Authority, influence, and how to have both regardless of job title

I won’t lie, I jockey for job title all the time. Not that I think job titles are important, but I know they are important to some people and they become useful leverage in conversations.

That said, your job title means nothing if you do not have authority or influence.

Some job titles come with authority, but none come with influence. Influence is entirely up to you, and how much authority you really have can often be up to you as well.

Let’s talk about the easy one first. Authority is often conveyed by your job duties more than your actual title. If you are put in charge of a team of people and told you control their work assignments and everything about their jobs, you have authority over them. If the team is self motivated, this authority may be unnecessary and it really will be the most minor part of your career. Conveyed authority is often the least important. Sorry.

Then there is assumed authority and perceived authority. These go hand-in-hand. I learned about assumed authority when I was the most senior consultant on a project, so I became the de facto lead. Without anyone to tell me I couldn’t, I started making some serious changes to the customer’s application architecture. Changes that if they knew what I was doing and how extensive they were they would never have agreed to. However, the other developers turned to me for leadership so I was in a position to make the call. Just removing extraneous calls and thousands of lines of code improved performance by 10%. Further testing and streamlining eventually saw a 25% overall increase in performance. Surprise! Increasing performance also decreased defect reports as the system malfunctioned less when it wasn’t constantly thrashing the server. When the customer found out we improved performance they didn’t ask what we did, they were just happy we did it. Since I made the call I got the credit and I continued on officially as a development lead on my next assignment.

Now, if you paid attention to that story you’ll also spot that I made a decision that carried a great deal of risk. I shouldered that risk and had no one else who I could honestly blame it on. I accepted that as I was certain we could improve the system. If the system didn’t show some improvement then I would have had a hard time justifying the time we billed, though I think there was also a good argument for ease of maintainability as well. Still, the whole thing could have blown up in my face. I took a risk, it paid off, I was rewarded. This is actually a normal series of events.

However, I did not wait around to ask permission to lead the team. We were a boat without a captain, so I offered to steer the ship. No one said no so I did it. Opportunities often don’t come with permission. This can be a Catch-22, but in order to prove you are ready for more responsibility you sometimes have to take more responsibility. In turn, as you are seen as a leader and/or an expert, you are someone who is perceived as credible to make those decisions. Thus, if I had decided to make further changes, there were Project Managers, Directors, and Vice Presidents at the customer site who would have accepted my decision without needing their permission.

My job title? Actually the same as three other team members and only one level higher than six others. Also, not technically a supervisory role from a title perspective.

Then there is influence. People often mistake a job title for conveying influence. It never does. Influence is more nebulous, but the way I think of it is more relational. People who like you and respect you are more easily influenced. Sometimes to maintain those relationships you have to allow them to influence you. Using your influence instead of authority may be the best way or only way to handle people who don’t like you and don’t fit into your reporting structure. Influence is the only way to handle your direct supervisor.

I can give you the dictionary definition of influence if you really need it, but what you really need to understand is that authority and influence are two different tools in your toolbox. Influence is always available to you and your own charisma, credibility, and domain knowledge help you build it. Also, it is worth nothing that you need both. If you have a position of high authority but you personally have little influence you will find that many of your decisions and initiatives will not be effective.

Most importantly, remember that your job title means little overall. I know people who are “Vice Presidents” that have no direct reports. I know “Senior Developers” leading multi-million dollar projects. Over the long term, guess which of those two will ultimately be the bigger professional success?

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Posted in Advice, Career Management, Managing Up
5 comments on “Authority, influence, and how to have both regardless of job title
  1. scott says:

    Good stuff Rob,

    I have found for me sincereity, character, honesty, integrity, service matters.

    Titles don’t.

    I have found for me the more I work on me it is amazing how much better the terds around me that annoy me seemingly have miraculous transformations into almost cool folks.

    I find I am a self-centered idiot if I think I can WREST satisfaction and happiness out of this world only if I manage it well. DUH!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I find my experiences I share with others matter,, my opinion ain’t worth the breath it takes me to splurt it out.

    I find if I keep my magical magnifying mind on serving others needs and putting them ahead of my own, giving my word and keeping it, giving more value and benefit than what I ask to share it, then things go pretty well.

    Anything other than that is just messing around. Frank Kern says “no more messing around”.

    Congruent, inside matching what I tell me and others outside of me what I am all about. They match who I really think who I am when I just talk to me?

    I focus on getting jiggy with these things and all the other stuff will take care of itself.

    I am here to do the work of the Dude who sent me. The next thing on the agenda, the next right thing right in front of me.

    Leave the results alone, if I am living right, serving people right, all that other stuff will happen the way it is supposed to.

    CPA firm read and incorporated Starting with Why.

    Increased their closing new business average from 30 to 90%!

    Now I do not know about you but if I am not involved with LEARNING and sharing with others about THAT……………………………………………… just messing around.

    Ok ok harsh, then what you are up to learning and sharing helps people increase their closing average from 30 to 95%??????? Ok then that makes sense why one would spend time sharing about that. Now I get it. Right go with the stuff that will help others the most and don’t waste time on anything else. Time is limited so only work on what is gonna be most effective! Got it! Cool, where is the video about this 95% result?

