Learning to flex that muscle of influence

Globe and Mail

Globe and Mail

COLLEEN CLARKE, From Saturday’s Globe and Mail

THE SCENARIO

As a middle manager, I have a lot of responsibility. But I often feel frustrated because I don’t have enough authority, and because of that I don’t feel that I can influence my staff as much as I’d like. How can I become more influential?

THE ADVICE

Feeling a lack of influence is a common complaint for people in many positions on organization charts, especially roles in which people don’t have the “signing authority” to act independently when managing staff or projects, but have the responsibility to get things done and make things work.

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But fear not: You may not have the authority, but I guarantee you, you do have the power to act. And when you have the power, you have the influence. You’ll wield influence if you look at yourself as a leader, because leaders inspire and make a difference. To build a strong, cohesive team you can use leadership strategies no matter how little official authority you have.

Be the initiator

You might not have the authority to spend a lot of money on professional development, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring offer special sessions for your staff. For example, your company may have an employee assistance plan that covers the fee of a expert to speak on work/life balance. Or you could arrange “lunch and learn” sessions led by staff for their co-workers. Instead of simply saying, “It’s not in the budget,” look for alternative activities that can meet the needs of your employees.

Build resources

By developing a strong network of resources and experienced people, your staff will have a head start on problem solving, and you become the person others look to for direction. Encourage your staff to communicate openly and share ideas, so they become aware of each other’s skills and strengths. This will not only raise productivity, but also heighten your profile with senior management.

Be the innovator

Take the lead in looking for strategies and improvements for departmental processes, forms, scheduling and training. Tried-and-true works in the short run, but your ability to be innovative with what you have, and to ask for what you need, is what makes you influential.

Take some calculated risks and, while thinking as creatively as you can, build on the strengths of the people around you. Successful projects and innovative approaches should lead to you getting more authority to act independently.

Find partners

Buddy up with other managers and supervisors to strengthen results; use each person’s special expertise and knowledge within each department for a tighter, more cohesive approach to problems and projects.

Give credit and feedback

There is a stunning dearth of feedback in the workplace. Being a source of constructive advice and support will raise your profile and influence. Compliment your staff in front of colleagues, give credit where credit is due and share credit with other contributors, and you will have respect and support forever.

Strive for excellence

There is no such thing as perfectionism, but excellence breeds success. Just do your best at everything, and be seen to be doing so, and you will be recognized and respected for your efforts. So long as you act like a leader, giving support to others and building it in turn, you won’t need special authority from above to exert your influence.

Colleen Clarke is a corporate trainer and career adviser in Toronto.