Question: I am in the difficult situation of being the unofficial project lead, responsible for team performance to schedule and budget. How can I influence and motivate the team to get the job done, when I do not have a job title that commands their respect?
Answer: Welcome to the tricky world of influencing without authority.
Leadership text books make a point of advising up-and-coming leaders not to accept responsibility for a business outcome without first negotiating a job title and hierarchical authority. This is great advice in principle, but here in the real world you may have an organization structure that is in a constant state of flux and management structures that are highly matrixed, not to mention a freeze on promotions. There are times when an emerging leader needs to roll up their sleeves, engage the team, and get the job done.
At a women’s leadership event, Dr. Cecilia Kimberlin, Vice President, QA, Regulatory Affairs and Compliance with Abbott made a point of saying “There is a myth that the higher you go in the organization and the more positional authority you gain; that you can just to say “do it” and people get it done. I hate to bust your bubble.”
Learning to influence without authority is one of the most valuable skills you can learn. It is similar to motivating a volunteer army, as you do not have hire/fire authority, just your ability to influence, persuade, motivate, and engage. Learning these leadership soft skills is a vital step in the transition to make on the journey from employee to manager.
As a senior-level woman in a manufacturing organization remarked recently “In my company, influencing skills are the single most important success factor after knowing your job.”
So while positional influence is something to aspire to, until you have it, remember that there are five other highly useful forms of influence that technical women can take greater advantage of:
Your Six Sources of Influence
- Positional influence: The authority that comes inherent in a job title and role.
- Relationships influence: The influence that grows as you build good working relationships and coalitions with others in your organization.
When people know, trust, and respect you, you are less likely to need to influence, cajole, or persuade. It can be as simple as just asking for what you want.
- Expertise influence: The influence that comes with your background, experience, qualifications, and career accomplishments.
Technical organizations place a high premium on this form of influence, so make sure your academic achievements and technical accomplishments are known to others.
- Resources influence: Having the ability to attract and deploy the resources you require to get your job done.
When budgets and headcount are tight, it is important to demonstrate that resources allocated to you are invested well. It is a mistake to turn down additional resources that could help you perform your job. Negotiate for the resources you need, then use them well to show that you are a good custodian.
- Informational influence: Having a finger on the pulse of what is going on in the organization.
Seek out information about changes before they become officially known, e.g. new projects, opportunities, re-orgs, resource allocations, budgets, or long-range plans. Having a heads up on this information helps you make better decisions, sooner.
- Direct influence: Being firm, fair, and professional when someone’s behavior is out of line.
You need to be able to have those “tough-love” conversations, in the rare instance when someone’s behavior is unacceptable. By fully using all of your sources of influence, you can gain credibility, get buy-in for ideas, and make a larger impact in business, with or without the positional authority of a job title.
Jo Miller is CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching, Inc. which offers women’s leadership seminars and coaching programs.