Why you don’t need to be in charge to have your voice heard
What happens when you’re asked to manage a project, but you’re not anyone’s boss? What about when you want to share something you’ve been working on with management, but you’re not sure they’ll take you seriously?
It’s uncomfortable. It feels like you’re asking for a favor. You worry about whether your amazing idea will become a reality, or get forgotten about and overlooked.
That’s why it’s essential to know how to influence without authority.
I asked queer leaders like you what topics were most important to them. 76.5% of them said that influencing without authority was something they wanted to learn more about. So that’s what this blog will cover. We’ll talk about what influencing without authority means, influencing styles, and how you can improve your skills in this area. And at the end, I’ll share how you can stay up to date with more leadership tips from me.
You don’t need to be in charge to have your voice heard or your idea listened to. Keep reading to see why.
What does it mean to influence without authority?
I’m sure most of you have had that boss. You know the one. The one who gets things done by leveraging their authority over everyone else and has that “Because I’m the boss and I say so…” vibe. How does it feel to work for someone like that? What is the office culture like? NOT GOOD, to say the least.
You’d never lead your team with that energy. But what do you do when you’re managing a project and you need to get folks to do stuff? Or what about when you’re trying to appeal to senior leadership? Do you start to feel powerless? Stressed? Have you asked yourself “How do I get my point across when I’m not in charge of these people?” and aren’t sure where to start? If you’re feeling any of these things, that means it’s time to think about the way you’re influencing.
The fact is that influencing is a relational challenge. Using authority is rarely ever the way to accomplish something. Even if we have authority, using it generally isn’t our most effective tool for getting our perspective across. This study by Rahmadani et al shows that work outcomes improve when supervisors use ‘engaging leadership’ to empower and support their employees. 
Photo from Disability:IN
So, if you’re going into a situation where your only goal is to get people to agree with you, it’s an easy way to lose. You can win as a leader when you are willing to meet people where they are. Influencing without authority is about finding a way to share ideas collaboratively in a way that works for others. And part of that is knowing we each have our own unique style of influencing – so that’s what we’ll talk about next.
What are the styles of influencing?
You probably feel the most stress about influencing others when you feel that you have significantly less power than who you’re trying to appeal to. It’s easy to see having less positional power (that is, power within the organizational hierarchy) as a detriment. And that can lead to feeling like you don’t have the authority to do anything.
But we do our best influencing when we consider the relational qualities of the conversations we’re having. We all have a way that feels more natural to us to try to influence others.
The 5 influencing styles are:
My personal style is Inspiring – I like to invite folks to imagine an outcome with me. I bring emotions into the conversation and get people excited along with me about an idea. Let’s say you also like to influence by inspiring. But if your manager prefers to rationalize with numbers and data, what should you do?
Great question. This is a situation where you’d need to use your emotional intelligence skills. You have to be empathetic toward whoever you’re meeting with. Use your perspective-taking abilities to consider where your manager is coming from. Think about their interests, fears, and priorities.
Then, think about your own motivations. Ask yourself why you want what you’re asking for. Being self-aware will prevent you from going into fight or flight mode and getting defensive if the conversation starts to stray.
There’s more to knowing your own influencing style – like, how does this specifically affect you as a queer leader?
How can queer leaders learn to influence without authority?
Still feeling stuck? You’re not alone.
Maybe you’re the only queer leader in your workplace and your organization isn’t very diverse. By the way, this is a part of the power equation - if you’re marginalized and minoritized within your organization, AND you don’t have positional power within the formal hierarchy, it can feel even harder to find the confidence to assert your ideas and perspectives.
Additionally, queer leaders often have a different way of looking at things (look at how expansively we think about identity, gender, family…) If you’re proposing something that’s really going to disrupt the status quo, you might have to do some extra work to bring others along.
Photo from Women of Color in Tech
Also, so many queer leaders like you haven’t had the chance to access leadership development training. So this is a skill you might not have had much training or mentorship on.
Don’t worry though. That’s why I’m here. Because I know that as a queer leader, you are already so well equipped to understand and empathize with others. Our own influencing style is way less important than our ability to shift our style to meet the preferences of others we need to influence. You might prefer to give a message one way, but it’s often more effective to meet the other person where they’re at.
This article by Dr. Clare Felicity Jane Price-Dowd explains that the best leaders are the ones who are self-aware and understand how their unique style has an effect on others. Queer leaders are compassionate. We are empathetic. We work to know ourselves and relate to others. And that’s why we make great leaders. 
So, the next time you feel like you don’t have enough authority to influence, remember that influencing isn’t about being in charge. It’s not about being the boss. It’s about relating to people and considering their interests, fears, and desires. And that’s something that I believe you can be great at.
Influencing without authority can feel like you’re at a disadvantage. You feel powerless. You think you can’t make any impact because of where you’re at. You don’t see how you can make a difference because you’re not in charge.
But now you know so much more. The next time you need to influence someone, use your emotional intelligence skills to relate to them. Use your empathy to meet others where they’re at. And remember that you don’t need authority to influence others– you just need to talk to them in a way that shows you get them.
You are capable of creating change and making big things happen– and you don’t need authority to do it.
If you’re looking for more support in this area, I’m here for you. Make sure you’re following me on LinkedIn – I engage there often with queer leaders like you. I’m grateful to get to support you in your leadership journey.