IPMA International Project Management Association
25 April 2016 / 1:06

Influence without Positional Authority

Interview with Raji Sivaraman

Que: What are your viewpoints on ‘Influence without Positional Authority’

Let me start by explaining my definition of what ‘Influence without positional authority’ is.

Influence without positional authority is the influence radiated by credible persons without exhibiting or insisting on the authority of their position. Their credibility is recognized and trust is built. It manifests in the resilience of the team which propels to a smooth sailing with regards to change management. If I can quote from a page of the Masonic lodge – influence of your network, extended network, execute go-getter networking and achieve diversification of knowledge transfer. This gives the word authority an altered meaning.

Que: Can you give me examples of using ‘Influence without Positional Authority’ in Fortune 50/500 corporations?

The development of Corporate Social responsibility and getting the buy in from all employees in a fortune 50/500 company is a very good example of “Influence without Positional Authority”. The CEO has the position and the authority to dictate. But to get the buy-in and to have all employees be conscious of CSR, he has to play the role of an influencer and lead by example.

Another good example where this kind behaviour is manifested is seen in the small teams of professional researchers in pharmaceutical companies and IT companies such as Google, who are agile and cover each other’s backs.

The Return on Trust is the main ingredient for Influence without Positional Authority.  People in organizations where there is Return on Trust are great in keeping their commitments and are consistent in their behavior. Risk taking is encouraged and rewarded. People feel safe in sharing their ideas and opinions. The culture promotes and rewards honesty and ethical behavior. Senior leadership communicates transparently and authentically. People feel valued and are engaged in their work and productivity and creativity flourishes. “Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list”, has shown that between 1997-2011, high trust companies outperformed the Russell 3000 and S&P 500, posting high annualized returns.

Que: What are the advantages and potential risks of ‘Influence without Positional Authority’?

The advantages are that ideas and plans of the teams are accepted without the need to turn into a battle field. The communications will be a logical synthesis of thoughts of compelling reasons which promotes consensus building and a large part of good project management principles. It also helps with succession planning, an essential feature for any fortune 50/500 company. Although the identification of prospects can be made through the “Positional authority” influence, but the actual implementation of the right candidate to the new positions will have to be a “buy in” process.

The risk is that consensus building takes time. The end game is unknown. Strategies may have to be tweaked. During the process there could be moments of volatility and ambiguity. A true leader, accepted by all, will need to emerge to take the team across the finish line.

Que: How can you implement ‘Influence without Positional Authority’ in real life?

There are many examples, but I will give you a couple of millennial examples. The first example is to empower the younger generation and to get them involved as some may not have the needed courage. They will need a “kick start”. At a Philadelphia company, Y-Center, where I just got appointed as a member of the Advisory Board, we ask probing questions during our ‘Impactathons’ where they are stimulated to think of insightful solutions. Their answers are of the modern era which are valid and relevant for the future. Once the group of millennials can identify and relate to the solutions shared, then like a wild fire, they are inspired and take the programs ahead through their channels. Examples of this are the swift transmission of information through social media channels, using universal emoji, language and acronyms of their times.

Millennials from cultural and social backgrounds which have deep rooted sense of discipline and respect for age and authority, such as China, India, Japan, Korea etc. will need to be influenced with unique and pointed levels of authority. It will have to be more like a “teacher-student” relationship whereby there is trust and bond build between the two. Any resistance you face from the millennials in this scenario could be due to the fear of leaving the comfort of the status quo and embarking on the odyssey of the unknown future too. To overcome resistance, the value proposition of “change” must have mutual benefits and a compelling argument. We see examples of this in Asian countries which are rich in tradition. Our international programs at Y-Center Africa and India eases the discomfort.


Raji Sivaraman, M.S, PMP, Principal of ASBA LLC, helps companies in the USA and Singapore in their strategic planning/overseas startups. Speaks several languages, has worked in Singapore, Thailand, India, and USA. She helps fortune 50/500 companies in their CSR/BSR projects. Director/Advisor for non-profit organizations. Raji is also a consultant, who has worked in IT, publishing, financial, and logistics industries. She is an adjunct Professor, Montclair University in the USA. Author/contributor to PM books/articles/ white papers, global facilitator, speaker/panelist. She holds a Master of Science degree in Project Management and is PMP certified


  • Madhu P Pillai says:

    Very interesting thoughts sounding solid practical significance. Thx Reinhard for sharing the interview. Very valuable piece.

  • Tory says:

    There is apparently a bundle to know about this. I suppose you made certain nice
    points in features also.

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Reinhard Wagner

Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defense, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is Past President of IPMA and Chairman of the Council, Honorary Chairman of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH.