How can technical specialists more effectively influence stakeholders?

Written by Grant Heinrich 09 Nov 2021

It’s vital that experts are able to influence their stakeholders, but many feel that they don’t have the degree of influence with their organisation and key stakeholders that their expertise deserves. They are frustrated that their opinions are not heard, or their recommendations adopted.

Without formal training, many experts are not aware of what methods of influence they can use, or the effectiveness of the different methods. Which approaches do technical experts on your team favour, and which work best?

This article explores why it’s important for experts to master influencing skills, different influencing strategies that are available and their impact and effectiveness on stakeholders, and which default strategies they use. You can help technical specialists to more effectively influence others.

As a strong start, coach the expert to consider five questions:

  • Which influencing tactics are my default?

  • Do I rely heavily on rational persuasion, followed by rapid escalation to authorities (legitimising) when stakeholders fail to respond?

  • Are there alternative strategies that I’ve never even considered testing?

  • What tactics might work best on particular stakeholders?

  • What experiences do I have of others using tactics that work with my key stakeholders?

Nine commonly used influencing strategies

We also share a useful tool that you can coach experts to use. This graphic shows nine specific influencing strategies 1 that are commonly used, often unconsciously.

The Nine Influencing Strategies

In our programs, we ask participants to rank these nine influencing strategies by how often they’re used. Here is an exercise that you can use and pass on to your experts:

Rank these nine influencing strategies by how often they’re used, from 1 down to 9. Then (without ranking them this time) choose which three of the nine strategies you think would attract the most resistance, compliance, or commitment (buy-in), using the chart below.

Chart: Influencing Strategies—What Works

In our discussions about this exercise with many experts and managers over the years, we’ve found something consistently comes up - the order in which of these nine influencing strategies is most frequently used varies enormously by organisation, country and culture. But there is a very high level of consistency with the way we react when subjected to the tactics, as well as which strategies produce resistance, compliance and commitment.

Most of us instinctively use just one or two influencing strategies, without assessing their effectiveness. For example, putting on Pressure. An expert trying to influence others may reasonably assume that if they simply realised how catastrophic or desperate a situation is, they too would understand the significance and urgency.

But if you rely on this method of influence — hassling and escalating — you may succeed in pounding people into submission, but are unlikely to make many friends and secure a higher level of commitment. Quite often, pressure tactics are effective in mobilising action, but just as often, it appears they trigger resistance from colleagues and stakeholders.

Surely Rational Persuasion Works? It’s not particularly surprising that this is the most common influencing strategy employed, especially among experts. After all, most experts have spent many years in rationally oriented learning in a rationally based field. However, this approach fails to recognise how the emotional or limbic brain often filters information from a stakeholder’s emotional bias.

Deploying Consultation and Inspiration can certainly be successful approaches. A soundly-reasoned argument needs to be supported by additional approaches that predispose the other parties to feel emotionally compelled and inspired to accept it. Inspiration creates no resistance and only a small amount of compliance, while it attracts commitment or buy-in.

Master Experts think hard about using the right influencing tactics, taking some time to consider which arguments and tactics have previously had the most impact, and which have crashed and burned. Help them identify the right approach to cut through to and convince a stakeholder who has a different set of needs, motivations and responses to particular influencing tactics.

Stakeholders want to feel they’ve been consulted with and have had the opportunity to air their concerns, be understood, and share their ideas about how things might look going forward. Influencing is a skill, not just the efficient presentation of facts, and without establishing personal credibility and emotional connection, most experts will fail to effectively influence.

The ability to master these nine different techniques and deploy them, for the right reasons at the right times with the right stakeholders, will hugely enhance your influencing effectiveness. They are excellent tools to help experts and their managers and organisations to get the big wins and results they’re chasing.

If you want to grow your experts’ influencing skills capabilities, here are three high level actions to take:

  • Explore your default Influencing tactics and all-importantly, how effective these are with key stakeholders. If you don’t deliberately choose which influencing tactics you use, you default back to the two or three that you’re comfortable with.

  • Identify the influencing strategies that you observe being successfully used by key stakeholders. Would they also be successful to try yourself?

Download the influence chart below.

  1. This list of nine influencing tactics was developed in 1990 by American academics Cecilia Falbe and Gary Yukl, who undertook a very large study of influencing tactics in large US organisations. 

Download Chapter 23 of Master Expert, The Desire to Influence.