Without positional power, influencing without authority is a crucial skill.

76% of people working in large organisations say bureaucratic behaviours decide who gets ahead, according to one survey mentioned by McKinsey

In other words, people are constantly competing for positional power so that they can get ahead because they know that positions matter more than performance.

My experience of working with over 160 multinational organisations aligns with this. All too frequently I have seen individuals get themselves into positions of power, and then bring the company down around them. And surrounding them, individuals who lack the ability to influence without authority.

The Root Cause of So Many Performance Problems – Too Much Authority and Too Little Influencing Without Authority

For example, I have seen:

  • One general manager being the only barrier to a company achieving tens of millions of dollars more revenue
  • Another general manager create a culture of complacency and attract people looking for an early retirement
  • Case after case of senior leaders destroying staff morale and causing top talent to jump to competitors

In so many organisations, the bundling of power to position creates so many problems.

The Root Cause of So Many Performance Problems

Which is why it is essential that people learn how to influence without authority so that they can navigate the challenges of bureaucracy.

Influencing skills in business, especially influencing without authority, are essential for almost every person in your company to manage their work effectively. Without the ability to influence without authority, people struggle to:

  • get buy-in for new ideas
  • gain the support they need to get things done
  • say “No” when they need to most

And so on.

Whatever performance issues your company may be facing right now, I bet many of them are related to influence. Either the wrong person having too much influence, or the right person not being able to influence without authority.

So in this article, I’m sharing my top 5 influencing without authority tips. And if you’re interested in growing your influence, download this free list of my Top 20 Influencing Habits by clicking below:

Tip 1 – Grow Your Contextual Awareness to Find Ways of Influencing Without Authority

Influence is contextual.

Whatever influence you have at work, it can change in an instant. For example:

  • You might have a lot of influence on one of your team members, but the moment they join another team you lose that influence
  • You used your reputation to push things through, but after one mistake your reputation is rendered useless
  • A skillset you developed in a previous job that you haven’t used for a long time suddenly becomes of great value

Grow your contextual awareness

Are influencing skills important to your work? I’m guessing yes. If you need people’s help to get things done, then you need the ability to influence without authority.

And if you need influencing skills, you need to be smart in how you cultivate, use and protect them.

That’s why you might be interested in learning about The Contextual Influencing Model.

The Contextual Influencing Model was designed by Jamie Dixon of Shaping Paths and Ben Massen of Culture Fit Consulting, to help leaders and teams influence people in a variety of contexts. It helps develop key skills for influencing without authority.

The Contextual Influencing Model helps people analyse what influence they have in a specific context, and formulate strategies for using it in the best way to achieve their goals.

In my experience of running Contextual Influencing skills training, I find they suddenly realise the simple things they can do to make a difference that they had been overlooking all along. Here are some examples of influencing skills they start doing:

  • Making small talk with colleagues they haven’t met before at the coffee machine
  • Thinking of a back-up plan in case their influencing efforts don’t work out
  • Telling more people about the successful projects they’ve worked on

If you’re interested in learning more about The Contextual Influencing Model then click here.

Tip 2 – Practice Simple Habits to Grow Your Influence

Your habits are directly responsible for your influence at work.

Habits like:

  • Speaking up in meetings to get noticed
  • Paying attention to how people react to understand their interests
  • Making small talk at the water cooler to expand your network

One of the things I’ve learnt from running Contextual Influencing Skills training is that if you need The Contextual Influencing Model, it’s because you’ve left things too late. You’ve not been developing the right habits. The Contextual Influencing Model then helps people identify what habits they need to use to enhance their long-term influence.

For example, one area these habits focus on is building more and better connections.

Some simple and subtle ways of leaving a better impression on others involve changing the way you speak, like:

  • speaking a bit slower
  • lowering your tone at the end of sentences
  • always starting by making a point 

Some other simple habits for building better relationships include:

  • turning up to meetings early to take advantage of small talk opportunities
  • keeping up to date on industry news so you have relevant things to talk about
  • offering more praise and recognition to people in general

Practice Simple Habits

Influence is all about the little things. And The Contextual Influencing Model can help you discover what little things your influencing skills are missing.

Tip 3 – Grow Alternative Sources of Power to Influence Without Authority

If you want to influence without authority, you need to leverage other types of power. And thankfully, authority is not the only type of influencing power you can use.

Power essentially comes down to Help and Hurt.

If I can help you, I have the power to influence you.

If I can’t help you, but I can hurt you, I still have the power to influence you.

That sounds dark, but it’s true.

To recognise all the power you have to influence someone, it’s useful to consider ways you could hurt them. But emphasis on the word “consider”! You don’t always have to use that power.

Grow Alternative Sources of Power | Top 5 Practical Tips for Influencing Without Authority

Hurt doesn’t mean we have to intentionally hurt others, or be spiteful.

For example, if you wanted a pay rise, you could hurt your boss by quitting. That’s not intentionally setting out to hurt them, it’s an indirect pain caused to them from protecting your self-interests.

And if you frame it as “I’ve really enjoyed working here, and I don’t want to leave, but I have to think about my family”, then you’re not being spiteful. You’re just leveraging power.

Power comes from all kinds of places, but it ultimately comes from our habits.

For example, if you:

  • read every night…
  • ask more experienced colleagues lots of questions…
  • keep asking for feedback…

…then you are learning. One day the skills and knowledge you learn can be used to help others. Or hurt others by not helping them. That’s power.

Of course, the consequence of focusing too much on hurting others is that they’ll ultimately want to hurt you!

So always focus first on helping others. The more ways you have of helping others, the more power you’ll ultimately have.

Tip 4 – Choice is Power

Choice is probably the simplest form of influencing power you can get.

Spending a bit more time thinking about what you want, and alternatives ways you can get it, gives you power. Choice is one of the most useful influencing without authority tactics.

Because when you ask people for things, you don’t need to depend on them.

Choice is power | Top 5 Practical Tips for Influencing Without Authority

When we depend on others, they have more power than us, and it becomes harder to influence them. It ultimately becomes harder to get things done.

When a customer negotiates hard on price, and you have other customers lining up to work with you, you have the power to walk away.

I’ve worked with teams who depended on others’ cooperation to get things done.

But when those others stop cooperating because it conflicts with their interests, this creates problems. When running Contextual Influencing skills training I find these teams realise they need to change their position and open up more choices for getting things done.

Lack of influence is one of the biggest causes of performance issues in big organisations. Depending too heavily on certain people who won’t budge causes bottlenecks. If you are running a business unit, make sure you can open up multiple choices for getting things done if you want to avoid bottlenecks.

Tip 5 – Influence the Right People

You can’t successfully influence everyone.

Some people are just too far away from your thinking.

Think of it like this, there are people who:

  • Completely Disagree
  • Disagree more than Agree
  • Agree more than Disagree
  • Completely Agree

You are not going to get someone who Completely Disagrees to Completely Agree in an instant. There’s no magic phrase you can say to hypnotise them into completely changing the way they think.

At most, you’re probably not going to get them to move more than one level. If they Completely Disagree then you’ll probably only get them to Disagree more than Agree.

But why would you even focus on persuading those who Completely Disagree when instead you could focus on those who Agree more than Disagree?

Influence the Right People | Top 5 Practical Tips for Influencing Without Authority

You only have so much energy. Don’t waste it. Focus on those with a higher chance of success.

And if you win them over, perhaps they’ll help you win over the others.

Grow Your Influence Today

The simplest thing you can do to grow your ability to influence without authority today is to build the right habits. That’s why I created this free list of my Top 20 Influencing Habits. Click below to download: