Leading and Influencing Without Authority
You don’t need to have a formal position of authority to have influence in your organization. While those in authority may change people’s behavior through coercion or clout, influential leaders use their knowledge and soft skills to establish trusting relationships and sway people’s minds and hearts.
Leadership and influence are often associated with managerial roles, but non-managers can also have considerable influence in their companies. To influence means to have an effect on the behaviors, attitudes, opinions, and choices of others, and this can be done without having a formal position of authority. Whereas those in authority may change people’s behavior through coercion or manipulation, influential leaders use their soft skills, knowledge, and experience to establish trusting relationships and shift people’s mindsets. In other words, they have sway rather than clout (Table 1).
Table 1 highlights the differences between authority and influence.
Management positions are given, whereas leadership and influencing positions are earned. The authority of management positions may change or disappear when a person leaves the position, but true leadership and influence remain with you regardless of your role.
Anyone can lead without authority. According to Kouzes and Posner (2021), “Leadership is a set of behaviors and actions that are available to everyone.” Leadership is not a position or title, a special talent, a certain type of personality, or a gene in your DNA. After 4 decades of global leadership research, Kouzes and Posner found that good leaders have developed five critical skills, which they call “The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership” (Table 2). Anybody can learn these activities and practice them to develop leadership skills.
Leadership researchers at the Keller Institute found there are seven traits that are commonly found in people who are influential (Table 3).
Charisma, the X-factor of many influential people, is a combination of confidence, passion, courage, and a sense of humor. None of these traits are taught in accredited petroleum engineering curricula, but just about anybody can cultivate these qualities by participating as an active SPE volunteer and by practicing the strategies outlined below.
Building trusted relationships is especially important for self-employed professionals such as consultants. Reliability, a good reputation, and word of mouth advertising are just as important as technical expertise in attracting new business opportunities.
One way that non-managers can exhibit leadership is by taking the initiative to identify problems or areas for improvement, then taking appropriate action to address them. The influential leader does so with a positive attitude, rather than making others look bad. By proactively seeking solutions, individual contributors can demonstrate their willingness to take ownership and responsibility for their work. For example, if an employee notices a safety hazard, he or she can notify colleagues and management and work collaboratively to make the work area safer. Such actions demonstrate courage, a commitment to safety, and a cooperative attitude.
Volunteer for interdepartmental initiatives or committees, such as the technical conference committee, the floor warden or safety committee, or the diversity and inclusion task force. This will not only give you something extra to put on your resume, but it will also garner you friends in other departments and broaden your understanding of how business units work together.
Don’t be afraid to speak up. For example, if the in-house technical paper approval process takes too long, and you have an idea for improving the workflow, bring up the topic the next time you talk to your boss. If your company has a suggestion box or an online idea submission app, go ahead and enter your suggestions and great ideas and follow up regularly on the status. Your passion may be contagious!
Another vital aspect of influence is building strong relationships with colleagues, superiors, and clients. Relationships built on trust and emotional connection facilitate collaboration and teamwork, and the resulting alignment can lead to better outcomes and higher productivity. By demonstrating integrity, professionalism, and commitment to others, non-managers can position themselves as reliable and respected team members.
Influence also involves tapping into the emotions that drive people’s actions. Liven up boring meetings by expressing excitement, giving encouragement, boosting morale, even making people laugh. Inspire the team by stating a clear vision or sharing a success. Freely talk about hopes, fears, and feelings. Be vulnerable, transparent, and authentic, which results in a deeper level of trust.
Effective communication is more than expressing ideas clearly and articulately. It also involves active listening and asking questions to clarify understanding. By communicating effectively, non-managers can contribute to a positive work environment and foster cooperation and teamwork.
Infuse your spoken and written communications with a positive attitude, which makes you more likeable. However, if you choose to be courageous at a meeting and play the role of devil’s advocate by pointing out potential obstacles or presenting an opposing viewpoint, be sure to do so respectfully and thoughtfully, without hurting people’s feelings. Let your teammates consider different options so they can select the best one going forward. To maintain positivity, which is a hallmark of influence, sandwich any criticism between two slices of commendation.
Share the Data
Even if your communication skills are lacking because you are not using your primary language, you can always let the numbers do the talking. Show colleagues the model, the predictions, the equations, the percentages, and the return on investment. Have confidence in your technical abilities and share your data and results with others.
One way to exert influence without authority is to forward pertinent information to your colleagues, or even to management. For example, if you read an article about a new method or tool that would solve a particular problem a colleague is experiencing in the field, email a link to that article and tell how it could solve the problem. Forward an invitation to a webinar or conference about the subject to a non-SPE member, which will highlight the value of your membership. Empowering others is a key aspect of influence, and sharing power gives you even more power.
Continuous learning is an important aspect of leadership, regardless of job title. Show your commitment to learning by seeking out opportunities for professional development and staying up to date with industry trends and best practices. By continuously expanding your knowledge and skills, you can empower yourself, position yourself as a valuable contributor, and show your dedication to professional growth. Staying sharp is always a good investment.
Mentorship and Training
Another way to empower others is by sharing your knowledge and expertise through mentorship and training programs. Influence the next generation and help newer employees learn the ropes and develop their skills. Sometimes hearing about the old ways of doing things will give younger colleagues a better appreciation of how modern techniques have evolved over time. Many companies have mentoring programs where you can sign up to be matched with a less experienced person. If your company doesn’t have a mentoring program, just adopt a younger colleague, take him or her under your wing, and be a sounding board. Teach a class or offer to show the summer interns around—your colleagues will look up to you.
How SPE Can Help
Because SPE is a global organization, use it to multiply your personal connections and grow your network. Tap into that network and introduce people who could benefit from knowing and talking to each other. That’s how “one plus one can equal three.”
Become the go-to person in your area of expertise. Read SPE journals and attend conferences and workshops to invest in your technical abilities so you can become a trusted resource in your company.
Present and publish SPE papers, post learnings on LinkedIn and SPE Connect communities, or start a blog or podcast. That way, you can become a leading authority in your discipline even though you are not in a management position.
The Business and Leadership Committee of SPE focuses on the professional “soft skills” needed for career excellence. Visit our Business and Leadership page at https://www.spe.org/en/training/soft-skills/ to view webinars, training sessions, SPE papers, and articles to help you develop the non-technical aspects of being an influential energy professional.