In our roles as managers, success on any given project usually hinges on the ability to unite individuals under a common goal. Often times, you don’t have formal authority over these individuals. For example, a project can’t successfully take off until it has the buy in from executives or your clients. In addition, flatter organizational structures, resourcing and remote teams also makes it more difficult to lead by authority.
What is more powerful than authority is influence. When used tactfully, influence can ensure project success and build credibility among colleagues. But how do you become influential?
This should go without saying, but you should have full knowledge of the processes to see the project through completion. Sometimes learning by doing is an effective method, but in that scenario, you should still arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible before diving deep. Knowing as much as you can will help you better present your decisions and influence others to jump onboard.
Be sure to develop a plan at the outset of a project that reflects your vision for the initiative. Step back and view your vision from a high level. Determine what the strategic objectives are and make sure that your plan includes actionable and operational objectives that will meet each strategic objective. As you’ll see below, this plan will never be truly final, but having a clear map on the actions necessary to obtain the desired end goal will help you build consensus and influence other team members.
Although the ability to influence others can help you get ahead in your career, this should not be your end goal. When you keep your focus on what’s right for the organization or your client, your objectives are pure and others will be more likely to follow your advice. It is when you focus too much on building the power base itself or fulfilling subjective visions, your motives may be questioned and you lose the support you need.
Make the time to consult those who are integral to the project. Ask for their opinions and for their concerns on your vision for the project. Make note of their ideas and not just their reactions to your ideas. Too many times, managers build out and commit to an elaborate plan or process without consulting others. They then share it with team members, mistakenly believing they are engaging in cooperation. The results in disgruntled team members and bickering over small details. Come to the table with a clear vision but invite others to modify or add to it.
Rarely are individuals successful as sole influencers. Influence is strongest when multiple people are collectively advocating specific ideas. When managing laterally, this is a critical skill to have. Begin early on in the project planning process and determine who’s buy-in do you need? Are there particular individuals who are more natural influencers? Who are the individuals who will be most affected by your initiatives? Get their thoughts on the project and improve your plan based on them. Share your ideas again and continually refine your plans in the weeks leading up to a formal kickoff. Keep this body informed and engaged throughout the project process. Keep seeking their feedback instead of blindly fixing problems that may arise.
When you put this all together, what does influence look like? Begin with a cooperative mindset, focus on the needs of the organization or client, and remain humble. Formulate and present your plan based on the project objectives. Continue to practice this throughout the project lifecycle and you’ll notice that a natural chemistry will develop among the team members. The team will agree with decisions you’ve made because they have had the opportunity to share their ideas with you before. There will be more difficult decisions to be made, but they’ll be less contentious. You’ll gain trust and credibility. This combination is your influence on the project team.