Make no mistake about it. Project Managers are leaders; sometimes without authority, sometimes without titles, but leaders nonetheless. They are leaders who impact key decisions, strategic direction and success. What is leadership without authority? The answer is “influence.” Influence can often be more powerful than institutional authority. Authority means nothing if the person who has it is unable to implement a course of action or make a decision.
Influence is defined as “the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior or opinions of others.” It doesn’t have to be related to title, income or authority. It’s not instant. It’s something that builds over time. It’s the perception that you are the go-to person for good advice, getting things done, support and finding answers.
Given that, how do you develop influence? The first and most important thing to realize that you can’t influence people to do what you want them to − you can only influence them to do what they want to do. In fact, if you try to make someone to do what you want, the reaction is always resistance. The leverage is in understanding what it is that someone needs or wants and helping him or her pursue those objectives. The fact is, by pursuing your “what I want to do,” you’ll be ignoring someone else’s needs. Influence begins with trying to see the world from the other person’s perspective. Influence is not about pushing or pulling; it’s about understanding and empathy.
Building influence is understanding that there is more than one right answer. If you have to prove that you’re right, you will influence no one. After listening to the other person’s point-of-view, if you follow up with an attempt to demonstrate how right you are, in spite of what another believes, you’ve just undermined all the good work you have done by listening. In order to build influence, you must be willing to surrender position. We are conditioned to believe that if one person is right, the other is wrong. If one person wins, the other loses. Influence is about creating a collaborative relationship, where someone will trust you with his or her perspective and know that you will provide support and counsel.
Building influence is your willingness to allow someone else to have the “great” idea. Actively pursue the ideas of others. Recognize that the people around you are sources of great expertise, intelligence and creativity. Influence is about finding great ideas and bringing them to life.
Building influence is taking responsibility for your communication. Where is the leverage for change in a pass in a football game? You can work on the receivers, but if the pass is bad, it will still be missed. Communication is just like that pass. When your listener “just doesn’t get it,” it’s not about the listener, it’s about how you communicated your message. Influence is the result of great, clear communication.
When you have helped your customer to get where they need to go, helped a team be successful – the next time your customer needs to get somewhere or accomplish something, they will seek you out.
The result is influence and influence brings excellence.