Tag Archives: persuasion

Influence and Persuasion for Project Managers

Influence Without Authority

Unlike day-to-day managers, most project managers have little or no formal authority over our team-members. This means that anything you want me to do, you have to persuade me. For project managers, the arts of influence and persuasion are a core skill set.

Most of us have developed a facility with structured, logical thinking that allows us to easily create a credible and coherent argument for what we plan to do. But have you noticed that being right is rarely enough to persuade someone? Analytical reasoning is merely a starting point for influencing team-members, stakeholders and project sponsors.

How to be influential

A large part of influence lies in your day-to-day actions, your attitudes, and your approach. If people are to follow your lead, they will need to like and respect you, which means you actions must carry your convictions and integrity with them all of the time.

Influential Actions

Start with the absolute basics: courtesy and respectfulness. It costs nothing to be polite, but you will be surprised how much difference it makes in a world where many stressed out PMs have short tempers and feign entitlement to the loyalty of their teams and support of their stakeholders. A generous attitude is also a valuable asset. People remember favours and simple concessions and you may be surprised how powerful the “I’ve scratched your back…” principle can be in building loyalty. But above all, our sense of fairness means that you absolutely must ensure that you follow through on any promises or commitments you make. To not do so would invite a reciprocal approach from others and your influence will drop to zero as people will no longer trust you to keep your word.

Influential Attitudes

Your attitude to your project and your people will be under test throughout. Primarily you should be cultivating the kind of attitudes that people find attractive and lead them to want to follow you. Whilst people respect calm detachment and a realistic assessment of the situation, they are drawn to optimism. So if you can find your own way to balance these two attitudes, you can win both respect and liking. Tenacity is another character trait that we both like and respect, but again, a dogmatic attitude to constant repetition will undermine your reputation, but a robust adaptability will leave stakeholders and team members willing to follow your lead.

A Choice of Approaches

Ultimately the question of what sort of Project Manager you are will come down to the approach you take to influencing people. The three approaches we commonly see can be characterized as “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”, and I am sure you have met them all in the course of your career.

“The Bad” is that style of influence that depends solely of assertion. Some projects managers seem as though they cannot help themselves but coerce and compel actions with either the promise of great rewards or the threat of some kind of sanctions. Clearly celebrating success and small appropriate team incentives are a vital part of good project management. But when the promises are hollow and the threats get personal, there is only one name for this behavior: bullying.

Some PMs are far more subtle. They make you feel as though you want to do something for them but, at the same time, you don’t feel good about it. Often, you cannot put your finger on what feels wrong and this is a sure sign that you have been the victim of manipulation. This is “The Ugly”.

“The Good” influence has total integrity. You offer genuine choice, and people accept your ideas and act as you ask, because they want to. You have made your case and they feel good about supporting you. Often, when people feel tis kind of loyalty to a positively influential colleague, they will more for you than you ask. Investing over the long-term in your reputation as a generous, respectful, and optimistic leader, who perseveres sensibly and addresses their own commitments consistently is perhaps the best professional investment you can make.

Ten Persuasion Tactics

No matter how positively influential you are, it always helps to have a few handy persuasion tips up your sleeve, so here are ten of my personal favourites, from my book, ‘How to Influence in Any Situation (Brilliant Influence)’.

The “Your Doctor would Tell you to…” Principle

Why do we trust doctors and follow their advice? We trust them because we know that they have had years’ of relevant training and experience. Well so have you. As a project manager you have gained the scars and war stories, and will also have access to the experience and knowledge of your senior team members and experts. When you deploy these together, you have a massive level of credibility. Wear it lightly, but do ensure the people you need to persuade are aware of it.

The “Jiminy Cricket” Effect

Do you recall that, in the movie, Jiminy Cricket was appointed to be Pinocchio’s conscience? You, me, and everyone* has a Jiminy Cricket organ – a part of our brains that makes us feel bad if we are about to break or promise or renege on a commitment. The most important part of triggering the Jiminy Cricket effect is to secure a clear commitment, and the more prominent it is, then the stronger the effect will be. Look them in the eye and ask for their commitment. Step up the effect by doing it in a formal setting and, better still, in front of other colleagues. Amplify it to the max by ding it in writing. Then, courteously remind them of their commitment two or three times in the run-up to your deadline.


* Actually, not quite everyone. Some personalities lack the feelings of guilt that most of us have, when we let other people down. Sadly, these people are not susceptible to most forms of influence and subtle persuasion and are most easily influenced by compulsion or self-interest.

