how to have more influence at work

When you want to raise your influence at work — with your manager, with leaders of other teams, and with your coworkers — what are the most important things for you to do?

You can read my thoughts on this over at Intuit Quickbase’s Fast Track blog today. Plus, three other careers experts are answering this question there too. Head on over there for answers…

{ 31 comments… read them below }

  1. Colorado*

    THIS IS HUGE! And I have had to learn this repeatedly and sometimes the hard way.
    One more thing that’s important: Be known for keeping your ego and emotions out of things as much as possible and for considering things (projects, ideas, new hires, or other changes) from the perspective of what makes sense for the company, rather than what might suit your personal agenda.

    On another note, I gave one of my manager employees their mid-year review yesterday and recommended “Managing to Change the World” because they want to improve their skills. Alison – you are great!

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        I have bought it for all the mangers I supervise. And refer to it constantly.

  2. Maye*

    OK. Tomorrow is the BIG day. I am finally resigning after 6 stressful and depressing months of working at a place I have no passion for with a supervisors who lacks ZERO leadership and management skills. I will be giving my resignation letter to my supervisor and I am sure he will not take it lightly. Just today, he started dishing out important dates for August. I wrote them all down just to go with the flow but in the back of my mind, I know I won’t be here past next Friday.

    Does anyone have advice for me? If you’ve ever resigned from a job, what was your experience from it? How did you feel before you submitted the letter and after?

    This is going to bring me so much closure. I am beyond excited, yet, nervous.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hi Maye, I try to keep comments on topic here because otherwise the comment section becomes unwieldy! You’re welcome to send this in as a question to me (see link at top) or to post it in Friday’s open thread!

  3. BritCred*

    I found something that worked well: In a project where I was to have a practical role not a management one I wasn’t afraid to ask a management question. When it wasn’t understood I was willing to stand my ground and go back to the basics (it was mathematical but important – when it could be 5% of the next months cash flow it is!) and explain exactly why I raise this point.

    It gained me respect because I was thinking ahead and working to improve the project implementation and protect the future of the company.

    Another: Under promise (but realistically) and over deliver. Its possible to do this in a respectable way without making it too obvious and people may be aware that you are doing it but if its done right then people respect it.

    1. Sascha*

      “Under promise (but realistically) and over deliver.” Agreed. I always build in some extra time into my project deadlines. You just never know what might come up that could delay things, so it’s helpful to have buffers.

    2. Steven M*

      “Under promise (but realistically) and over deliver.” – I know this is quoted as good advice a lot, and it’s certainly better than the opposite, but I really dislike the practice. I would much rather know the actual estimate, not the padded one. I have more respect for people who do what they do when they say they’ll do it than people who vary (notably) in either direction. A lot of times more product/information earlier is of no added use to me (for example, if equipment needed for the next step has scheduled availability based on the due date of the previous step, and can’t be moved up).

      1. Robin*

        Agreed. Under-promise / over-deliver feels like a rookie move to me. I don’t think it’s necessarily a good idea to a) not seem like you have a good sense of how long it will take you to do something and b) rely on the assumption that I don’t know what good work looks like and how long it takes.

        1. Steve G*

          Yeah it gets old when the same person under-promises on sales/margin #s every single season…it’s like, get a net tactic for impressing MGT!

      2. Betsy*

        To a certain extent I agree with this (I dislike the idea of “buying” yourself credit by deliberately misleading), but I also think under-promising allows for contingency. If I look at the total time to do 100 tasks which look equal on paper, and divide that time by 100, probably 75 of the tasks will come in much sooner than that average. 15 will come in at or close to at that number, and 10 will take up 40% of the time all by themselves.

        I know people who will tell you, “If you are told you have until Friday to do X, don’t deliver it on Wednesday, even if you finish on time.” That attitude really makes me cranky, and it seems to be a logical extension of what you’re saying.

        1. Koko*

          Yes, it depends on what under-promising is conveying here. If by under-promising you mean, “Don’t forecast your output/timeline based on a scenario where everything goes smoothly,” then I heartily agree. The “planning fallacy”–where a person is estimating the time to complete something and fails to allow room for problems/glitches and the like–is most common among people who self-perceive as successful. They don’t think of themselves as someone who has problems getting work done, so they always forecast a best-case scenario because they genuinely believe they can do the best-case every time (even though it’s often things beyond their control). If you’re that kind of person, it’s good to learn to give yourself a cushion for a system freezing or it turns out you didn’t know how to do the new thing you thought would be easy to do or someone who holds a password you need is out of pocket all day…and so forth.

          On the other hand, if by under-promising you mean, “Forecast a lowered output/slower timeline all the while intending to produce more/faster,” then I think that’s a type of manipulation that is actually more common to people who are worried about their jobs and are trying to make “doing their job” look like “going above and beyond.” (I say this because it was the kind of thing I started doing when I was in a job that was a poor fit, because I was messing up so often I felt the need to accumulate as much good will as I could to offset it, and I know friends who have done the same.)

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Totally agree. This saying has always bugged me for that reason, but I agree that it really depends on what the person saying it means by it; there’s two different potential meanings.

            1. BritCred*

              It does very much depend on your rapport and understanding with the manager on how this can be done though as many here have said.

              I’m not talking grossly here. I’m talking “I should have this for you by Thursday morning” and knowing that barring any issues its with them by Wednesday afternoon and doesn’t feel rushed together and is tailored to their need if its something I can do and understand enough to do well.

