How can technical specialists more effectively influence stakeholders?

Written by Grant Heinrich 09 Nov 2021

It’s vital that experts are able to influence their stakeholders, but many feel that they don’t have the degree of influence with their organisation and key stakeholders that their expertise deserves. They are frustrated that their opinions are not heard, or their recommendations adopted.

At the same time, few experts have had formal training in influence, and they aren’t aware of the full range of techniques available.

This article explores why it’s important to master influencing skills, the different influencing strategies available and their impact and effectiveness.

To start, ask your team to consider five questions:

  1. Which influencing tactics are my default?

  2. Do I rely heavily on rational persuasion, followed by a rapid escalation to authority when stakeholders fail to respond?

  3. Are there alternative strategies I’ve not considered testing?

  4. What styles of influence might work best on specific individuals?

  5. What experiences do I have of others using tactics that work with my key stakeholders?

Nine commonly used influencing strategies

This graphic, drawn from Master Expert, shows nine influencing strategies 1 that are commonly used.

The Nine Influencing Strategies

In our programs, we ask participants to:

  1. Rank how often they use each of the nine influencing strategies, from 1 down to 9.

  2. Choose which three of the nine strategies you think would attract the most resistance, compliance, or commitment (buy-in). Enter your choices into the chart below, and don’t worry about ranking the answers this time. (You can download a clean version of the chart at the end of this article.)

Chart: Influencing Strategies—What Works

Discussing this exercise with experts and managers over the years, we’ve found the order in which of these nine influencing strategies are used varies enormously by organisation, country and culture.

But there is a high level of consistency in the way we react when subjected to each tactic. Strategies produce roughly similar levels of resistance, compliance and commitment, regardless of their popularity to your culture.

Stakeholders want to feel they’ve been consulted with and have had the opportunity to air their concerns, be understood, and share their ideas about how things might look going forward.

Influencing is a skill, not just the efficient presentation of facts, and without establishing personal credibility and emotional connection, most experts will fail to effectively influence.

If you want to grow your experts’ influencing skills, here are two actions to take:

  1. Explore the teams’ default influencing tactics and how effective each is with key stakeholders. Ask the team to deliberately choose the influencing tactics they use, to prevent a default to the two or three well understood tactics that may not be that effective.

  2. Ask the team to identify the influencing strategies they observe being successfully used by key stakeholders. How could the team try those itself?

You can download the influence chart below, including more detailed instruction for its use.

  1. This list of nine influencing tactics was developed in 1990 by American academics Cecilia Falbe and Gary Yukl, who undertook a very large study of influencing tactics in large US organisations. 

an A4 self-assessment of your influencing style, and chapter 23 of Master Expert, which explains how to use it