The “Eight out of Ten Cat Owners” Principle

In my childhood, a UK TV advert asserted that “eight out of ten cat owners, who expressed a preference, said their cat prefers…” Why did this advert work? Well, because despite loving their pets, few cat or dog owners taste their pet’s food. So how do they know what to buy? But, if other loving pet owners have made their choice, then perhaps the safest option is to go with their judgement. This is known as ‘social proof’ and, where the stakes are low and we think we are like the crowd, then we feel good doing what they do. It saves making a decision for ourselves.

The “Follow Me” Effect

People like to follow crowds, and leaders too. So, if you show enough confidence in yourself, and confidently expect people to follow, they often will. Leading from the front or “role model leadership” is a powerful persuader. Often, the most powerful way to deploy this is to not even ask: just do.

The “WAM” Principle

WAM stands for “what about me?” This is the most basic persuader of all: self-interest. Where you can properly align your request with my self-interest, I will comply readily. So put yourself in other people’s shoes and ask “what’s in it for you?” When you understand the answer, you will have the basis for easy motivation and persuasion. This is the fundamental approach to the influence aspect of stakeholder engagement [link back to my previous blog].

The “Who are You to Tell Me?” Principle

Without the WAM factor, there is almost always one thing you need to establish before you try to persuade anyone of anything: “who are you to tell me?” We want to know the credentials of anyone who is trying to persuade us. Can we trust them? Do they understand our position? Do they know what they are talking about? Are they one of us? Watch any half-way competent professional politician and you will see that they spend more of their time on these aspects of persuasion than they do on mounting their argument for any particular policy or position. And the reason is simple: if they fail to establish their character and credibility, we won’t listen to anything else.

The “Structured Response” Effect

When you make your argument, you must make it in as clear and concise a way as possible. The more confusing you are, the less I’ll be persuaded. The more you repeat yourself, the lower your influence will be. So take care to structure your advocacy or responses with a clear context, point of view, and reason.

The “Why Should I Care?” Principle

People rarely make their choices based on the facts and the logic. What we do is decide based on our emotional response to the situation, and then use the analysis and evidence that you give us, to justify our choice – both to others and to ourselves. As an influencer and persuader, you neglect the emotional dimension at your peril. It is simply not true that emotions have no place in project management.

The “Welcome the Ah but…” Principle

Project managers fear resistance from the team members and our stakeholders. But in truth, it’s a good thing. It means you are getting genuine engagement with your ideas. Listen to it, because you may just learn something. But if you believe you are right, the simple strategy is always to keep inviting every last objection. When you’ve dealt with them all; when you’ve ‘emptied the hopper’, then there will be no resistance left.

The “Make ‘em Feel Smart” Principle

Most project managers and all of the experts and specialists on your projects are smart, very smart. And you all have a tendency to show this off and use long words, jargon and even formulae to prove it. Wrong! People won’t trust you if they don’t fully understand you. And if they don’t trust you, they won’t do or think as you ask. You will fail to persuade them. On the other hand, if the think they understand deeply, because you have explained clearly, in simple terms, with analogies, pictures and simple lists, then they will feel smart, they will trust you, and they will say to themselves “yes, that’s right; I get it.”

This article was first published on the ProjectManager.com website on 26 August, 2015, as 10 Ways to Influence Without Authority.

Dr Mike Clayton is the author of The Influence Agenda, published by Palgrave Macmillan – www.theinfluenceagenda.co.uk – on which this article is based.

His other books include ‘How to Manage and Great Project’, and ‘How to Influence in Any Situation’.

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More Milestones or Fewer?

Which type of milestone?

“Big” milestones mark significant events or moments in your project of change programme.  They indicate you have achieved something noteworthy, or are ready to start something important.  Equally, they can mark a key decision, or the resolution of a major uncertainty.

If you are wondering: what other type of milestone is there?” then you need to come to one of my seminars – click here for details.

Milestones first …

Setting in place milestones is often one of the first planning activities we undertake. Indeed, for a deadline driven project (my own speciality), it’s frequently the first.

… and only?

For smaller projects, many project and change managers use nothing else – and that is just fine, if it works for your project.  I know that not all my readers work on large projects.

Project Milestones – it’s all a matter of style

So one question I am often asked is “how many milestones should I set, Mike?” I have often been tempted to answer with reference to a piece of string but, having seen a recent Horizon documentary on BBC2,  I never will be again.

So here is the answer I do give: “It’s all a matter of style.”