              Its also about not taking on stuff that I can’t handle because it looks “good” to say yes. I’d rather say “Project A and B mean that I’d struggle to get this to you before X and make the person truely aware of the situation rather than making others panic when you don’t come through.

              1. Just me*

                I like to under promise and over deliver because there are tons of random requests that come in for me. I need to build in time for those knowing it’s part of my role.

        2. Steven M*

          “If you are told you have until Friday to do X, don’t deliver it on Wednesday, even if you finish on time.”

          That scenario is slightly different. In your quote the due date is coming from somebody other than the person doing the task (“If you are told…”). If I tell you the due date is in five days and you come back in three days, I’m probably happy, or at worst indifferent (as long as the task is done to my needs/expectations). If you tell me the task will take five days and you come back in three days, that’s what I dislike.

          And to be clear, I don’t have a problem with people occasionally off prediction (in either direction), especially if they can tell me why it happened/won’t happen next time. It’s a pattern that becomes annoying.

          1. Laura*

            It also depends on what kind of manager you are! With my current boss, I will say, “In a best-case scenario, that will take X days; however, allowing for things Q R and S that could go wrong, as well as unforeseen circumstances, we should probably allow Y days as a worst-case scenario.”

            With a previous boss, I would have said, “Within Y days, for sure.” And then given it to him in X, possibly plus some fraction of Y. Because if I said the first to him, he would guarantee it to management in X days and expect me to work long hours, weekends, and basically kill myself to get it done – regardless of whether any of the risks materialized.

      3. NavyLT*

        I think that’s where the caveat of “realistically” comes in, though. I think of it more as managing expectations and giving myself a bit of extra time so that even if something else comes up, I get the first thing done when I said I would, and to the standard expected.

      4. BritCred*

        Steven – in this situation? I’d make sure about being aware of the issues with the information being early or the due dates causing equipment delays and work around that. Part of understanding the task and WHY it is important to the other party and what the company needs out of it.

        Totally agree in your situation that it could be an issue.

      5. LQ*

        I agree, it makes me super uncomfortable to do this.

        I certainly look at potential problems (if I have to work with our IT department I just assume everything will take 25% longer because it always has in the past, etc). But I don’t want to say that it is going to take me 10 hours when it will really be done in 7 just so I can show off what I did in 7.

        Besides if you regularly do that people notice and start to expect things sooner even when it isn’t possible.

    3. James M*

      “Under promise but (realistically) over deliver”. Um, my humble opinion is that this tactic requires subtlety. Don’t “over deliver” additional unrequested work and don’t downplay your ability to complete requested work. Make your best guess about how much you can accomplish in how much time, then try to do better.

  4. AMG*

    This is a very helpful article, and I have some work to do here. I hope that I haven’t tainted the way others view me and that I am in time perceived this way. I wonder how long it takes before there is a shoft in perception on these types of things–or can that shift ever be fully made to the ‘new’ person you are trying to be?

  5. AMG*

    This is a very helpful article, and I admit I have some work to do. I hope that in time I can be perceived this way more and more. I wonder how long it generally takes for that shift in the way others view you to happen, or can that shift ever fully take place once you have made a first impression? Not that I aam perceived badly…just looking to move to the next level.

  6. cv*

    Trying to understand the big picture and what the higher-ups prioritize is so important. I once made the jump from administrative assistant to analyst, and I think my boss recommended me for the analyst role because I’d consistently shown that I was interested in and understood the company’s priorities, how the business functioned, and what sort of information management needed to do their jobs better. One example is that most of his previous assistants had needed a lot of coaching to update the spreadsheets he used to track the different business units he managed, and so he mostly did it or double-checked it himself, but since I made an effort to understand the business purpose behind the reports I was able to take over the tracking entirely and free up a bunch of his time. It wasn’t anything particularly complicated, but that approach really served me well in that job.

  7. TotesMaGoats*

    Knowing the wider scope includes knowing what’s going on in your field. For me, it’s knowing geographic and national enrollment trends, new legislation and state/federal mandates, new technology and trends in pedagogy. You have to be able to talk about it all and in relation to your specific company/institution.

  8. T*

    I appreciate most of the advice, but I disagree with Eva Rykrsmith’s (#3) use of the word likeability. Being likeable has to do with personality and is not necessarily related to integrity. I have worked with people before who are unreliable yet extremely likeable. This trait can make it easier for such people to get away with not following through and making more work for others.

    1. Seal*

      +1 to this. The best managers I’ve had have all knew that competency, integrity, and reliability generally outrank likeable.

  9. B*

    Interesting reading this. I am a PA and am about to suggest to our CEx something that is related to an area we currently work in but that we haven’t considered (afaik). Will be interesting to see whether it’s taken forward or not – it could potentially be a really good move for us. The CEx likes me (again, afaik!!) so hope he will at least take the idea seriously…

  10. Steve G*

    I’m not sure I like Alexandra’s advice to search out projects in this way. I wouldn’t want an employee below the Director level to be searching out such work that I am assuming is broad in scope. I would assume that most of the work that is critical to the company mission is already being handled by someone else.

    I would re-work Alexandra’s advice to be something like “be an SME in what YOUR job is and be so good at what you do that you have the bandwidth to request to be involved in (the broad projects she refers to)”

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