Two keys to influencing upwards are where are you starting from and what are the preferences and expectations of the senior leaders you need to influence.

Are you successful at influencing upwards?

Where are you starting from? What is your personal brand?

Your personal brand is the value you bring to your stakeholders. That value can be in terms of

  • knowledge which can be functional/specialist or general or a combination of the two,
  • skill/competence – the ability to do particular things, handle particular situations or execute particular processes,
  • reliability – you deliver what you promise and you make it happen,
  • network – your connections and their value in producing potential solutions or in making things happen.

Stakeholders are all the people who are impacted by or have an impact on your role and contribution. Some stakeholders are more important than others. Senior Managers are important as they usually control your access to resources and potentially information.

So what are you doing to be conscious of the added value you bring and taking conscious steps to make sure you are in practice demonstrating the added value that you want to bring to your role and your organisation?

What are the core elements you expect your key stakeholders to get from having a working relationship with you? These you should define. What are the five or six critical things you bring? Then consider for the senior leaders whose commitment and support you need, what is missing in what you are currently bringing or what do you need to develop or display more strongly?

What are the preferences and expectations of the senior leaders you need to influence? 

Business leaders have limited time and normally a very wide range of demands being made on them. Make life easy for them. Take their time only with important issues that have a significant impact on the total business of the organisation not just your particular area of responsibility. They will expect that you have done your homework and thought about the impact of your proposals on the total organisation including the downsides not just the benefits. Preparation with clear analysis and well thought through arguments are important. 

The US thought leader on leadership, Marshall Goldsmith, has recorded some very good guidance for influencing upwards in his article in Business Week in January 2007 drawn from his 2004 book – “Effective salespeople relate to the needs of the buyers. They don't expect buyers to relate to their needs. In the same way, effective "upward influencers" relate to the larger needs of the organization, not just to the needs of their unit or team.”  (Source: Businessweek)

In preparing your case and strategy have you thoroughly thought through what may not happen if your ideas and proposals gain the investment? What conflicting proposals or competing ideas for resources are there in the business? This will help you both to prepare your case but also to be able to objectively review if now is the right time for your ideas/proposals.

A second element to keep in mind is what are the personality preferences of the key senior leaders you need to influence? This is where having a good familiarity with a psychometric instrument or model is valuable.   By being able to identify the preferences of the key stakeholders to be influenced you can gain some valuable insights on how best to approach and communicate with them on the issues you want to discuss. If they have a preference for big picture thinking and limited but focused facts then don’t plan a detailed factual presentation with  lots of information. If on the other hand they have a preference for lots of supporting factual detail then make sure you have included sufficient detail to make your proposals credible for them.

If sharpening up your persuasion and influencing skills is important for you then have a look through our upcoming program on Persuasion Skills for Effective Cross Organisational Working.


About the Author

Paula Cook

Paula Cook is a training and development specialist, with over 20 years experience in the field. She designs and delivers training programmes on a range of topics, including leadership and management skills; communication and interpersonal skills, influencing and change management and remote teamwork.