Influencing without authority—Using your 6 sources of influence

I am in the difficult situation of being unofficial project lead, responsible for team performance to schedule and budget. How can I influence and motivate the team to get the job done, when I do not have a job title that commands their respect?

Leadership textbooks make a point of advising up-and-coming leaders not to accept responsibility for a business outcome without first negotiating a job title and hierarchical authority. In other words, you should always strive to “lead with authority”.

This is great advice in principle, but in the real world you’ll find organizational structures that are in a constant state of flux and management structures that are highly matrixed, not to mention limited opportunities for promotions. There are times when an emerging leader needs to roll up their sleeves, engage the team, influence, and get the job done.

At a company women’s leadership event, Dr. Cecilia Kimberlin, former Vice President, Quality and Regulatory Affairs with Abbott, made a point of saying, “There is a myth that the higher you go in the organization and the more positional authority you gain that you just have to say ’do it‘ and people get it done. I hate to bust your bubble!”

In this type of environment, influencing without authority is one of the most valuable skills you can learn today. As another senior-level woman in a manufacturing organization once explained, “In my company, influencing skills are the single most important success factor after knowing your job.”

So while positional influence is something to aspire to, until you have it, remember that there are many other useful forms of influence that you could be taking greater advantage of.

Your 6 Sources of Influence

1. Positional influence: The authority that comes inherent in a job title and role.

Positional influence is perhaps the most overrated of all forms of influence, as people spend a lot of their careers waiting for it when they could be influencing in other, more immediate ways. For example:

2. Expertise influence: The influence that comes with your background, experience, qualifications and career accomplishments.

Nora Denzel is a member of the board of directors for Ericsson, Saba and Outerwall. When she spoke to senior technical leaders at a women’s conference, she reminded them that, “It’s not what you know and it’s not who you know. It’s who knows what you know.”

Who knows what you know? Are your colleagues and management aware of your expertise? If not—don’t be the best kept secret in your organization! Find appropriate and effective ways to promote your accomplishments, in order to maximize your expertise influence.

3. Resources influence: Having the ability to attract and deploy the resources you require to get your job done.

When budgets and headcount are tight, it is important to demonstrate that any company resources allocated to you are invested well. And don’t make the mistake of turning down additional resources that could help you perform your job. If you can take an additional resource and use it to deliver a greater return on that investment, you’re not doing your company any favors by being frugal.

Negotiate for the resources you need, use them well, and you will be entrusted to manage even greater resources in future.

4. Informational influence: Having a finger on the pulse of what is going on in the organization.

Seek out information about changes before they become officially known, such as new projects, opportunities, re-orgs, resource allocations, budgets, and long-range plans. Having a heads up on this information helps you make better business decisions, more rapidly.

Over time, others will come to rely on you for your decision-making ability. When that happens, you’ll be utilizing your informational influence.

5. Direct influence: Being firm, fair, and professional when someone’s behavior is out of line.

Here’s where leadership and parenting have a lot in common. A caring parent will step in when a child puts them self or others in danger. There will be times as a leader when you need to do the same, using your direct influence to take that person aside and have a “tough love” conversation.

The best leaders do this in a way that is firm, fair, direct, and confidential. They also take the time to share their vision for that individual and their future potential, and in doing so, act more like a mentor than a boss.

Leaders who do this well gain a great deal of respect from their people. By using your direct influence well, you can make a big difference in another person’s career.

6. Relationships influence: The influence that grows as you build great working relationships with those you rely on to get your job done, and everyone else that your role touches.

Dr. Sophie Vandebroek, Chief Technology Officer with Xerox, said, “It’s not enough to have a bright idea. I have seen too many projects led by great, passionate people fail because they tried to be a lone influencer. You have to get the right people in the boat with you. You have to engage the entire human fabric.”

When you take time to build great relationships across the human fabric of your organization, you are less likely to need to resort to cajoling or persuading others to get things done. Instead of being the sole driver of an idea you can achieve a lot more by collaborating with people who know you and trust you.

So don’t try to be a lone influencer. By fully using the power of relationships and of all of your Sources of Influence, you can gain credibility, get buy-in for ideas, and make a larger impact in your company, with or without the positional authority of a job title.

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