The Difference Between Influence and Authority

There are two ways we can get people to do what we want or need them to do: because we have influence over them, or because we have authority over them. We can have influence without authority, and we can have authority without influence. Influence comes from respect, collaboration, and credibility. Authority comes from title and your position on the organizational chart.

If we focus on gaining influence, it will often not even matter if we have authority. We are still able to get the outcome we want. When we have influence, people will do what we want or need them to do, because they have chosen to work with us. If we simply focus on having authority, we will frequently get what we want, but for a different reason… because people have to.

Relationships built on influence, trust and credibility have a greater chance of enduring, especially through challenging situations. Professional relationships that rely exclusively on the chain of command and the organizational structure, will work most of the time, but may fall apart under duress.

This all comes back to one simple question: Do you want people to follow you because they want to or because they have to? If you said “because they want to” then think about building relationships based on trust, collaboration and credibility. Think about building influence.

Does your team:
– Take too long to make decision?
– Fail to ask for what it wants or needs from you?
– Make things too complicated?
– Deliver unconvincing or disorganized presentations?
– Have new hires who are unprepared to communicate in the workplace?

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2 responses to “The Difference Between Influence and Authority”

  1. Mark says:

    I once had an interview with a former CTO of my corporation. It was for a central role that was intended to drive best practices & tools across the various business units. I asked a question about it being “a role that is influence without authority”. He paused the discussion and stated “You will have authority, you will have the authority of extreme competence…. “… he went on to share his view is that each individual will have authority if they act with authority.

    At the time I didn’t fully agree with him; however, as I have progressed in my career I better appreciate his coaching. I have found that there are often “vacuums” where people are waiting for a leader to fill and set direction and assume the mantel of authority. It is not always the case, and I still believe there are still roles with Influence and with Authority, but thought his advice was interesting to share.

    • Dean Brenner says:

      Great comment, Mark. It really comes down to whether people view you in a positive or negative way. What starts as a position of influence, could become a position of authority, even though the authority may not be “official.” In politics, I have heard people describe explicit power vs implicit power, which is essentially the same idea.

      Great to hear from you.


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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.