How to influence without authority

Group of people

We often find ourselves working in matrix environments, working in virtual teams or simply trying to get something done by someone in another part of the business. This common aspect of our working lives has a common challenge: how to influence other people to help us or do something for us, when they don’t report to us. Pulling rank or bullying might work once, but we need to build a supportive relationship over the long term. Fortunately, there are really effective tips for influencing – because they are based on behavioural science. They appeal to deeply-rooted human needs, as explained by Robert Cialdini.

Based on his work, here are some practical tips to get attention and buy in when you need it.


People will do more for people they like, or are like. Take the time to be friendly and get to know the people you need to influence. Find common ground or interests. Make time for people and conversation, no matter how busy you are. Influencing takes time so investing in relationships in critical to your success. There is no point in waiting until you need something done to cultivate the relationship then. Sow seeds earlier and it will be so much easier to collaborate later.


People have a highly-developed sense of fairness and sharing. People will repay favours, so if you give or help first, it is much easier to ask for (and receive) favours at a later date. I once worked with a Danish manufacturing group and one of the head office team had an exceptionally good relationship with the managers at the manufacturing sites. He eventually told me his “secret”. On the way to production meetings he always stopped off at the bakers for a box of fresh cakes to bring. It might seem trivial but that small act of consideration and generosity was repaid in production scheduling favours worth a lot of money to the business.


People will take action based on what they hear and observe among their trusted group of friends and colleagues. Your network of influence also needs to include the peers of those you seek to influence, and this can be very helpful if you find your attempts to influence an individual meets with resistance.


Sometimes, your work on influencing seems to be going well but nothing is actually happening as a result. People tell you they will do something, but they don’t do it. Cialdini observes that people are much more likely to honour a commitment if it is made public. If someone promises something, get that commitment in writing (email) and have them share that commitment with colleagues and their line manager. This is most effective you link this commitment to what matters to them in terms of their values and their own goals.


Authority is not simply rank – it includes relevant expertise, knowledge and experience. Don’t assume that your expertise is widely known, or that everybody has that skill or knowledge. People will pay attention and take time to help people who have experience and expertise that they would find useful. If you have solved problems in the past that are similar to ones on the current agenda, make sure that comes up in early conversations so your authority on the subject is known. Please don’t hide it or assume that people know!


People value what is in short supply – this is probably a deep-rooted survival response. If you have something which many other people do not, that counts as having a scarce asset that others may want. This can take many forms. It could be having advance information before it is published more widely. It could include providing access to someone that others may need to influence due to your own network or work location.


These six principles resonate because they link to natural human behaviour. We are often so busy or driven we forget our human instincts. Although examples are provided above for clarity, influence is not a mechanistic process. Cialdini’s six principles are best applied in combination, sensitive to the context and individuals concerned. Above all, this must be natural. If people think they are being manipulated, it will erode trust and co-operation. A genuine approach, taking account of the tips above, can be a great help in building lasting and collaborative relationships that help deliver positive outcomes without angst!

If you want to find out more about Robert Cialdini’s work on influence, I recommend his book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” (Collins Business Essentials) by Robert B. Cialdini PhD or look out for highly practical and interactive round-tables and workshops on this subject from Pure Potential.