How to Influence When You’re Not in Charge

September 7, 2015

How do you lead when you’re not the boss? It’s hard enough to lead when you are in charge. What are the other options?

If you’ve wondered this, I’ve got good news for you. It’s a lot easier than it sounds. And you can get started today. Here’s a game plan for you.

Lighting Matches

Start Collaborating Now

It’s hard to influence when you don’t have any visibility for one reason: people give more credibility to folks they recognize. But getting noticed can be tricky. No one likes a campaigner with an agenda. Instead, simply go out of your way to get to know the folks you work with – at various levels. Introduce yourself. Ask questions about their function (or use the three questions I always ask). Join lunch groups – or create your own. And volunteer for cross-functional work projects.

Understand the Big Picture

Having tunnel vision is the quickest way to limit your influence. Understand your role and your function’s objectives, but also make a point to understand the broader organizational priorities. Are you in a growth or profitability mode? What does this years’ strategic plan look like? What is most important to the other groups besides yours? It’s hard to influence in the right direction if you don’t understand what that direction is.

Be Proactive

Once you understand where the organization is headed, look for ways to take steps in that direction. Don’t see your job as a set of check boxes just within your role. See it as the responsibility to help the organization move forward. This means preparing for new projects that may come up, anticipating information other groups may need from you (and then providing it!) and looking for areas that could be improved.

Provide Options (and Recommendations!)

You’ve probably heard repeatedly that leaders “don’t find problems, they find solutions.” There’s an even better option than this. When I facilitated a college class on leadership, I repeatedly encouraged my students to “think like a consultant.” What I meant was: instead of sharing an opinion, come up with several viable options of ways to solve the problem at hand. Then take the opportunity to recommend the option you think is best and provide your reasoning. It is much easier for “management” to review your analysis and recommendations than to do all the work from scratch. If you do the work, don’t be surprised when your influence is accepted.

Offer to Do the Heavy Lifting

Once your ideas are accepted, be willing to do the work. When management says, “make it happen” – be ready to go, both for your ideas and others. I recently listened to a company president tell his success story. He said from the outset he accepted the jobs no one else wanted to do – and when he did them successfully, he was quickly given more. Eventually, his title was the highest in the organization.

You don’t need to wait for permission to influence your organization for the better. When you invest yourself in the success of the organization, the people in it and the people it serves, your influence can be an incredible gift, regardless of your level of authority.

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader.  Receive his ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website or   follow him on Twitter.