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Not the Formal Project Leader? Here’s How to Lead by Influence

October 4, 2018

Leading by influence

Leadership naturally has challenging moments, but those challenges take on a new layer of complexity when you must drive a project without the benefit of formal designation as team leader. Perhaps you are a subject-matter expert for a project, or you have dotted-line relationships with team members in other parts of the organization. You may even find yourself giving directives to leaders higher up in the organization, which potentially adds an intimidation factor into an already daunting assignment.

5 keys to leading by influence

If you find yourself in a position of leadership with ambiguous reporting relationships, here are a few tips to sharpen your ability to lead by influence:

Trust. The key to powerful leadership is building strong relationships, and establishing trust is imperative in that process. Take time to meet with all the members of the team and make a genuine effort to understand their values and motivations. This information lets you discern the best way to help them engage in the project.

People who are motivated and connected to a project will perform at an elevated level because they are personally invested. When you develop a relationship based on trust and understanding, the question of authority fades because all parties have a stronger sense of individual and mutual ownership in the outcome.

Preparation and planning. As with most projects, having a well-thought-out plan is critical. Even more so when you are tasked with motivating others who don’t truly report to you. A solid plan enables you to provide a clear picture to team members of the strategic and operational aspects of the initiative. Also, planning helps to establish a basic level of trust and confidence that, regardless of reporting relationships, you are on top of your game and prepared to lead the team.

Confidence. One of my own early learnings as a leader was that confidence is vital when you want to influence others. Your ability to believe in yourself and state your ideas with assurance will go a long way in persuading others to follow you.

Be aware that confidence shows up in everything you do—from the emails you send to the inflection in your voice and the way you stand in a meeting. Watch out for “uptalk,” where the pitch of your voice rises at the end of a sentence, and submissive body language, which can undermine your influence. Also, keep in mind that confidence is not arrogance. You can be confident and still admit that you don’t have all the answers and that you welcome help from others.

Resilience. A leader is only as strong as her ability to remain calm and recover from setbacks and challenges. When you are leading a project with cross-functional teams that may have other priorities on their plate, resilience can make or break your effectiveness.

To sharpen your resilience, stay focused on the ultimate goal and stay out of the minutiae of minor daily hiccups and squabbles. When you hit major roadblocks, whether they originate from people, technology, or circumstances outside of your control, face them head-on. Search for the opportunity to turn things around through honest communication and collaboration. And finally, stay open to feedback and coaching without taking it personally. Sometimes we have to be resilient enough to own up to our own blind spots.

Power. Wait, power? Isn’t this entire article about how to lead when you don’t have clear lines of authority? Part of influencing others is being able to display power and strength in your choices. There will be times when you must stand in the face of opposition and negativity and hold your own.

The power you exhibit through your ability to communicate, educate, and de-escalate chaotic situations allows you to exert authority not from reporting structure, but as a trusted and competent subject-matter expert in charge of leading the initiative. If you don’t exhibit the internal depths of power within you when necessary, it will be difficult for others to feel confident enough to follow you.

It is no picnic trying to lead when you are not technically able to hold individuals accountable for missing milestones. However, these situations allow you the opportunity to develop your leadership muscles. You will learn to influence others to achieve positive outcomes without having to use a title or the fear of a bad performance review to motivate them. Leadership has the most impact when people engage with you because they are inspired to excel, not afraid to fail.

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About The Author

Tonya Echols is an executive/leadership coach and founder of Thrive Coaching Solutions, with over 20 years of experience in corporate management, business operations, media, and finance. She was named a standout executive coach by LinkedIn ProFinder for 2016 and 2017 and is a member of Forbes Coaches Council.

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