When I first became a supervisor, I was so naïve I actually thought that meant people would do what I said. It's even worse when you're a project manager, and the people you need don't even work for you.
The discipline of influence management, which is a practical and completely legitimate form of office politics, is another of the core competencies of good project managers.
Influence management is, as the name suggests, the art and craft of gaining influence over others, which requires power. There are six sources of organizational power that reinforce one another to give you expanded influence to get the work done:
Your official role in the organization, along with special delegated assignments, committee and staff positions, etc., gives you certain influence. Even those who do not report to you in a formal sense normally have to show at least a minimum respect for your organizational role. Notice that this power is given to you by others, and is capable of being countermanded.
A powerful source of influence management is the respect others have for you, because of your track record, your special knowledge, your insight and intelligence, and your personal integrity and honesty. While respect power takes time to build, it’s often much more powerful than organizational role in influencing the behavior of others.
Skill in the arts of communication is a source of influence and power. A clearly written memo setting forth goals, roles, expectations, and time requirements for a specific task is harder to ignore than a badly written and confusing one. Your personal ability to negotiate, to sell, and sometimes even to plead are ways to influence others to get the work done.
You often have control of certain resources—your own time and priority list, if nothing else—that others require to get their work done. While it’s in the long run ineffective to try to deny others to blackmail them into cooperating with you, it’s legitimate to go the extra mile for those who are willing to go the extra mile for you in return.
Who you know and what kind of relationship you have with them is another traditional source of power. Some people interpret this too narrowly, and only suck up. But notice the power held by someone who has a staff-level friend in every department. Good manners and a friendly smile are effective influence management tools available to anyone.
Depending on the priority of your project, you may get additional power from it. Reason power comes from the “Why?” of your project. Under normal circumstances, you couldn’t evict a vice president from his or her office, but if you’re the acting fire marshal and there’s a fire, your reason for giving orders is so high that everyone will tend to obey you. Faking a higher level of priority for your project is normally a bad idea, but when your project has significant priority and legitimacy, it’s completely appropriate to use that power in support of accomplishing your ends.
Adapted from Gameplan for Getting Results with Project Management, by Michael S. Dobson, PMP. Copyright © 2010 Michael S. Dobson. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.