How to influence without authority

Susan is the head of development of a medium-sized IT company. She is very well respected by her colleagues and the CEO. Not only do they ask her for advice regarding all questions about IT development, they also seek her advice regarding countless other questions. The marketing department listens to Susan when they're evaluating new campaigns, the sales director often consults Susan regarding bidding situations.

Somehow, every piece of information lands on Susan's table. Susan is influential. She leads without authority Her opinion counts, and she's able to contribute ideas and change the direction the company is heading.

Why can some people persuade others and some can't? Why are some people more influential than others? Why do some managers have to play the authority card so that anyone listens, while others without a disciplinary management role have an easy time to influence change?

Back in the 90ties, when I was still in sales, Mike Bosworth taught me to look for the decision makers and influencer at the buyers' company and understand who is really making the decision. Surprisingly, typically it's not the one who formally is or who signs the contract.

The same principle applies to families: Some choose their vacation destination based on the dog friendliness of a place, while in others the kid has the last say.

Influence is something that has to be earned and must not be mistaken with authority. It also has to do with trust. So, how can we earn the right to influence and therefore change our environment and contribute our ideas?

7 Tips to influence without authority

Tip 1: Accept responsibility

As Voltaire said during the French Revolution:

The people’s representatives will reach their destination, invested with the highest confidence and unlimited power. They will show great character. They must consider that great responsibility follows inseparably from great power. To their energy, to their courage, and above all to their prudence, they shall owe their success and their glory.

We credit the quote “With great power comes great responsibility” to many people, including Spider-Man. But it was Voltaire who first put into words what every leader feels.

The ability to influence comes with responsibility. Who is influential changes his environment.

Some implications are:

  • You have to be able to morally stand by what you change.
  • If something goes wrong, others will blame you. If all goes well, others might or might not praise you. If you take on a leadership role that goes beyond what you are ordered, paid, and authorized to do, you should be aware of that. Don't do it to get something in return. The world often takes active leaders for granted. On the other hand, we frequently get most back when we expect the least.
  • You have to be willing to accept the consequences of your doing, for you will not be able to say “Someone told me to…”

Are you ready to lead with all the consequences that come with such power?

Then make it your task to take care of you are staff, your initiative, your family, or your small business.

Tip 2: Want to lead

Alfred Herrhausen famously said:

You also have to want power.

Alfred Herrhausen

Influence starts in your head. If you want to influence others, you will first have to allow yourself to lead. That has to do with your feeling of self-worth and your way of thinking – in other words, your mindset.

Here are a few questions you could ask yourself:

⦁ Do I understand the difference between negative manipulation and influence?
⦁ Do I see myself as competent?
⦁ Do I feel my opinion matters and I regularly have great ideas?
⦁ Do I believe it is my right to help shape my environment?
⦁ Is it helpful for the people around me when I am assertive or contribute ideas?
⦁ Do I think that I am important and that my opinion matters?

If any of these questions make you cringe, it means that you don't allow yourself to be in a leading role and influence others. It could also be that you are hesitant to take on the responsibility that comes with influence. Maybe you are afraid of your power.

If you realize that you're not allowing yourself to lead, you could ask yourself: “Why not?” Before you can break the blockades, you have to name them. Most often, if people don't allow themselves to lead, it is because they lack self-confidence and have a low feeling of self-worth. If that applies to you, you could have a look at my confidence training: Project Confidence.

Tip 3: Integrity

To become an influencer without authority requires integrity. If you are not perceived as an integer person, people will not trust you. You could be the most knowledgeable expert in the world – if people don't trust you, they won't come to you for advice.

We have to say what we think. We have to do what we said. And then we have to be what we say.
Alfred Herrhausen

How can I be perceived by others as an integer person?

  • Be authentic. Or in other words: be yourself. Show that you are just human and admit that you make mistakes too. Don't hide behind a mask and be relatable. People have to see: What's written on the label is also inside.
  • Be reliable. Keep your promises and stick to your word. Do what you say you will do. And if something goes wrong, and you cannot keep your promise, express that you're sorry and explain. A proper explanation helps people to understand without losing their faith in you.
  • Be predictable. Be predictable in the way that you don't change your opinion with the wind. It is a sign of a good leader if he changes his opinion when he learned something new that makes the old obsolete. Changing your opinion with the wind is a sign of an opportunistic person. The same applies to your actions. People should be able to predict how you will react to a certain situation. For instance, when you miss the budget, need extra resources…
  • Shiny object syndrome. If you are enthusiastic about a new idea every day, people will likely not follow. Unless you learn that your idea was not good, try to see things through. Not being persistent with ideas you pursue can also cost credibility.
  • Say the truth. Admit if you are not sure about something. If people catch you lying, they will not only be disappointed, but you will also lose their trust.

