Influencing without Authority

Over the years, I have worked many complex, cross organizational, cross discipline projects which required influencing without authority. I learned many lessons – both from making mistakes and from applying some sound principles to my work ethic. In this blog series, I’ll be exploring what I consider the core elements of influence as well as some thoughts about creating a shared sense of urgency, which is critical to successful projects.

Let me start by saying that I believe strong project management and good communication skills are at the core of successful complex projects. I don’t think you can succeed without angst and friction without them. I will refer back to the key elements in these areas again and again. But when you are driving cross organizational, cross discipline projects you will be lucky if you have direct authority over a few and you will not have direct authority over most people you will rely on for success. So you need to leverage other kinds of influence to get anything done.

Here’s a story that demonstrates why you can’t rely only on authority to get things done! Freshly titled and a bit full of myself, I scheduled a conference call with a team in Global. I was in a NA position and was reliant on the Global team for web pages which they managed. I set up a call and gave a thorough briefing on the project at hand. I explained what was needed. I laid out the responsibilities and timelines. I presented all that, ending up with little time for questions. I had little participation on the call (not like that happens often, huh?) but no objections so I left the call feeling confident. I sent a recap note with actions and dates and proceeded to the next call ten days later. I quickly found that NOTHING HAPPENED. No one did anything since the previous call and I was furious.

Clearly I was hell bent on creating discontent as I got upset and started waving around my “authority” instead of having a discussion to understand the issues, instead of listening. Long story short, I got a call shortly thereafter from their (and my matrix) management telling me I had messed up. The team had a set of conflicting priorities and I somehow managed to completely miss the point and upset them in the process. After many calls and discussions, the situation got straightened out. But I sure got off on the wrong foot with that group of people and these things leave lasting impressions – hard to recoup from that.

I think a few things happened here. The following blogs will talk about each of these and more.

This story to me is a fine example of why it’s critical to engage in other types of influence. Authority is grand when you have it, but even when you do, people tend to respond better and be more engaged with other types of influence. So even where you do have authority, you may consider a pinch of other influence types in your leadership stew.

Stay tuned for the next blog in this series : Influencing with Expertise.