020-An Influence Toolkit: Getting stuff done without authority

020-An Influence Toolkit: Getting stuff done without authority

How do you get people to get stuff done when you have no “authority?” That’s a lot of the art of Project Management! In today’s episode, we walk through a few of Kate and Kim’s secret weapons that  you can use to get things done even when you don’t have formal authority.

This entire podcast was inspired by a great question from one of our PM Happy Hour members – big shout-out to Dani! Whether you are a Member or a Listener, we love to hear from you – give us a shout anytime at podcast@pmhappyhour.com !


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Check out this episode!

Show notes

Kim’s Quotable Quote: Coffee and honesty solve a surprising number of life’s problems.

Kate’s Quotable Quote: Don’t take it personally.

This episode is about how to get people to get stuff done when you have no formal “authority” to compel them to do so. In this show, we walk through a few of Kate and Kim’s secret weapons that you can use to get things done, even when you don’t have formal authority.

This entire podcast was inspired by a great question from one of our PM Happy Hour members – big shout-out to Dani! Whether you are a Member or a Listener, we love to hear from you – give us a shout anytime at podcast@pmhappyhour.com!

Tool 1: Fake it until you make it

More often than not, we find that if you act like you have the authority and have conviction, (and know your stuff), a lot of times people will simply assume that you do – and will follow your direction. This is especially true when there is a bit of a leadership (or a decision) vacuum in the organization. Team members and stakeholders of a project will often follow someone who picks up and takes the lead. As Project Manager, you may be the closest to legitimate authority that’s around.

So, the first step is to “fake it till you make it,” and act like you have authority and influence until you have it. You’ve been empowered to lead this project, and that means somebody believed in you to get it done.

Tool 2: Know Thy Team [6:43]

To influence without authority, you first need to understand who you’re working with on your project team.  This is going to vary industry to industry, and team by team. But here’s a quick checklist of what I’d want to know about the team I’m working with:

1. What is their day job and where does your project fall in their already existing priorities?  [7:00]

There are employees who aren’t dedicated project resources. Their job can be to KTLO (keep the lights on), or to deliver for 5 projects at once, or to do break-fix production work. Knowing where your project sits in relation to their ‘job’ is an important piece of information so you can have the right expectations to work with their situation.

You also need to know WHERE to influence. It doesn’t matter if I can do a Jedi mind trick on my project SME to try and get him to spend more time on the project if he simply does not have the time. If there are no droids, there are droids to look for. So, maybe talk with that person’s manager instead of the SME.

2. How do they work? [8:50]

There are a couple different types of personalities – sometimes described as left-mind, others right-mind:

  • Left mind: rigorous, process focused, manages self, is basically mini project manger
  • Right mind: seat of the hip procrastinator who does what’s in front them

3. What project “levers” might work on them?  

Project team influence using Logic: Some people are be more fact-based and need to understand the logic or reasoning behind an assignment. Others will be more emotion-based, and need to feel good about the project itself. Your team members are probably going to fall somewhere in the middle.  

Project team influence using Process: Also, if your resources manage themselves in a very organized way, or are very process oriented, they may appreciate it when you follow the appropriate channels. Using a specific work request tool (Jira, Trello, some change request process) helps, and ensuring that the project you have is prioritized against their overall backlog. It might be that they don’t care who’s asking for work, as long as the request falls into the way they receive and organize their work – for themselves or their team.

Project team influence using Squeak: Sometimes, team members can be more of a ‘fix whatever squeaks loudest’ kind of person, and you need to determine how to “squeak” at them.  

Project team influence using Bad PR: Others HATE hearing that they are causing a problem, and they need the prompting that they’ll be called out as a delay if they don’t complete something.  It will be trial and error to figure this out.

Project team influence using Deadline: Some people simply cannot get things done without a deadline. If your team member is one of these, then set a deadline and follow-up, frequently!

There are a lot of different personality models out there. These can used to describe how people work, how they like to be treated, how they make decisions – and how they can be influenced. It’s a whole industry with lots of different models and focuses. As a Project Manager, it’s worth your time to invest some time and effort in looking deeper into these soft skills.

Often, in a company, especially in big enterprise, you may be forced to go sit in one of these and “learn your color” personality models or something similar, as part of your orientation or corporate personal development. These can be useful- but only if you actively leverage them to better understand how to manage your team

Tool 3: Know Thy Levers [17:18]

Once you know your team, how they like to work, and how they *actually* work, it’s a good idea to figure out what “levers” you have to influence them.  

Examples of Leverage:

  • Start with with a 1:1 conversation with the problem person
  • Reminding a team member of a date
  • Let the team members know of the impacts if they and the project fail (bad reputation, company revenue loss, impacts to executives and sponsors, etc.)
  • Creating a risk on your project and assigning it to that person or their boss
  • CC’ing a teammates boss on an email
  • Talking to their boss directly about the team member’s performance (good and bad)
  • Escalating to their boss that work isn’t getting done
  • Working with your internal rewards team to get a team member a bonus, recognition, or a written commendation on how well they’ve done
  • Not providing future work until current work is finished
  • Offering a team member a particular part of a project that you know they are craving developing their skills in
  • Call it out as a formal risk or issue, with their name on it.
  • Issue a formal risk report to your sponsor or stakeholders (with their name on it)
  • Call it out formally on your status report
  • Issue a “Notice of Commercial Impact” (see previous podcast episode)

Before all that, just taking someone to coffee and having an honest conversation about what you need, why, and how you can work together to get it done goes a long, long way. That’s pretty much always our step #1: The coffee conversation.

If you can reward a team member for being great, definitely take that avenue -it will make a huge impact, and they might tell other people that they got a bonus. This too will make a huge impact.

Tool 4: Clarifying Impacts [29:44]

Another technique is clarifying impacts. A lot of times, project team members don’t understand, or simply don’t consider the impact that their actions have on you, on the other team members, the project, sponsors, stakeholders, and organization. So, you should spend some time explaining the impacts of their actions on all those involved. That can be motivating to not only understand that you are needed, but also that what you do has a big impact.

This goes back to the “Stupid Executive Asks” episode. A lot of times, if you provide very matter-of-fact evidence of the end result of what they are doing or not doing, that can help motivate them.

Tool 5: Use PMI Influencing Techniques [32:10]

If we look at the PMI PMBOK Guide © , they do give us a little bit of guidance in this area, in that, they list 5 “sources” of power you can have over your project team. Giving a list isn’t a whole lot of help in itself, but if we talk through these we can squeeze out some gems.

PMI talks about this in terms of the PM, personally. But we think you can extend that to the project, and use aspects of the project to influence behavior, including good and bad things the project will do, or good and bad impacts on the other project team members or stakeholders.

Five Ways To Express Power  32:55

  1. Legitimate Power: This is the formal authority given to the project manager to get something done. They have the right to issue orders or make requests of assigned team members. It’s determined by this is the normal role for a PM in that organization and among the members of the team.
  2. Coercive or Penalty Power: That’s negative things a PM can do – or that the team thinks they can do to them. The includes power to terminate, dock pay, give them crappy work, affect their review, etc. This is the last resort option
  3. Reward Power: This is where you can give rewards like incentives, promotions, “comp” days, good review, a good next-assignment, or travel opportunities
  4. Referent Power: This is “charisma” or “gravitas” in the UK – earned by the PM when the team likes and respects them as a person
  5. Expert Power: This is where the PM is respected because they know their Sh-tuff. Commanding things on the project by processes of project management and assuring that the team will get the support they need.

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    Kim Essendrup

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