Influencing is Not a Four Letter Word

As projects managers we are supposed to be master of many things. We are supposed to be great with our technical skills when it comes to defining scope, estimating time and cost, and managing change. We are also supposed to be masters of soft skills focussed on communications and leadership. In addition to these essential skills we must also master the skill of influencing.

However, whenever I mention influencing as a key skill to people, I get either a stifled uncomfortable laugh or a blank look. Those who offer stifled laughs think that I am saying they should become master manipulators of people, changing their opinion against their will. Those who give me a blank look simply don’t understand what influencing is or the importance of it to a project manager. Influencing is not a four letter word that should be avoided. It is a necessary skill that a project manager must master in order to increase the chances of project success.

The difference between influencing and manipulating is quite simply the difference between honesty and dishonesty. Influencing is about being open with your intentions and changing people’s perceptions and actions by authentic, honest and respectful means.  Manipulating involves dishonesty, deception and a more often than not, some ulterior motive that may not benefit the person being manipulated. Manipulating may work in the short term but in the long term it will probably come back to haunt you, if not in terms of project results then certainly in terms of your reputation.

We all have stakeholders involved in our projects, and these stakeholders can affect the project in many ways. Our job as project managers is to proactively influence these stakeholders to maximise the chances of them offering support to the project or at least not actively undermining the project.

How we do this is by three main ways.

Build relationships with stakeholders so that they understand how you see the world and you understand how they see the world. Shared experience and a mutual understanding and recognition of others is a key factor in successful influencing

Model the actions and behaviours you want to see. People respond very well to what they see in others. Make sure that your words and actions are aligned. Don’t say one thing and do another, it will confuse people and you won’t be successful at influencing them.

Motivate people with a compelling and inspiring message. Use verbal persuasion, your project reports, team meetings, external communications and all other forms of communications as means to sending a consistent message.  Reward people with encouragement and praise when they start to adopt the message you are sending.

Being proactive with your influencing means considering what you want to do, the outcomes you are aiming for and the people who you will target before you set out to influence people. You should have a clear picture in your mind of what you are trying to achieve and the messages you will use to do this. Keep in mind that a particular style of influencing that works on one stakeholder may not work on others.

You may as well become proactive, purposeful and good at influencing because you are doing it whether you like it or not. You already influence, albeit without purpose, in your choice of communications, reports, face to face contact, and implicit and explicit messages sent. Take your influencing skills to the next level and increase your chances of project success.