We preferred to be influenced by people who are honest, reliable, and trustworthy. If you want to influence without authority in the long term, integrity is going to help you.

Tip 4: Form positive connections

Being influential also means the ability to influence people to go along with your ideas. Sporadically, it might be necessary to persuade people to do difficult things. To accomplish that, it takes a positive relationship.

To influence others to do difficult things, you have to be (not limited to) trustworthy, available and relatable.

Here are some simple tips that help to create positive relationships and make yourself available:

  • Be authentic and vulnerable. Don't expect perfection and also show your imperfections.
  • In conversations, look for commonalities and not everything you could disagree with.
  • Don't trash talk others. Your conversation partner would assume that you talk bad about him too. But that's common sense, and you probably know that anyway.
  • Be interested. Pay attention to the people around you, listen, and show that you care. Asking questions is a sign of interest.
  • Be careful with negative feedback. If you have to criticize something, do it in a constructive way. If it is something the other person cannot change, it might not be necessary to mention it. Keep in mind that it's neither your job nor supportive to point out every last mistake in the world. Make sure your feedback is on point. For example: instead of saying “You always…” point out the specific situation you are criticizing.
  • Be generous with positive feedback. Positive feedback should be shared on an eye level, even if you're the manager.
  • Offer your knowledge when it's appropriate and helpful. Show that you are an expert in your area, but only when it's supportive. Or when you're asked.

That's how you can easily improve the quality of your relationships. You could ask yourself which of these you already do and where you have a potential for improvement.

Tip 5: Competence and expertise

Who do you ask if you have a problem? Whom do you trust, and who do you think is capable of solving your issue?
You will ask someone who you perceive as competent. Being likable and trustworthy is not enough if you want to be influential. You also have to be competent. Let's assume you already have expert level knowledge, but you're still not influential. What else can you do?

  • Learn to share knowledge in an easy-to-understand way. Some people have a lot of knowledge, but they fail at explaining things in a simple way.
  • Advice should be practical. When it comes to helping others, the deepest knowledge is not worth a lot if it is only on a theoretical level. Advice should be paired with implementation know-how. Keep in mind that competence is more than just knowledge.
  • Don't solicit advice. I know a very intelligent CEO. There's hardly any situation he doesn't have knowledge about. He's a walking dictionary. A master of business process. Yet, he is neither influential nor someone people ask for advice very often. Do you know why? He constantly solicits advice. He does know a lot better than others, but his need to constantly tell them without being asked annoys people. They also perceive him as negative. He is not a negative person at all, and he's also supportive. But his habit of soliciting advice makes him someone others don't ask.

Tip 6: Be useful

Once you accept your leadership role and the responsibility that comes with it, you have to become active. You can easily do that by being useful to your environment.

Become an expert in the area that where you want to influence. Share your knowledge freely, but only when asked or when it's useful to others. “Useful” is a bit of a blurred line. Numerous people try to be useful with things that others don't want or don't need. Empathy comes to play here. Useful is what helps someone in their subjective opinion. Not what you think (or know) would be useful to them.

Be useful by doing things that others perceive as valuable.

Decide and communicate if you want something in return, and define upfront what it is. Clearly communicate your expectations. It's a highly unpleasant situation if someone supports you seemingly out of goodwill and later asks for something in return that was not agreed upon.

Define what you are willing to give up front. People have a tendency to, consciously or subconsciously, take advantage of givers, and you might end up emotionally and physically drained.

When paired with social skills, expertise can make us influential.

Tip 7: Increase your emotional intelligence

Influence is also a transfer of emotion. We are influenced by people that we trust. Empathic people, people who understand how we feel and what we want, can influence us easier.

Understanding someone's emotions and motives makes it easy for you to be “useful” as defined above, listen effectively, be authentic, socially aware, and trustworthy.

The most successful leaders have a high EQ. Especially if you are trying to influence without authority (or without playing the authority card), the set of character traits and skills of an emotionally intelligent person are crucial.

Take a look at “Project Eagle Emotional Intelligence Training” or contact me to discuss your individual needs! You are also invited to my emotional intelligence training webinar.

Why it's desirable to influence without authority

To become more influential is a valuable goal. Only if we can persuade people to join in on our ideas and if we can influence change can we strengthen what's important to us in this world.

That could be furthering our career. Every so often we depend on the ability to influence to eliminate negative situations, abuse, grievances and such.

Who wants to change their lives, achieve a higher level of success, or make a contribution to make the world a little better needs influence. And who aims to excel at their leadership role requires the ability to influence people as well.

I hope you can make good use of the ideas above.