By: Rachel Johnson and Kellie McDermott

Project managers are expected to have strong leadership skills, and influencing is one of those skills. But what is it? And how do you do it? Below we detail what influence is and how project managers can use it as a helpful leadership skill.

Adopt an empowered mindset

This starts with genuine self-confidence and care for others. Additionally, you must choose to believe in your inherent worth and ability to contribute value. You must use your impact to uplift others. Their confidence stems from service, not self interest. Resize your self-limiting beliefs. Do not accept pessimistic narratives. These narratives disappear when you refuse to buy into them anymore.

Master your physical presence

Body language is important. Straighten your back and square your shoulders. Sit at the head of the table. Stand tall and make steady eye contact (do not hold eye contact too long). Own your space, embrace the spotlight, and lean into it. Use these nonverbal skills to shape experiences without dominating the discussion. Presence is power.

Listen deeply and actively

Learn to listen first and inventively. Do this by maintaining unintimidating eye contact, ask thoughtful questions, paraphrase key points, affirm remarks appropriately, and understand motivation and context. If you make others feel heard, then they will start asking for your opinions. Listening demonstrates respect.

Guide the agenda for each meeting you facilitate

The agenda is the roadmap, whoever defines it directs the destination of the meeting and the participants. For each meeting, come equipped with clear desired objectives, thoughtful and logical flow, and a strong opening and closing. Then, tactfully guide discussions through each topic in the agenda while maintaining timeboxes and side discussions.

Share your perspective with those around you

Provide your view early and often especially with your team but also with the other directions of influence you interact with (other project managers, sponsor, etc.). The more that you add your wisdom early with care and empathy, the more your influence builds with others.

Adapt to your audience in all situations

Use understanding and tailoring best practices to adapt your communication, body language, and leadership style to the specific context you are in. Use mirroring to match body language, vocal pacing, and tonality to build intuitive rapport with others.

Lead with questions

Lead conversations and participation with questions. Also, help others find answers by asking questions. There are different types of questions.

  • Open-ended – designed to encourage thoughtful and detailed responses. They do not have a single correct answer and allow for a wide range of responses.
    • Example: “Can you tell me about your experience working on the project? What were the most significant challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?”
  • Reflective – prompt individuals to contemplate and think deeply about their thoughts, feelings, or experiences. They often start with words like “how” or “what.”
    • Example: “How do you feel about the recent changes in your life, and what do you think they mean for your future?”
  • Connecting – aim to establish links or relationships between ideas, concepts, or experiences. They help individuals see patterns or connections they might not have noticed.
    • Example: “In what ways do you think your childhood experiences have influenced your career choices as an adult?”
  • Focusing – help direct attention or clarify a specific aspect of a topic or issue. They are useful for narrowing down a broad discussion.
    • Example: “What is the most critical aspect of the project that we should prioritize right now?”
  • Guiding – provide guidance or direction within a conversation or discussion. They can be used to keep a conversation on track or to delve deeper into a particular aspect.
    • Example: “Could you please expand on the third point you mentioned earlier about your proposal? How do you envision implementing that?”
  • Mirroring – involve repeating or paraphrasing what someone has said to confirm understanding or encourage them to elaborate further.
    • Example: Team Member: “I’m feeling overwhelmed with all these tasks.” Project Manager (mirroring): “You’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of tasks you have to complete?”

Internalize your confidence

You do not need external validation to internalize confidence. Your worth is not defined by job titles, achievements, salary, degrees, or other’s approval. The source of your confidence lies within. Access it by revisiting your core values, connecting to your purpose, recalling your key strengths, and holding your head high.

Synthesize your skills

Genuine influence transcends mere tactical maneuvers. It encompasses the fusion of self-assuredness and empathy, the synergy of words and nonverbal cues, and the art of leading while actively listening. It signifies your capacity to elevate others, not through coercion, but through empathetic guidance, enabling them to surpass their individual capacities. There are some frameworks, models, and best practices that can help guide you in enhancing your influencing skills:

  • 5 Whys – Keep asking “why” 5 times to find the real reason behind a problem. This is an incredibly useful interview framework.
  • ORID – First, look at what’s happening (observation). Then, think about how you feel about it (reactions). Next, figure out what it means (interpretation). Lastly, decide what to do (decisions).
  • The 4 Temperament Model categorizes tendencies of those you are trying to influence as:
    • Dominant – this personality tends to be direct and result-focused.
    • Influencing – this personality type is outgoing and enthusiastic.
    • Steady – this personality type is patient and supportive.
    • Conscientious – this personality type is analytical and reserved.

Be direct with those who are dominant, enthusiastic with influencing people, patient with steady people, and reserved with conscientious people.

  • Best practices when speaking to groups. The key to speaking to groups is realizing that no one cares if you make a mistake. Some tips to use when speaking to groups are:
    • Connect with individuals – do not speak to the group. Engage individual faces in the audience.
    • Start strongly – open with a bold statement or question to grab attention.
    • Tell stories – anecdotes emotionally connect with audiences.
    • Use humor – laughter immediately wins people over.
    • Great presenters combine confidence with vulnerability. Do not pretend to have all the answers – share your authentic self.

In conclusion, mastering the art of influence empowers project managers to navigate the intricate web of teamwork, communication, and decision-making with finesse. As they harness the power of influence, they not only guide projects toward success but also inspire teams to reach their full potential. By understanding what influence truly means and embracing its potential, project managers can excel as leaders, driving projects and teams toward triumph in an ever-evolving landscape of challenges and opportunities.

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