How to Improve Your Ability to Influence Project Team Members

By Stanley E. Portny

You can get a sense of the power you have over someone by taking note of the willingness with which she agrees to do what you need for the project and then does what you request. If you already get all the cooperation from others that you need, just keep doing what you’re doing. However, if you feel frustrated by people’s resistance and lack of cooperation when you ask for their help, take steps to improve the power you have over them.

Successfully influencing the behavior of others requires, first, that you understand the different types of power you have over them and, second, that you effectively use that power. Your ascribed power over people depends, in part, on their perceptions of the specific authority you and others whom you can influence have over them. Your achieved power is based on people’s perceptions of what you know, who you are, and what you stand for.

Take the following steps to improve your ability to influence your team members and other people in your project environment:

  • Determine the authority you have over the people you want to influence. Common types of authority include the ability to give salary increases and promotions, complete performance appraisals, and assign people to future jobs.
  • Find out who else has authority over the people you want to influence. If you don’t make the decision about whether and how much to increase a person’s salary but you can influence the individual who does, the person will react to you as if you, too, have some measure of ascribed power over her.
  • Clarify for yourself how and why the project’s successful completion benefits your organization, and share those benefits with the people you want to influence. Knowing all the benefits your project is designed to yield puts you in a better position to help others see why helping you complete your project is in their best interests.
  • Get to know the people you want to influence; understand, appreciate, and acknowledge their special talents and strengths. Getting to know other people helps you understand the types of rewards and recognition they appreciate most. It also tells them you care for them as people, not just as technical resources for your project.
  • Let the people you want to influence get to know your good side. Your achieved power over others is based on their perceptions of your character and abilities.
  • Don’t condemn or complain, but do give feedback when necessary. Condemning is making negative judgments about others; complaining is criticizing people or things without doing anything to improve them. Both behaviors entail sharing negative opinions rather than facts, which demoralizes and demotivates people while doing little to achieve high-quality results. Constructive feedback, on the other hand, entails sharing factual information to improve people’s performance. People respect others whom they feel are interested in helping them succeed.
  • Become proficient in the tasks you have to perform. People listen to you more seriously when they believe you know what you’re talking about.

You must reestablish your bases of power for each new project you perform because you may be dealing with different people on each project and because your power bases depend heavily on the specific details of the project itself. Further, even on the same project, your bases of power can diminish over time if you don’t consistently reinforce them.

Meeting with team members at the start of your project can help them appreciate your style and recognize that everyone wants to accomplish similar goals. However, if you don’t have any more contact with your team members for six months, their initial positive impressions can fade — right along with your ability to influence their commitment and performance.