should expect to own a project.

  1. Ownership and autonomy are the outcome of earning trust. They come gradually as your supervisor sees that you: (a) understand the what and why of your work; (b) deliver quality that aligns with agency and client expectations; and (c) can confidently present and defend your work.
  1. The time to stop seeking input and approval is never. In fact, you’ll find that as your ownership of work expands, your desire for suggestions, ideas and occasional gut-checks from your colleagues will increase, too. There is an art to assuring your boss that you’ve got this and drawing on the wisdom of others. With experience (i.e., a combination of successes and mistakes), you will know when to keep things moving and when to seek guidance.

Thanks to the man in the blue suit and to all who asked questions and listened to my fellow panelists and me at NAMA Boot Camp. Two weeks later, and I am still energized by the enthusiasm, energy and smarts in the room. I also appreciate the forced introspection and reflection I’ve gone through over the last few weeks.

I hope some of my words will be useful in your professional development. Good luck in your careers. And don’t forget to make eye contact.

Diane Martin is President/CEO of Rhea + Kaiser and thrives on helping new talent learn, grow and eventually own their work.


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