Q: I've been assigned to a project and am responsible for a specific part of the work. People upstream from me are not getting their work done on time, but my timelines are not changing. What can I do to be successful … or at least not be the scapegoat?

Alain, 35, director of quality assurance

A: First of all, even though you can't move forward on our original timeline, there is a lot of prep that can typically be done in advance. You will feel much more in control if you focus there so that you're as ready as possible to go when the time comes.

To this end, even if you haven't received a detailed project plan for the overall project, create one for your portion of the work. You may not have a reliable start date, but you can think through all of the steps you will need to take. Consider all of the standard elements — the specific work items, the people who will be assigned to them, and the amount of time they will take.

Then think about what needs to be in place upstream to make these steps happen. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that there are some items that don't depend on other teams.

Get your budget approved. Even if you don't have external costs, after you do your preliminary planning you can get internal costs approved. This may avert another delay.

What if the scope of the work itself is still unclear? While you don't want to invest too much time if the level of uncertainty is high, it does make sense to lay out some options and contingencies. Just calibrate the amount of planning to match what is known and not known.

Now consider your communication strategy. First, be sure you are keeping your boss in the know. There's no value in keeping him or her in the dark, as you could need an ally if things start to blow up. And he or she could also be a good partner in managing the situation.

Also provide regular status updates to the broader project team. Figure out a cadence that makes sense for the project. If you send updates too often, they could be annoying. But if you are too quiet, you risk being forgotten.

Be an active participant in the project as a whole. If you are an engaged and dedicated team member, you're much less likely to be the one thrown under the bus. Keep your focus on the broader business challenges while advocating for your portion, and be a positive and helpful resource for your colleagues.

What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at liz@deliverchange.com.