Influence without authority

By 2015-06-19Company News

Influencing others is a key capability; whether you are at work or elsewhere, the ability to exert influence is vitally important.  I often listen to people tell me “I’m not good at influencing… I don’t have the…” all the time discounting their ability to do anything about it.  In effect writing themselves off as a ‘poor influencer’.  Yet here’s the thing, the capability to influence someone is not something we are born with, it is fundamentally a capability we can develop.

In this field of work two social psychologists are often cited – John R. P. French and Bertram Raven. From their research and studies they identified five (and then subsequently added a sixth) forms of power related to social influence.  They defined social influence as a change in the belief, attitude, or behavior of a person resulting from the behaviour/action of another.  Thus one person is influencing the other’s beliefs, attitudes and behaviours.

The six sources of power that a person has (in terms of influencing another) are:

  • Coercive power
  • Reward power
  • Legitimate power
  • Referent power
  • Expert power
  • And Informational power

There is no doubt that there are positions that we hold that give us ‘influence’ (or power/authority) by their very definition.  A manager has the necessary authority (or ought to have!) to ensure things are done.  They have, in the French and Raven model, Legitimate Power to ensure others do what need to be done.  When we try and influence those more senior than us this is often the stumbling block and the cause of our failure.  We naturally assume that they have the Legitimate Power to say no to our attempt to influence.  They have the ultimate (in organisational terms) power to say ‘no’.   They may also use any of the other forms of social power too.

So as we attempt to influence without authority, we need to constructively leverage the other sources of power. We need to approach influencing others with some deliberate thought and a develop our strategy.  We need to know the other person and we need to know what’s going on in their world.  We have to identify what we have that is of value to them; how can we help them?  What is it that matters to them?

Within organisations one group of people striving to influence without authority are those in support functions, HR, H&S, Finance, IT/IS etc.  What these groups often have that the person they are influencing doesn’t is Expert and Informational Power.    The key question is how is this used?  Are these sources of power used to enforce procedures, policies, rules.  To say “No, you can’t do it that way, you have to do it this way”…”you Have to fill in this form and you have to …” Needless to say the outcomes aren’t good, neither in the short term or long term.

If you want to develop your ability to influence.  To become more influential and to achieve more then have a look at our new program.  We are delighted to be running our first public (open) program in November.  “The Influential People” program is a two day event that will help you develop your influencing capability.    To read more

Chris Lee

About Chris Lee

Chris has 20 years experience in Learning and Development having worked for a number of large multinationals. He has built a wealth of knowledge and experience in the field of L&D including Organisational Design and Development as well as Talent and Performance Management.

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