Understanding How to Respectfully Lead Peers Who Are Senior to You

Understanding How to Respectfully Lead Peers Who Are Senior to You was originally published on Ivy Exec.

Let’s say you’ve taken on a project at your company.

While you’re the project lead, you also have several peers who are senior to you on your team. Since they have more years of experience than you do, you’re concerned that you might step on someone’s toes or fail to acknowledge their expertise.

Scenarios in which you’ll be leading more senior-level personnel are common. Here, we’ll talk about how to manage individuals who have more experience than you do.


✅ Bring the right attitude.

New project leads usually have one of two possible attitudes. They are either over-confident, leaning towards cocky, or nervous, leaning towards timid. You want to strike a balance that demonstrates that you’re in control but that you welcome feedback and contributions from your team. 

“One of the most effective ways to lead someone is to actually start from a place of LEARNING and RESPECT. This goes double for people who are more senior-level than you are. The worst thing you can do here is to get all heavy-handed or my way or the highway,” said Career Coach Anish Majumdar.


✅ Showcase your team members’ areas of expertise.

You may think that you have to outshine your more experienced peers in order to prove yourself as a project lead. However, the best managers focus on foregrounding their team members’ experience rather than trying to do everything themselves. 

So, identify the skills and expertise your team members have – and don’t be afraid to sing their praises.

“I love showcasing the reporting skills on my team, which I don’t possess. It balances out my digital media and content marketing experience and lets other teams and clients see our varied strengths!” said Dana Sitar for Inc.


✅ Request advice from your senior-level team members.

You may also face more experienced team members who are skeptical of your ability to lead. How can you get them on your side? 

First, the most important thing to do is to make sure you’re asking for their advice. Not only does this demonstrate your willingness to learn, but it also shows them that you value their experience.

“Turn them into an ally to the cause by making it clear that you DO NOT have all of the answers and that you NEED this person’s perspective and contributions,” Majumdar suggests.


✅ Use their experience to design a more effective project.

In fact, you can even ask senior peers about what’s worked well for the team in the past and what they would suggest modifying.

“Before implementing a change in the process or in the way the team operates, you should ask for advice from a more experienced team member. Maybe they know about similar initiatives from the past and the reason they failed, so you can use that knowledge as a learning experience,” said Bruno Boksic for Workest.

In other words, many new project managers want to change everything about the way projects have been led in the past. But until you understand what works and what doesn’t – and let your team know you’ve done your due diligence – they likely won’t back your initiatives, especially if similar ones failed in the past. 

What’s more, make sure you are creating a team of experts and learning from them rather than leaning into whatever feelings of intimidation you might have. 

“Managing people who have stronger skills than you are a treat and should be something to strive for. You want to surround yourself with people who excel in areas you’re not as strong in so you can learn from them,” said Shannon Maloney, cofounder of Ripp Marketing.

Show that you care about their expertise by asking your team members questions about their own leadership skills and subject matter expertise. Be sure to use what they tell you, too, to show that you’re taking their advice seriously.


✅ Avoid micromanaging.

Another way that you may want to show off your leadership ability is by micromanaging, asking for much more oversight than the team is used to. This is one of the worst ways to get them on your side. 

Instead, ask them how you can be useful in supporting their efforts. 

“Adapt your management style to their way of working. While millennials are very comfortable with new technologies, it might be less natural or intuitive for more experienced employees. Make sure everyone is comfortable with the tools they are using, and when you make changes in the team, do it with a flexible approach,” said Johann Molinari for Popwork.


How to Lead Peers Who Are Senior to You


It can be uncomfortable to lead peers who are senior to you. You may lack confidence, feel that your lack of experience will shine through, or your ego might inflate if you feel like you’ve leaped past them. 

Instead, you want to showcase team members’ expertise and let them work as independently as possible. While you might want to demonstrate that you’ve “earned” your leadership role, you don’t need to micromanage them. What’s more, you can demonstrate humility by asking them questions and showing them your willingness to learn. 

The bottom line here is that you should respect your senior-level peers’ experiences and learn from them. Even if you’re managing a project, you still have so much you can learn from them.

If you’re still concerned about leading your senior-level peers, consider consulting with one of Ivy Exec’s coaches for more ideas.

By Ivy Exec
Ivy Exec is your dedicated career development resource.