After reading the blog from Supriya (see it here), I was inspired to write a blog to discuss influencing leadership (or decision makers/ senior stakeholders) from a Project Manager’s perspective.
The way I see it, Leadership is one of the most valued assets in the corporate world. As such, influencing is one of the important aspects or subsets of leadership.

Before understanding how to influence let’s try and understand what influence really means.

Influence is commonly perceived as: something hypnotic, something about having an impact on the behaviour or change in thinking. It does indeed to a certain degree. But in the real world (read corporate world) its relevance is more about having a common goal, having a common purpose; it’s about having a strong buy-in and support for a common “motive”.

Influencing is a process of having your stakeholders acknowledge, appreciate and eventually align with the reasons to have a successful endeavour/project and the way we achieve that. It becomes imperative for a Project Manager to focus on arguably the most Critical Knowledge Area called “Stakeholder Management” in PMBOK.

1) It all starts here. BIG PICTURE. Why are we doing this project? How does it align with the organisation mission/vision? Believe it or not! “Implicit Assumptions” are made even at this stage. Elicit information from the sponsor/project owner. It all starts here.

2) Identifying the stakeholders is the key here. Consolidating a correct and complete list of ALL the stakeholders, their roles, decision making authority and their stake within the project/endeavour is the activity that needs to be taken up in the “very beginning”. Importance of this activity is often overlooked.

3) Understand the expectations. The next step is to identify what is the outcome each stakeholder expects and “how” they expect it to happen. This is the step where the Project Manager’s communications skills play a VITAL role.

The Project Manager needs to be a STRONG listener and also needs to exhibit his/her skills in eliciting the information. This indeed is a challenging activity especially if the Project Manager is unfamiliar with the environment (which is mostly the case in consulting organisations), does not understand the business terminologies (read jargon☺) and does not have a clear idea about the organisation structure. Hard truth is not everyone will open up. The art here is to LISTEN to the stuff that is not being said.

Understanding the organisation structure and reporting structure (both dotted and solid line) within the stakeholders is of utmost importance. This may help you to identify points of contact rather than chasing multiple stakeholders during the project lifecycle. This will clearly help to understand the right way of “getting things done”.

Though it is expected that the Project Manager needs to address as many questions as possible; it may sometimes be frustrating for the stakeholders answering questions they perceive to be trivial. The skill lies in striking out exact balance between understanding the detail enough to facilitate further activities BUT not going overboard. Here’s a link providing some insights on “How to ask effective questions”?

Influence and be ready to be influenced. Yes you got it right! Be absolutely open and ready to analyse new ideas, methodologies and ways of working.

Do it in closed rooms or coffee shops or while having your afternoon snacks. Do not trust your brain. Take your notes. That way you need not to be stressed while you catch up with a friend for the evening beer or two! ☺

4) Analyse. Good Morning. Make/Buy a big cup of coffee. Yes I will prefer this to start in the morning ONLY AFTER a cup of coffee! ☺

Check your notes. Analyse.

a) Identify if there are any conflicting expectations.
b) Identify what “ways” have been suggested. Try to understand the underlying reason (if you did not get an opportunity to do that in the previous step).
c) Validate your expected outcomes.
d) Analyse and identify the best ways or devise your own ways considering the impacts on the outcomes.
e) Document your suggestions and make sure the reasons are validated when you choose any particular way of working/methodology/expected outcomes.
f) Have your stakeholders engagement assessment matrix and Power Grid Matrix. Handy tools for stakeholder management.

5) Iterate. It may not all happen in one go. You may need to iterate Step 1 to 4.

6) Influence. Yes! Your hard work has paid off. You have all the data and a strong reasoning behind what, why and how you suggest doing it.

You have developed significant buy-in from most of the stakeholders and you have been successful in setting the appropriate expectations.

Things will start to MOVE for you. Of course they do!

The BIG thing you achieved is proactively addressing the issues that may have potentially surfaced much later in the project possibly leading to a SIGNIFICANT NEGATIVE IMPACT on the triple constraints of the project. You can sleep well!

Stating the obvious: Integrity and “Walking your Talk” goes a long way in having the FIRST DIRECT INFLUENCE on the people you are working with!

Here’s a bit about Abhijit. He has been in the IT industry for 18 years and has been fortunate enough to work in different areas like Education, Banking, Health Care, Telecom and Environment & Heritage. His career has seen him have the opportunity to work in different roles like a Developer, Architect, Business Analysis, Team Leader and Project Management. Highly experienced working with cross cultural and distributed teams in different countries across Asia, Europe and now in Australia. Abhijit thoroughly enjoys working in handling complex, challenging and demanding projects. He loves to travel and is a self-proclaimed foodie. Abhijit loves playing with his daughter and facing her tough questions. Occasionally he tries his hand at Table Tennis and badminton on and off.