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Influence: It's Not Just For Managers

(Originally published on OWLS 2 WORK blog)

Ever identify a need for improvement but think, “That’s above my pay grade,” or “I’m not the boss, who will listen to me”? Org Chart Paralysis often prevents us from stepping in and stepping up. We may not think we have the authority to make change happen. Influence is not just about job title, though, and managers do not have a monopoly on great solutions. With a little creativity and persistence, you can showcase your leadership skills while bringing solutions to the table. That’s a win-win career-building opportunity!

I had barely figured out where the coffee pot was at my new job when an opportunity to significantly improve my group’s work processes landed in my lap. I was a newly-hired Project Management Assistant, and in every meeting, my new colleagues were grumbling about

  • Lack of organization

  • Version control nightmares

  • Lost documents

  • Missed deadlines

  • General lack of trust

My teams were working inefficiently and ineffectively every time they had to collaborate on a task. Reports, presentations, white papers and a host of other documents routinely became victims of confusing and unproductive email loops. Meanwhile, we had intranet collaboration sites languishing unused because they were not user-friendly. I was still grinding my way through my undergrad at the time. What could I offer these experienced Ph.D.’s that they had not already considered, and why should they listen to me?

That fresh perspective (and the willingness to step up) was the secret! Because I was new, I could ask questions like “Describe your perfect experience”, and build on those common needs. Because I was working with multiple groups, I was able to see the overlapping commonalities. Because I was bold (at least on the outside) and friendly, I was able to engage allies, including those who were eager for change but did not have the bandwidth to take on the challenge. I could not tell them how to change, but I could show them the benefits.

It took a lot of hard work, persistence, and creativity, but over the next three months we completely revamped the way our teams interacted, and in the process created a best practice for our organization. Along the way, I became a Subject Matter Expert and now other teams from diverse groups frequently reach out for help improving user experiences and work processes in their areas. (Note: I still do not have a Ph.D.!)

Ken Blanchard said, “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” There are many ways to grow your influencing skills. As a WGU student or alumni, you have access to an entire suite of free Professional Development Resources, including courses to enhance your soft skills. Read books like “Influencer”, a VitalSmarts product, or “The Silent Language of Leaders” by Dr. Carol Goman. Does your employer offer educational reimbursement? Take some classes! Invest in your Influence skills. Finally, contact Career & Professional Development for personalized assistance in creating your own professional development plan today!

About the Author

Sarah Ratekin earned her Master of Science in Management and Leadership from Western Governors University (WGU) and is currently pursuing a Master of Business Administration from WGU as well. Veteran, professional, and working mother, Sarah is passionate about process improvement and employee engagement, along with a host of social causes to which she lends her energy. She lives outside of Indianapolis, IN with her family.

Posted by WGU Career & Professional Development

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