Where Credibility Comes From

When was the last time your face was the unfamiliar one? You may have gotten a new job or joined a new team. Maybe you moved to a new area, joined a new network or gave a presentation to a new group.

How did it go?

If you had anything to say, share or contribute, chances are at some point you found yourself wondering, “how can I make myself credible to these people?”

The interesting thing about credibility is that it can never been attained for oneself. It can only be conveyed by others. You can only ever be as credible and others decide you are.

So what can you and I do? Quite a bit, actually. Here’s a sample of the ways I’ve noticed people gain credibility with others.

Trust Me

Length of Time

This is probably the most important of the bunch. The longer a person sticks around, the more their history speaks for itself. A school director recently told me that he is building programs now that he could only dream of years ago when he started. The organization became open to his influence over time as he demonstrated value little by little. I wish there was a substitute for time, but unfortunately, there usually isn’t.


Obviously, incompetence is a quick way to ruin credibility, sometimes permanently. In fact, one of the great risks of being new to any group or team is appearing incompetent based on unfamiliarity with culture, relationships, processes, systems, policies, etc. Appearing incompetent right off the bat is a setback. If you’re new, try to find some quick wins and learn fast!


Appearance is extremely fickle because it’s completely surface level. But it certainly plays a role in demonstrating credibility. That’s why we dress up for job interviews. How we look usually has nothing to do with our capability, but it send a huge message about our perceived competence. Image isn’t everything, but it is definitely something.


How we communicate goes an awful long way in building credibility. In some cases, one careless comment can derail a successful career despite many other positive factors. On the other hand, strong communication can overcome deficiencies in other areas. Incidentally, the most effective communicators place the greatest emphasis on the audience, not themselves. They listen well, care and make their audience feel important and smart – genuinely.


In some environments, this is much more crucial than others. If you want to connect with a scientific, medical or academic audience, the more credentials the better. In other fields, high credentials might actually hurt your credibility based on misconceptions or stereotypes. Oftentimes, people are more concerned with fit than the number of letters that following your name.

Relationship Capital

Who you know can go a long way in building credibility with those you don’t know. You may not know a person from Adam, but a phone call or email to a mutual connection can either open or close a door – quickly and permanently. That’s why it’s so important to build and maintain a network.


Character is one of the more difficult aspects of credibility because it takes a lifetime to build but only a moment to destroy. Think of all the high profile leaders who were credible in every way until one indiscretion became public knowledge. Game over. The public may not always notice the presence of character, but they will eventually notice its absence. And the consequences are usually devastating. Character matters.

Remember, you can’t attain credibility, but you can influence how others perceive it.

What shape is your credibility in?

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

Nathan Magnuson is an executive leadership consultant, speaker and author of the books Stand Out! and Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. Click to see the exciting ways Nathan is helping organizations and teams become more effective with Leadership-in-a-Box.