Influencing without Authority – leveraging Expertise

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This is part 2 of a blog series on Influencing without Authority. If you missed the introduction blog, you can check it out here. I covered why it’s so important to leverage other types of influence and shared a personal example of what happens when you don’t.  This blog will focus on Expertise as an area of influence.

You can influence decisions by sharing your unique knowledge. Often you may be the only one who can bring a specific perspective to the table, based on your expertise. There are so many types of expertise. There is domain expertise – maybe you are the expert in graphic design or accounting or sales. There is cross discipline expertise – the ability for example to see connections that others can’t see across silos. Then there is expertise in intimately knowing the objectives, style, triggers, preferences of a project sponsor – could be a board or an executive in your organization, could be a client, could be another role. All of these areas of expertise can be a source of influence when you share your knowledge with a team of decision makers who are missing vital information.

The flip side of expertise is making sure that you leverage that same knowledge from team members. Whether you are directly project managing a project or ultimately responsible for the outcome, it behooves you to know what the areas of expertise of your team are. You can streamline decision making by delegating decisions to the experts.

We all know that trying to get to a final decision in a big group is sometimes next to impossible. It’s tough to get to consensus without making major concessions that may or may not compromise the end quality. Sometimes when we try to ensure group consensus we make irrational decisions to avoid conflicting points of view. We stifle strong opinions of the few for the approval of the many – even when the strong opinion is from the most experienced person in the team to make it. This is where establishing the expertise of each team member and delegating appropriate decisions can be extremely effective.

If you decide to take this approach, it’s helpful to explain how decision making will take place. Many decisions can be made with the domain expert together with veto power from the person who knows the sponsor best. These decisions can be shared with the group asking for feedback but making it clear that ultimately the decision will not be a group one. Not only will you avoid the pitfalls of groupthink but you will empower individuals on the team with decision making power which will further motivate their personal investment in the project.

I’ve seen firsthand how powerful and influential stakeholder knowledge is to succeeding in complex, stressful projects. I was the messaging manager for a major launch a number of years ago where a changing executive strategy took us from working independently as a business unit to working in collaboration with a cross business unit launch team – mid launch! The team was made up of representatives from many disciplines, some business unit specific people and some cross business unit.

My job, as I saw it, was to “sell” the changes from the executive leadership to the rest of the team each time they happened. I had the expertise about both the business sense in the changes as well as the decision making process behind them. By constantly providing the perspective of executives who were not on the call, I made it easy for the team to see the context in which they were working and to accept, even if frustrated, major change that meant redoing work. I’ll refer back to this launch in the blogs to come on  other types of influence since I think many of the tips here made a difference at this complicated time.

Next up….leveraging Resources!