Some project managers feel that using too many milestones is inelegant – perhaps even crass.  It also creates what some see as an un-necessary straight-jacket on the project; forcing too much attention on time-lines, which can lead to a resultant temptation to micro-manage the tiniest slippage.  Where are the opportunities for flair and innovation.

Others prefer to use more milestones.  I declare myself in this camp.  Though open to the criticism of being overly controlling (guilty, maybe), they also believe that milestones serve a great purpose in focusing attention on progress.  And, to prevent an excessive focus on small slippage, I like to place a small contingency between the last activity in a sequence, and the milestone that caps the sequence.

The Best Reason for more Milestones …

… is this:  Each milestone achieved is a success.  You can celebrate each success with your team and your stakeholders.  More milestones: more celebrations.  More celebrations: more motivated team and your stakeholders are better convinced of the reality of the change you are promoting.

… which leads to greater self confidence and stronger performance among your team and, ultimately, a better project.

This Particularly applies to Organisational Change Projects

As for your stakeholders; when they can see progress, your supporters will have reason to cheer, your detractors will have their doubts undermined, and your agnostics will have evidence that you can succeed.

The “so what?”

Make use of more milestones; be liberal with them,  They don’t have resources attached, so they are free!

True Vision or just Good Words

One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the poverty of language used in corporate environments.  People seem to swing to one of two extremes:

  • Complex, jargon heavy language, wrapped in convoluted syntax
  • Simplistic statements that tend to hyperbole and cliché

On the one hand, authors of management drivel seem to think that the more jargon they can use and the longer their sentences, then the more intelligent they will appear.  Either that, or they are afraid that they will expose their own weak understanding of a complex situation, if they tried to explain it clearly.

On the other hand, some authors take the commendable “keep it simple, stupid” message to extremes.  They move from simple to simplistic in one smooth sashay and, in so doing, lose the meaning or distort the truth.

Whatever happened to style and structure?

Yes; I am aware that, on this topic, I am sitting in a glass house, throwing stones outwards.

It’s a Vision Thing

Many organisations have picked up on the need to create a compelling vision to drive their change programmes.  Some project managers have even embraced the value of articulating their project goal with a clear vision.

The problem is that most vision statements contain no vision.  They are often crafted by a committee, following a “visioning” workshop, or are put together in a rush, as an afterthought.

For a vision statement to have vision, it must create images in our minds.  Let’s look at two versions of a powerful vision statement and see how they compare on those stakes.

Version 1.

“I have a vision for an ethnically diverse society in which everybody has full equality of opportunity and where we can harness the synergies of a multi-ethnic workforce, collaborating to construct an enhanced society.”

Version 2.

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today!”

No prizes for knowing whose is the latter version.  The question is, how inspired would people have been by version 1?  It cover all the right topics, but it is devoid of the vision it claims.


Let us Compare the Two

What is it that Dr King was able to do with his rhetoric?  I am no expert, but it is clear that the real difference is that King’s words create images in our mind and sensations in our bodies.

Phrases like “sit down together at a table of freedom” and “sweltering with the heat of injustice” and “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls” lodge in your mind and cannot be moved.

Move People

If you are trying to move people, I think your language needs an emotional charge; I think it needs to be precise; and I think it needs to engage the senses.

It seems to me that, when thinking about creating change, and the need to move people’s attitudes from one place to another, it is no coincidence that the word “move” has two meanings.

I can move you physically and I can move you emotionally.  Can you move your people from one culture to another, or from one way of doing things to another, without also moving them emotionally?

How wonderful language is.  Let’s use it to its fullest extent.

The “so what?”

Take a look at the words you use to describe your project and the vision you have created for your change programme.  Does it move you?  Do the words craft magic, conjour images, entrance and captivate?  If not, you have a job to do.

Remember, the pen is mightier than the keyboard.  Take a fine writing implement and a fresh sheet of paper.

McClelland and Me

Authority without Power

I spent many happy years as a project manager.  And like most project managers, I could often be heard complaining about the whole “authority without power” thing.

My friend and colleague, Ron Rosenhead, and I spoke this morning – we’d both heard it very recently from audiences and trainees.  In fact, I heard it yesterday, and Ron was discussing it with a client just last week.  It set me thinking …

Why do we do it?

Why do project managers thrive, when we often do not have the organisational horsepower to command, despite our love of control?

I don’t mean “How do we thrive?” which was a large part of yesterday’s course.  That’s about the techniques we use and I’ll be writing more about that in the future, I am sure.  In the meantime, check out this earlier blog if you’ve not seen it: “No Authority.”

