Leadership Without Authority: Using Influence

Influence leadership is not a recent phenomenon, but a concept that some of the greatest leaders have used throughout time. As the ancient proverb from Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, “There is nothing new under the sun.” There is nothing truly novel in existence. Every new idea has some sort of precedence or echo from the past. This certainly applies to influence leadership, as can be seen from ancient religious, political and business leaders to modern-day leaders that have used influence to lead and shape opinions, policies and law in all areas of society and business.

But what is influencing, and how can it be used in your professional career to catapult you into a more prominent position within your company? Influence tactics can range from direct and authoritative to indirect and collaborative. The influence process—which is a dynamic driving force in all organizational life—can be used to motivate subordinates’ commitment, to obtain cooperation and support from peers and colleagues, to influence superiors to provide necessary support and resources, implement innovations, policies and strategies [as concluded by Falbe and Yukl (1992)].

The type of tactics that are used to influence others is determined by many factors such as the status of the influencer, gender, culture, personality and the characteristics of the target you are aiming to influence. Also, influence can be broken down into two dimensions: 1) contingent control (CC), which can be characterized as more negative and include exchange, legitimization, pressure, assertiveness, apprising, and coalition because they offer individuals less freedom and 2) gentle persuasion (GP) which is characterized as more positive and includes personal appeal, consultation, inspirational appeal, ingratiation, and rational persuasion that allows more latitude in deciding whether or not to accept the influence.

In organizations, it is imperative that one has the ability to choose an influence tactic when we want to effect change in the attitudes, beliefs, values, behaviour and of those around us. To master the art of persuasion through influence is an essential talent for all leaders and those who wish to lead in the future. Knowing which influence tactic to use depends on understanding your target audience that you wish to influence. To do this you must first have an understanding of the big five personality traits; openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Once you have a firm understanding of these traits in the people that you wish to influence, choosing a tactic will come naturally.

We must also recognise that power is central to understanding how behaviour is influenced. Relationships between casual acquaintances, work colleagues, or between a salesperson and a customer would be examples of relationships where the intensity of power is low. Relationships at the higher end of the power intensity dimension would be direct supervisors or bosses, very close or intimate relationships (i.e., those between close friends, husbands and wives, or children and their parents). The more central the relationship is to an individual, the greater the ability of the other person(s) in the relationship to reward or punish the individual in a manner that will have either a very beneficial or a very detrimental effect on the individual.

Where the power is more balanced between individuals there is a much more likelihood of negotiating. There becomes a higher probability of give and take to maintain the mutual interdependence of the relationship and influence, therefore benefiting both parties equally.

To be successful in our professional lives, we have to master the art of influence in order to lead others and to gain respect. Without it you may as well sit in the bathroom all day, as your career will definitely be in the toilet.


  • Cartwright, Dorwin (1959), "Power: A Neglected Variable in Social Psychology," in Studies in Social Power, ed. Dorwin Cartwright, Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan, 1-14.
  • Dahl, Robert A. (1957), "The Concept of Power," Behavioral Science, 2, 201-218.
  • Yukl, Gary, Patricia J. Guinan and Debra Sottolano (1995), "Influence Tactics Used for Different Objectives with Subordinates, Peers and Superiors," Group and Organization Management, 20, 272-296.
  • Toward an Understanding of the Choice of Infuence Tactics: The Impact of Power
  • Lynnea Mallalieu, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
  • Corinne Faure, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Denise Louise Jeffrey, Executive and Leadership Coach and Expert in Leadership, Communications and Negotiations, Europe, USA and The Middle East

Denise Jeffrey has more than 17 years of experience in professional training and coaching with multi-national corporations and aerospace and defence. Her specialties are Leadership, Communications and Negotiations with an emphasis on the complexities of working both nationally and internationally. She has lived in six and has travelled to over forty countries. She currently resides in Croatia and Italy.

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