Being a successful consultant – Part 2. Influence

In the first post of this series I focused on the topic of autonomy, in part 2 I would like to focus on influence, what that means as a consultant and what you can do to achieve it. So let’s understand what the word influence means,

Influence : the power to have an effect on people or things, or a person or thing that is able to do this.

For the purposes of this blog we are referring to a person rather than a thing, so as a person you can influence people or things, you can choose to influence them in a positive way, or choose to influence them in a negative way, I want to highlight that when I say positive and or negative I don’t mean positive is good and negative is bad, you can’t be that black and white about it. Sometimes you would want to proactively influence things in positive way to achieve a certain result, and equally you might want to proactively influence them in a negative way to achieve a desired result, take stress testing or penetration testing as an example, you would want to apply negative influences to validate that something can withstand that influence and still perform in a positive way, or more simply put, perform as expected.

As part of a consultants role there are several factors that you may need to influence, I have listed some of the high level ones below,

  • Clients
  • Suppliers
  • Partners
  • Community groups
  • Colleagues
  • Solutions (by this I mean the ongoing development and innovation of client solutions)

Clearly you would need to influence each of these things in a different way, but you would want to influence them to ensure success. If it is influencing a client it’s likely to ensure the success of a project or outcome. If it is influencing a supplier it could be that you have found something that could be improved and or changed to meet a client’s needs. And more inwardly focused if it is influencing a solution it is likely ensure it helps drive innovation incorporating the latest and greatest technology, whilst providing a high quality consistent outcome.

There are several approaches that you could use to influence people or things, as an example to influence a person or people you could be the high volume loudspeaker drill sergeant and demand that they drop and give you twenty, I wouldn’t advise that though as I think it’s fair to say that in the world of a technology focused consultant you might find your career short lived. And equally if you try to influence things by avoiding all challenges and only keeping everyone happy all of the time, you are likely to be unsuccessful. You are not going to keep everyone happy all of the time, it’s just not possible and you have to accept that, but what you need to ensure is that whatever you are influencing is being done so for the right reasons.

So as a consultant how do you influence a person, people or things, well there isn’t a magic answer, but it is likely going to be made up of multiple things. So to me you should focus your attention on three key pillars, you need to be knowledgeable, that one in itself is going to be covered as a topic in part 4 of this series. You need to be trustworthy and you need to reliable. Your knowledge will give you the credibility and sufficient understanding to offer the possible options and then provide your expert recommendation. Being trustworthy ensures that you can build a long standing relationship that should be mutually beneficial. And finally ensure you are reliable, if you say you are going to do something then ensure you do it, but equally, don’t just agree to something without knowing you can achieve it, saying no is just as powerful, if you say yes and don’t deliver the likelihood is the person you let down has also let someone else down, which makes them look unreliable.

If you don’t have the required knowledge, if a person or people do not trust you, or you are seen to be unreliable then your ability to influence that person or people is going to be heavily affected, and not in a good way. It is also important that you don’t say no to be difficult and frustrate, taking that approach will also very quickly find your influence diminishing. However If you can ensure you are knowledgeable, you are trustworthy and that you are reliable, and be all of those things consistently over a period of time, the likelihood is you will find influencing a person, people or things is not as difficult as it seems.

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