    Prioritize what is producing the most results for others and learn and share that.

    Sounds pretty reasonable, don’t it? That is what I am up to.

    I Concur!

    Shifterp OUT!

    • Rob Aught says:

      Interesting how your comment landed in the moderation cue. Must be due to not using the same name. Ah, WordPress, you mischievous devil.

      That said, good points. We spend our energy on others and it builds credibility.

      Interestingly, building credibility doesn’t seem to be on the agenda for many. You strike me as a high energy individual, so maybe this comes easier for you. Maybe you just work at it harder. My theory is that others think that once they have perceived authority they can just use it at will. Unfortunately, it will never inspire others to do the job the best they can.

      However, using authority takes less energy and is less work. Thus the over-reliance on it. Over-reliance on authority breeds resentment, at least from what I’ve observed. I’ve never seen anything positive result once you head down that path.

      Hmmm…this is a very long-winded “I agree” with you. Brevity is not one of my virtues.

      • Scott Powell says:

        I am selfish and self centered driven by a hundred forms of fear!!!!!!!

        I am beyond any human aid!!!!!! Hehe

        There is a solution though and I am partaking!!!!!

        Thing is I want to cut right to the chase, just find on the cutting edge what is the effective strategy, solution, technique…..whateva!

        Cutting edge, what’s better, what’s next Yada Yada Yada!!!!

        Plus Rob OMGoodness am I curious!!!!!!

        Yes I am sober and clean 29 years? Howeva, I am like a kid in a candy store! Found this cool youtube channel Odomtology. That has thousands of hours of great AA stuff I have not heard!

        Bottom line I forgot already what most people will ever know about AA BUT I have an insatiable appetite to love and serve people! And I know as human beings we operate on about 7% of our Brain capacity or conscious awareness!!!! So everyday no matter how much I absorb there is always more for me to learn. Yahoo!!!!

        Plus with the experience I have I have something to compare and contrast with!!!! It is a beautiful thing!!!!!!

        Enthusiasm is wonderful!!!!!!

        Plus this People Centric Leadership still not caught on! Not even hardly early adapters know YET!!!! They will!!!!! Obvious!!!!

        Every person I have shared Simon Sinek with and Bob Chapman at Barry Wehmiller when they finally sit down and open their minds and read, watch, listen, think will see the obvious!!!! This Simon Dude is onto something!!!

        Greatest thing about you Rob is your integrity! I KNOW you are a very very very busy fella!!! You gave me your word that u were gonna do some homework and YOU will!

        You WON’T scoff and give a negative uninformed opinion!!!!! Not the type if dude you are!!!!!

        Then after you see what I am so excited about you will be just as enthusiastic about WHY as me!!!!

        Look at Barry Wehmillers website! What hydraulic company has a video on their website titled “We Make Great Moms!!! ?????

        What does that have to do with hydraulic equipment!??? Check them out and you will see like me EVERYTHING!!!!!!!

        People are our greatest assest!!!! Getting them to produce more happens when YOU develop strategies and ways to communicate with them that INSPIRES and FULFILLS THEM!!!!!!!!

        That is what Simon Sinek is saying!!!!! And it works!!!!! 7 minute video on his website about a CPA Firm!!!! Most boring folks on the planet number crunchers, right? They were too stupid not to listen to Simon and just did what he said and presto chango 90% close rate in new business!!!

        That makes no sense!!!!! Right cause the STUPID old way we been going about it won’t produce that kind of a miraculous result!!!!!! So WAKE UP!!!!! Lol

        You Rob are gonna tell me one day “Man Scott why didn’t you get me to look this over sooner? We got Why Champions to get in board changing the world one inspired mind at a time”!!!!!!??????? Yes we most certainly do!!!

        I am doing my part!!!!!!

        My story, sticking to it!!!!! Want to know why I am so sure and excited? 17 minute video. Bob Chapman. YouTube. Barry Wehmiller! Simon Sinek. 34 minute video. YouTube. Understanding people and business!!

        51 minutes separating you from unbridled enthusiasm!!!!

        My story, sticking to it!!!!!!

        SP Out!!!!! Just think when ONE person takes those 51 minutes and comes back and says WOW he wasn’t just blowing smoke this is pretty amazing!!!! Then the rest will follow, paradigm shifting always works just this way!!!

        SP OUT!!!!!

  2. Justin Buck says:

    Great thoughts, Rob! I often cling to job titles for some semblance of career progress. Sometimes I think I should have been a military man– Second LT, First LT, Captain, Major, and so on. Someone would tell me when I had reached the “next level”. The harder thing, though, is gauging your influence. No one tells you when you’ve “arrived”. In fact, we often don’t know at all. But it’s a much more satisfying method of progress. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Danna Blum says:

    I think we’ve all mistaken, or maybe blended, title with authority with influence. We become proud and pleased that our accomplishments and knowledge led to our title and authority, and forget about the concepts and value of true influence. And Justin is so right! Being fully aware that you’ve reached the level of “influencer” does elude us! But, maybe that’s part of the hallmark of someone who’s attained it?

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