I mean “Why do we thrive?”

I think the answer lies in the work of David McClelland.

McClelland suggested we all have three needs, and their relative strengths determines a large element of our motivation.  Consequently, they help to explain why some of us are successful in our work roles and others are not.

We need to look, briefly, at these three needs:

The Need for Power
Our drive to take charge, be in command and acquire prestige.

The Need for Affiliation
Our deep desire to live sociable, friendly and harmonious lives.

The Need for Achievement
Our drive to succeed, excel and overcome problems

For more detail, check out The Management Models Pocketbook.

Spotted it?

My theory is that, for most project managers, our need for achievement outweighs our need for power.  We are motivated by challenges and problems so, whilst we may complain about authority without power – or even no authority at all, really and truly, we see it as a challenge.

Is my theory correct?  You’ll tell me if it chimes with you (I hope – contribute below, please).  All I can say is: “ask my wife.”

The “so what?”

Read more about McClelland – and any theories about motivation; one of your jobs as a change manager, project manager, leader, whatever, is to motivate; answer my poll; learn more about influence.

No Authority

One of the biggest problems facing project managers and change leaders is a lack of formal authority. In this regard, operational managers have a relatively easy time of it.  If someone works for you, then if you ask them to do something, then it is their job to comply.

The Project Environment is Different

In the project environment, many of your team will not be under your direct organisational authority.  Maybe you have been brought in as an external project manager, or perhaps you have been taken out of the line to manage a project in your own organisation.  And if so, many of you will be managing your project whilst trying to balance a range of other projects and day-to-day responsibilities.

Whichever is true, some or all of our project team members will not be your own staff.  Some will work for other people, some will even be your peers.  You may even have project resources who out-rank you in the organisational hierarchy!  There are often project team members who don’t work for your organisation but who are part of partner organisations.

Ahh, “partnership working”.
I suspect I’ll be returning to
this vexed topic in future blogs!

Anyway, the point is: you can’t just ask these people to do something and expect them to do something.  If only project life were that simple!

So How can I get People to do What I Ask Them to Do?

This is the BIG question, and I’ll be writing a lot about it over the coming months.  In this blog we’ll take a look at the much neglected ideas of Amitai Etzioni, who considered how organisations get their people to do what they want.

How is this relevant to project and change managers?  Because your project or change initiative creates a temporary organisation.

The Two Year-old Problem

One of my oft quoted maxims is that, if you want to understand the dynamics of an organisation, compare it to a school yard.  In this case, I want to go back to nursery.

Expecting people to comply just because you are the boss is a pretty feeble type of authority, which justifies your requests with the organisational equivalent of “because I tell you to.” Sadly, this fails with two year-olds and unsurprisingly, it never reasserts itself.

Solving the Two Year-old Problem

Etzioni recognised three ways that organisations respond to this problem.  The first mirrors the unfortunate response of too many parents: coercion.  Let’s leave this one on the bench, shall we.  It hardly fosters the kind of project environment I would ever want to work in and is best suited to the roughest of custodial institutions.

So we have to turn to the other two types of custodial power Etzioni identified.

Utilitarian Power

. . .  or, to put it in pretty blunt terms, “what’s in it for me?” Some organisations secure compliance by offering (or withholding) rewards.  It is clearly the favoured mode of most businesses and, indeed, the way many in public service see their jobs.  Within a project environment, or where you are creating organisational change, offering rewards to team members can be very effective.

From contributor of the month awards to completion bonuses to overtime payments, projects all over the world use this approach.

But here’s the problem: what if you don’t have access to any form of reward?

The first answer is easy:  you do.  You simply need to think more widely about the term “reward”.  For many people, the biggest rewards in the workplace cost neither your organisation nor you a single Pound, Dollar, Euro or Yen.

What Really gets People Happy at Work

A while ago, I recall reading an article that reported a survey of UK workplaces across the private, public and voluntary sectors.  In all three, and at all levels, the three things that people got most from being at work were:

  • their relationships with colleagues
  • the respect of their peers
  • recognition for their efforts

That’s Not Enough Reward: What else?

Etzioni’s third form of organisational power is the big one for change initiatives and project work.  He called it “Normative Power”.  In simple terms, people will willingly do what they believe in.  If you can show people the purpose, value or meaning in what you are trying to achieve, then they will do it not for you; not for your organisation; not even for themselves.  They will do it for its own sake.

The “so what?”

Mike’s first rule of project influence: “Show me the purpose”

More rules to come …