How to Influence Without Managing

Written by vChief

August 7, 2018

If you’re in a chief of staff, executive assistant or project manager role, you may be required to influence people every single day to get work done, meet deadlines, and complete deliverables—yet you don’t manage anyone you’re trying to influence. Or maybe you do manage people but you work in a matrixed organization that requires you to get work done through others you don’t manage.

If you’ve experienced either of these situations, you know that getting work done through others is tough, especially when you don’t have the authority to make things happen. These situations can cause you to feel stuck, like you are banging your head against a wall. At worst, you may feel ineffective in your role.

The good news is, you can influence others and get work done even when you don’t have formal authority. In order to execute your influence productively, you need to both pay attention to your role and your work while you are spending time getting to know others and what makes them tick. Because this is an issue that we hear frequently in conversations with our clients, we wanted to share strategies for you to be able to effectively influence and motivate people you don’t directly manage—be they peers or superiors.

  1. Build relationships: At the end of the day, people are happy to do things for people they like. If you have a strong personal relationship, it is easy to pester someone in a good-hearted manner to get what you need. Take the extra few minutes to connect on a personal level in every interaction.
  2. Understand their priorities and motivations: Dig under the surface to understand what drives the people you need to influence. If you can find a way to frame things in ways that will be beneficial to them, they will be more likely to do what you need them to do.
  3. Respect different working styles: Not everyone approaches work in the same way and it’s important to appreciate the different working styles and perspectives of others. We know there’s a colleague whose working style is fundamentally different than yours and that annoys you, but remember that same colleague is going to be someone you need something from at some point. Rather than be annoyed, learn to understand and respect their different approach to work.
  4. Be very explicit with expectations: Tell people specifically what you need and when you need it. Keep communications concise and bulleted with only the details they need. Give hard deadlines, but build in a buffer in your own timeline to manage for missed deadlines.
  5. Keep it simple: Whatever you’re asking someone to do, setup the task so they have to do the minimal amount of work to accomplish it. Remember that everyone already has their own role to be managing and what you’re asking for is likely on top of that, so don’t make it harder than it needs to be. For example, if you need their input on one section of a document, be very clear on which section they should share their feedback. If you are collecting data from a group of people, consider using a Google Sheet so that everyone can add and edit their data as needed, plus see other’s data at the same time.
  6. Meet other’s needs: When you’re quick to respond to the needs and expectations of others, they will feel a level of responsibility to do the same for you.
  7. Share the love: Show your gratitude when others come through and help out with whatever task or project you’ve enlisted them for.

Influencing others involves give and take. Getting to know others within your organization, appreciating their work style and what they bring to the table—even before you need something from them–will be your ultimate keys to success when delegating tasks to those you don’t manage.

Suzanne Lynn founded and leads SGL Consulting, which provides leadership development coaching and consulting to leaders in the non-profit and education sectors. 

Maddy Niebauer is the founder and CEO of vChief, a virtual chief of staff service providing busy executives with part-time or interim chief of staff support.

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