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Influencing Without Authority

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So you’ve been tasked with leading a project, being a contributor, or just need to have some influence over a team you are on.  Regardless of the circumstance, most of us have been in a position in which we needed to be able to be influential to without formal authority.  There is no sure-fire way to build influence, but the following methods have worked for others.

  • Build Relationships – Work to understand what is important to your peers, both at work and personally. When possible, do so long before you are kicking off a project together.  Don’t forget that this is a two-way street – you’ll have to be open to discussing your goals and priorities as well.  Creating this shared understanding before a project is started creates a solid foundation for the working relationship.

A former colleague shared a great example of this.  He is an IT manager that had built a relationship with a member of the HR team mainly around their shared love of sports.  When the two ended up on an HR system implementation project he loved how easy it was for them to understand each other’s priorities.  He also noted that because of their ability to effectively work together the rest of the group looked to them to for guidance, increasing their influence.


  • Actions Speak Louder Than Words – Sure, it might be a little cliché, but this little phrase rings true when it comes to building influence. If you want to be a force driving change and execution, it is going to take more than talking.  Producing great results and going the extra mile when needed sends a powerful message to your team.

A former peer related a story in which she was involved with a team assigned to update/improve a business and systems process.  The group spent an hour-long meeting arguing through the very initial phases of the process. Before the next meeting, she decided to create a mock-up flow of how the updated process might look.  The mock-up provided the group a structured starting point and since she had taken the time to build it, she quickly became recognized as the default facilitator of the project.

  • Solve Their Problems – No, this doesn’t mean doing their job for them. Be empathetic and understand the problems others are facing.  Frame your ideas/goals/objectives in a way that highlights how the course of action can help solve their problems.  Be open to their suggestions on adjustments that can be made to best address these challenges.

I asked a friend who works on a reporting team about the challenges he faces when updating or creating new reports for different business units.  As you might expect, he said that initially people tend to be resistant to changes; so, he asks questions about the limitations of current reports or what the person could accomplish if they had certain metrics available.  Once he has that information he can frame the changes to help close a gap or create an opportunity. Connecting the report updates to their challenges makes the business units more willing to accept his input.

  • Share Your Goals and Be Accountable – Commit to what you will accomplish for the group. Making clear contributions to the group and holding yourself accountable will create trust. Also, as part of being accountable to the group you need to show up on time to any meetings. Even showing up 5 minutes late can send the message that the project is not a priority for you.  If you can’t make it to a meeting on time, give someone in the group a heads-up.

A coworker recently told me about a project he worked on in which one of the members was consistently late to meetings – enough so that they started scheduling meetings for 15 minutes before they planned to start – we’ll call him Mr. Late. Because of Mr. Late’s tardiness, the group often dismissed his ideas.  As the project progressed and they encountered issues, they realized many of Mr. Late’s ideas would have avoided those issues, but the group had been dismissing them because they felt he wasn’t engaged with the group. He gave up significant influence by regularly being late.

  • Recognize That Everyone is on the Same Team – Particularly in cross functional groups, you may find that individuals that make up a team have competing priorities. These competing priorities can make it feel like someone is actively working against you; remember that ultimately everyone wants to project to be a success.  Help make everyone aware of the common goal and stay focused on the success of the group.

I remember a time in a previous role in which an internal customer requested something from our team and at first, we were all annoyed because we felt it would require significant work for us with minimal return for the company. Lucky for us a member of the team was smart enough schedule a meeting with the stakeholders to better understand the request.  We had the chance to understand the problem they were trying to solve and help them understand the amount of work their initial request would require. From that position of joint understanding we could influence the decision on how to best support them and arrived at a much more efficient solution.

These 5 approaches are worth trying next time you find yourself needing additional influence.  It is important to remember that trust is a cornerstone of influence.  Approach your work and working relationships with honesty and integrity.  The chances of 100% agreement inside a work group are slim to none, but trust will make your peers more willing to engage in honest discussion about how to achieve the goal at hand.

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