It may sound contradictory, but sometimes, for influencing stakeholders, you need to start at the bottom!
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You know where the influence lies: at the top.
So you target your stakeholder engagement there.
With the influential big hitters. But they are the people who have the least time for you, and most pride themselves on knowing their own mind.
It’s especially hard when you are at the start of your career, and near the bottom. But even if you’re not: even if you’re at the top of your game and your organization… Influencing the top tier is hard.
So, I’d like to make the case for focusing your stakeholder engagement and network building at the lower end of the organizations you work in and with.
This is not advice to abandon efforts to influence the top people. Rather, it’s a case for balance.
If so, skip ahead. This advice is out of date for you. Look for: ‘And when you reach the top, yourself…’
If you are still in the early stages of your career, then influencing senior people is hard. You want to be a big player, but who will truly want to hear from you. Instead, be smarter.
Often, the best way to influence senior people is through the people they trust. And they may well be more junior.
In The Influence Agenda, I describe ‘Apex Stakeholders’. These are the highly influential people who influence others. Sometimes they do this by virtue of their position. But at other times, they have a lower rank but are seen as wise and trustworthy. Even leaders listen to them. Target these influencers.
Rising tides raise all boats. One thing is certain about your career. You will get older and so will the people around you. Build relationships with junior people and you can be sure some of them will be senior people one day. By then, you’ll have their trust and their ear.
Don’t get trapped into thinking you’re so important that you only speak to other ‘important people’. Everyone is important.
But there are two smart reasons to spread your engagement throughout the ranks and influence stakeholders at all levels.
Senior people have secrets. They are privy to confidential information. So they become well-practiced in being careful about what they say. It can be hard to learn the truth from the top tier.
Now, people lower down the organization… They will be flattered by your attention. They will want to speak with you. If you take them seriously, they will reciprocate.
The world is becoming less hierarchical. (At least across the European and US-influenced cultures.) If you want to influence change, you at least need support throughout an organization. Arguably, much change is led by the day-to-day behaviors of individual contributors.
These are the people to get to. A shift here, a change there. It all mounts up. There’s no grand plan that dictates the shape of a mighty oak. Each new twig grows towards the light. Over years, those twigs will become branches. The shape emerges from thousands of small changes.
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Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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