Good project managers are almost always good communicators. Without direct authority over many of the people who impact their projects, they instead develop techniques to engage, persuade and motivate them, from team specialists to executive sponsors.
They don't just tell these people to do something and walk away; they don't say "pretty please," either. They engage and convince. They rally individuals around the reasons behind the particular "ask" or task. They clarify a project's goals, its desired benefits, the overall strategic mission.
In other words, they influence as much as they manage.
This is why I prefer project leader to project manager when referencing the role. Because influence is a huge part of effective leadership, whether it's coming from the C-suite or the project trenches.
Unfortunately, many of today's leaders have mistaken beliefs about what it means to be influential, according to Stacey Hanke, author of the new book Influence Redefined. Hanke says the prevailing influence paradigm is outdated and ineffective, and technological advances only make it more challenging to influence others.
The good news is that influence is a skill that can be developed by anyone through consistent feedback, practice and accountability, Hanke says. Though she often addresses executives in her book, her advice is just as valuable for project leaders and team members. As she notes at the outset: Influence does not come with a title.
With that in mind, here are some of Hanke's takeaways on influence:
1. Every interaction matters. Every presentation, conversation, impromptu meeting, email, text, or phone call is a representation of who you are and determines how others experience you. Each interaction is a representation of your personal brand and establishes your reputation. And your reputation drives your influence.
2. Video or audio record yourself speaking. This reveals the sometimes painful truth of what your team members and stakeholders see and hear when you speak. You have to know your strengths and weaknesses as a communicator in order to improve your ability to influence.
3. Focus outward rather than inward. Too often we focus on what we want rather than what others need. Find common ground. Go beyond what you want to accomplish and put your energy into how you might help them. Have a two-way interaction rather than a monologue.
4. Cut to the chase. Identify the most critical information someone will need to know in order to take the action you want them to take. Plan, prepare and practice before you ask. Don't waste their time. Cover the critical information first and follow up with supporting material.
5. Consistency is key. Inconsistency leads to a lack of trust. If people don’t trust you, they won’t act on your recommendations or follow your lead. Trust is where influence ultimately occurs.
What are your thoughts on the role of influence in managing projects? Have you struggled with it? Have you improved, and how?