The ability to influence without authority is a skill coveted by any project manager. Even if a project manager has complete authority over project team members (which is seldom the case), there are still other stakeholders over whom they have no control and who need to make decisions, review or approve deliverables, or provide resources for the project.
It’s the crux of our job, really, to get people to do things for the benefit of the project.
What does it take to be influential? If you look around at people who are really good at it, what do they do or say that makes them so effective? As students in my training classes have asked, what’s the repertoire of one-liners we can use in meetings with high-level executives to get them to do what we need them to do?
If only it were that easy. Of course, it’s not. It’s a skill to be developed, one that takes patience, planning, and perspective.
The ability to influence requires an investment of time. It isn’t necessarily a single moment in which your influencing efforts will bear fruit. It’s a process. It takes time to understand people’s preferred currencies or things of value that you can offer so they appreciate the “What’s in it for me” factor. It takes time to understand how people make decisions, interact with others, what makes them “tick.”
Influencing also requires planning. This idea is sometimes troublesome to people. If I actually plan to influence someone, how is that different than manipulation? The difference is intent. A plan to influence others for the benefit of the project and the organization is entirely different than influencing others at someone’s expense or for personal gain.
Perspective and self-awareness are also essential. We have to know ourselves well enough to make sure we don’t bring our cultural, personal, and professional baggage to the task of influencing. We’ll never know influencing success if we can’t see things from perspectives other than our own. For example, I’m going to have a hard time getting what I need from you for my wonderful “business process improvement” project if you see it as the “cost-me-half-my-staff” project.
The influencing toolbox includes more than one-liners. Influencing, like any professional skill, has to be developed with patience, planning, and perspective.