Regardless of your politics, few would be betting against today’s Prime Minister not returning to Downing Street or even Parliament after the next general election. The smart money is on Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, taking the keys to Number 10 sometime this year.

So how does it feel to be PM in waiting? It is a challenging position to be in because, while waiting in the wings, it’s vitally important to be projecting a sense of authority. That’s a tough act, when you don’t actually have any real authority to be projecting.

It’s a dynamic that frequently plays out across business and legal sectors for those preparing to enter senior positions. The writing is on the wall, but without the title to bestow legitimacy, one must be seen to be making the right noises, while simultaneously trying not to get ahead of oneself.

This is a particular challenge for people who aren’t naturally confident. For such persons confidence comes so much easier if there if there’s a ‘title’ to hang it on. Without that buffer, without that sense of legitimacy, there is often a fear of appearing to be too pushy, coming across as entitled or of being seen as acting beyond one’s remit, above one’s station as it were.

Such a fear is an emotion closely tied to imposter syndrome but, the emotion is also related to the ambiguity of being in the ‘status change’ waiting room.

So what can you do to establish more authority in situations, despite feeling a lack of confidence? One of the greatest misconceptions about projecting authority is the notion that it is synonymous with ‘throwing your weight around’ and being more forthright, direct and even confrontational.

That’s not authority. Just as with the age old idioms, empty vessels make the most noise and still waters run deep, authority comes from somewhere else. Authority comes from being present – and indeed a presence – in the room, without being overbearing as well as being informed and prepared.

It is about acknowledging the contribution of others and how that contribution affects team dynamics. It means praise when praise is due (and far too many people in positions of management fail to recognise the power of giving it) and taking responsibility and owning the things that may go wrong.

Real authority does not come from talking over everybody else. It comes from a quiet place, where others feel like they are being listened to. And when authority speaks, it does so in a measured way, with words which carry real value.

So if you find yourself in the status waiting room, how can you project these sentiments? There are a few.

Start talking the talk. Timing is a key factor in this. Waiting for the right moment to speak and delivering a couple of well thought out and measured points, helps to define the sort of person you will be once in authority.  Don’t wait too long though, otherwise the moment may pass entirely.

Consider the way you speak too. Those in authority speak with gravitas. They harness excitement and speak at a slower pace, pronouncing words with purpose and using the power of the pause to bring weight to what is being said and build expectation in the listener.

Hold yourself with poise. It may sound obvious, but standing or sitting with an aligned posture, shoulders back, head up, using purposeful eye contact, going easy on the smile – these are all ways in which to speak authoritatively through body language.

Think of the phrase ‘act like you mean business’ and feel the difference which comes with holding yourself in a certain way. Authority can be shown through physical presence and just the fact of moving like you own it, can help to give you that confidence.

Dress for the occasion. In professional industries, appearances really do matter – the trend for dressing like Mark Zuckerberg for a Zoom meeting was a fleeting Lockdown flirtation that has quickly become tiresome. Authority is synonymous with looking the part.

And finally, remember that most of those people in positions of authority have had to learn how to grow into them. Many of them will also have felt that feeling of paddling furiously beneath the surface in order to portray a swan like grace above – therefore don’t be afraid of having to paddle to get to where you’re going!