Do you have authority without influence or influence without the authority?

influenceA great deal has been written and said on the topic of personal influence. There is an impressive array of books on how to develop personal influence in the context of your work and career.  Additionally, the myriad of articles, posts and blogs add to the volume of useful advice.  Making sense of these useful insights is no trivial exercise.

The reality, however, is that there is no single recipe on how to develop, maintain and adapt your approach to becoming a person who has influence – and in particular, those over whom you have no direct authority.   This is especially relevant for those whose careers are built on deep expertise in a specific technology or functional area.

The fact that computerization and automation has been changing many types of jobs, and hence careers, is nothing new.   What is new, are factors such as the rapid pace and unpredictability of change combined with globalization.

These trends are summarised in the study completed by a number of Oxford University academics that analysed over 700 occupations as to the relationship between each occupation’s probability of computerisation, wages and educational attainment.  They also suggest that given the rapid rate of technological evolution, sophisticated digital technologies supported by algorithms could substitute for approximately 140 million full-time knowledge workers worldwide

When influence trumps authority (some call it workplace ‘politics’) comes as a challenge those professionals and leaders who may, technically speaking, do an excellent job yet are unable to have any positive influence on people outside of their teams or core area of expertise.  Tell-tale symptoms of this lack of influence often revolve around not being able to gain traction for good ideas, being excluded from conversations where you should be present, being presented with platitudinal statements about you being valued as an employee or not being approached for your insights, perspectives or opinions on topics that are allied to your role.

Following on my earlier article What’s personal power got to do with my IT career?, I thought it timely to dig a bit deeper into this important topic by offering two important perspectives – important, that is, if you are serious about building career resilience.

Influence – Context is king

Most situations are contextual.  The identical job in different organisations can be vastly different – largely due to the context of these roles.  If you are able to read the broader situation and understand its context, as well as genuinely be able to consider things from someone else’s point of view (known as empathy), it contributes to making you more effective at being able to persuade others and also predict how others will react.

Spot the workplace sociopath

It is more likely than not at some point in your career, you will encounter a workplace sociopath. If the success of your job or employment prospects depends on the support of, or collaboration with a workplace sociopath, you are best advised to plan your approach carefully.  The astute, influential sociopath within your organisation can act as a wrecking ball through any of your attempts at creating influence based on professionalism, personal integrity or ‘doing the right thing’ for the organisation – not to mention elsewhere. Take time out to read many of the well researched articles and books on the corporate sociopath – or follow the suggested reading below.

Hone your presentation skills

Whether you are meeting an influential person 1-on-1, or delivering a talk to a large audience from behind the podium, the fine art of being calm, confident and polished in both your subject matter and your ability to communicate in terms that others can relate to (Communicating with vs. talking to – there’s a big difference) can be a real differentiator.

Here’s a tip:  If you are not comfortable or experienced in ‘getting the message across’ join Toastmasters.

Research shows that the physiological stress responses when faced with public speaking (or similar stress) are very real.  Practice, and hone this important skill.

The bottom line is that being able to positively influence others, and through them, organizational outcomes that are positive, valued and attributed to you will substantially add to your career and job resilience.  And that’s more valuable in the longer term


Suggested additional reading on the organisational sociopath: