Leading with Influence

Lead With Influence

Those with Project Manager responsibilities in their work may be responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars of company budget, be overseeing the work efforts of dozens of people or multiple teams yet have no formal authority within the organization. This is one of the challenges of project management, that you cannot depend on your place in the hierarchy or your title to convince others to follow your lead in reaching the desired business outcome. Influence is the way the most successful of project managers are able to navigate organizational structures and motivate team members. Being able to lead with influence towards positive outcomes can help project managers to reach formal leadership roles. It is a leadership skill that serves all project managers throughout their careers.

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What is influence?

In today’s social media-driven world, “influencer” is used to describe those who have high counts of followers on different platforms (e.g., Twitter, Instagram) and are able to sway others to make specific consumer choices or purchases. These influencers have never met the thousands of people who are making financial decisions based on their social media posts.

The same dynamic of a network of people who are looking to one person who has no real authority but whose option matters to them is exactly what “influence” means in the business context. To lead with influence, that is from an informal position, is to “…get others to follow you and act willingly, rather than acting because you’re their boss and tell them to.” How you lead others when in fact you have no power over their role is part of leading with influence.

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Why Project Managers need influence

Those who leverage leadership skills to develop professional networks within and beyond their organization can influence others to “get the job done more easily.” In Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe, he shares:

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“…Leadership is a choice. It is not a rank. I know many people at the senior most levels of organizations who are absolutely not leaders. They are authorities, and we do what they say because they have authority over us, but we would not follow them. And I know many people who are at the bottoms of organizations who have no authority and they are absolutely leaders, and this is because they have chosen to look after the person to the left of them, and they have chosen to look after the person to the right of them. This is what a leader is.”

By the very nature of their role, Project Managers are commonly in a position where they have great responsibility but no actual authority; influence is key to getting things done.

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How to increase your influence

To build influence is not a thing you can do like a check list. It is something that you must be strategic in doing, have patience as it takes time, and know it is continuous. From the Harvard articles, Exerting Influence without Authority and Leading Outside Your Authority, here are activities that foster influence:

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Influence does not happen overnight. And as people change jobs and your own job changes, you should always be fostering your influencing power.

Training for influencing skills

The Project Management Academy training portfolio includes several classes that help you grow the skills that turn you into an effective influencer.

  • Influencing Without Authority
    You will learn how to build trust and use that trust to create influence in a business setting. This course is especially beneficial for students early on in their career as the skills learned can help you build your professional brand and executive presence skills.
  • Networking and Social Capital
    Successful social interactions with stakeholders, team members and personal contacts are the cornerstone of the business world today. Effective networking skills are crucial during the initiating and planning phases of a project, as they can positively influence stakeholder buy-in and resource allocation.
  • Emotional Intelligence
    The role of the Project Manager is moving away from being a rigid process director to one of a servant leader, who is not only invested in project outcomes but also the development of the team. This can be accomplished by possessing high levels of Emotional Intelligence (E.Q.) and an understanding of how to help team members develop their own Emotional Intelligence. Research suggests teams and leaders who have high E.Q. are more likely to carry out successful projects.

Project Managers are influencers

No matter your level of experience in Project Management, being able to influence others in support of sound business decisions is an important skill.

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Author profile
Megan Bell
Megan Bell
Project Manager & Writer at Project Management Academy
Megan Bell