Influence vs. Authority

Hat tip to the Anita Borg Institute newsletter for reminding me that I wanted to blog about the importance of influence over title.

I am regularly puzzled when I hear the view expressed that people will only do work for you if you are their manager.

My view is that being the manager is not what is critical, having influence is what matters. The higher you go in management, the more important influencing skills become.

Even at a line management level, the need for influencing skills is growing as the concept of management is evolving. Many predict that management will continue to move from hierarchical to matrix as global teams become the norm.

With all nods to irony, I have a Kiersey type called promoter artisan, that makes me naturally disposed to influencing.  I have countless personal examples where I have seen success for my teams and my products, not based on who had to do things for me due to the organization chart, but on who chose to do things for me, due to their belief that my project was important for them.

If influencing others is not a strength for you, I would recommend you start thinking about focusing on this skill.  The next time you think that your success cannot be attained until you have full authority, I would like you to consider that you might be looking at both the problem, and your ability to impact the solution, way too small.

7 thoughts on “Influence vs. Authority

  1. Meg- Timely post for me to read. I was just in a meeting today discussing the possible need to reclassify a small group of specialized employees from exempt to non-exempt. Everyone is worried they won’t like being called non-exempt. I get tired of people being so focused on that (much like title). Their job will remain exactly the same, but the’ll get paid OT. If it were me, it would sound pretty win-win. Anyway, just want to let you know I always enjoy your posts. Keep up the great writing.

    1. Trish, thanks so much for the sweet comment! As far as the relationship of ego and perceived importance to exempt, I feel your pain. I think this is a byproduct of us telling exempt employees that it was b/c they were so important we expected overtime for free ;-).

  2. So true. I’ve been both a team manager and a project manager of a team, with people working for me but not actually reporting to me. My sphere of influence expanded as I got more experience, independent of role. Although having said that, there are times when it’s just easier (read: faster) to be formally in charge.

    1. @workinggirl An early draft of this post had me also pointing out the irony of the fact I preach that being formally in charge is not important when I’m typically formally in charge. While I note this is, at best, ironic, I still hold that having influencing skills is critical enough to warrant the discussion, since there is always a limit to what you formally control no matter how high you rise.

  3. Well, you convinced me! 🙂 Anyway, many of us are familiar with the ill effects of the opposite situation – those who have authority but are terrible at influence (ref: The Office)

    Great post, and I also liked the “Ask Jo” post on the site you referenced and how it lists out six sources of influence. It just so happens that the book I referenced here also has six sources of influences. What I like about the sources as described in “Influencer: The Power to Change Anything” is that they are organized into two sets of mental maps: Motivation (“Is it worth it?”) and Ability (“Can I do it?”), subdivided into Personal, Social, and Structural sources. This helps see how each relates to the others (in particular the recommendation to start from Personal and work towards Structural sources.

    So I tried to map the six sources from “Ask Jo” as close as I could to the six sources from “Influencer” just to compare and it seems there’s a fairly good fit:
    1. Positional influence -> Structural – Motivation
    2. Relationships influence -> Social – Motivation
    3. Expertise influence -> Personal – Ability
    4. Resources influence -> Structural – Ability
    5. Informational influence -> Social – Ability
    6. Direct influence -> Personal – Motivation

    So “Influencer” would recommend starting with Expertise and Direct influence (you has referred to this as begin authentic), then apply Relationships and Informational influence, and finally use Positional and Resources influence. It’s not a perfect matchup in definitions, but generally speaking, that makes sense and aligns with your and Jo’s recommendation.

    1. You always make my thoughts sound so scientific ;-). I love you for that Mark! Thanks for the great comments, I think yours would be a good post actually.

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