7 Ways to Get What You Want

Influence is the key to any leadership role. Some folks do not like talking about it, but power and influence are natural phenomena in organizations and in leadership roles. People who want power and influence often try not to appear as if they are seeking it, and some people who have power and influence are reticent about how they actually got it.

Research into the area of power and influence is fascinating. In one notable study, 165 managers were asked to write short descriptions of occasions when they influenced their bosses, co-workers, or employees. (See Kipnis, Schmidt, Swaffin-Smith, and Wilkinson, “Patterns of Managerial Influence,” Organizational Dynamics.) The responses from these 165 managers were condensed and rewritten into a 58-item questionnaire that was then administered to over 750 managers. In this questionnaire, the managers were asked both how and why they influenced people in the workplace.

This research identified seven key influence tactics:

(1) Reason: Using facts and data to bolster your request.

(2) Assertiveness: Using a direct and forceful approach, such as demanding compliance, ordering others to do what is asked, and pointing out rules that must be followed.

(3) Friendliness: Creating goodwill by being affable and acting humble prior to making your request.

(4) Sanctions: Doling out punishments or distributing rewards.

(5) Coalition: Getting the support of others to back your idea, proposal, or request.

(6) Bargaining: Negotiating with others for the exchange of benefits or favors.

(7) Higher authority: Gaining the support of others at higher levels in the organization to back up your idea, proposal, or request.

The researchers discovered that the managers did not rely equally on the seven influence tactics. When the managers were interacting with their superiors, the most commonly used tactics (in order of frequency) were reason, coalition, friendliness, and bargaining. When the managers were interacting with their subordinates, the most commonly used tactics (in order of frequency) were reason, assertiveness, friendliness, and coalition. Interestingly, the use of sanctions was the least popular influence tactic by the managers. What’s more, the managers who controlled resources valued by others, or who were perceived to have more power than others, used a greater variety of influence tactics and employed assertiveness more often than did managers with less power.

To be an effective leader, you need to know which influence tactic to use in which situation. This leadership skill often separates the great leaders from the rest.

So, what influence tactics do you use?

Scott Derrick is the Director of Professional Development at the Senior Executives Association, a nonprofit professional association of career federal executives. Scott is also an executive coach and leadership consultant with the Federal Executive Development Group LLC, a consulting company specializing in leadership development in the federal sector. The views expressed here are his own.

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Thanks for the ongoing, great posts on leadership, Scott.

I think the reason people shy away or get uncomfortable with influence is that it can feel like manipulation. It’s akin to: if I do this, I can get people to do that…and yet we are using these influences strategies from the time we are able to open our mouths to cry!

I’d say I mostly utilize reason, friendliness, coalition and bargaining.

Do you know of an assessment that enables a person to more specifically pinpoint their primary influence tactic? Seems like the Thomas Kilman Inventory to identify one’s conflict style ties into these findings.


Reason and friendliness come the most natural to me and I use them often. But the others are very useful and I am working on using more often.

I’m still constantly shocked how social the workplace is and how we are not trained on those skills to succeed. Everyone focuses on the hard skills that are easy to quantify. But true success is with the intangibles and often are around winning friends and gaining influence.

K. Scott Derrick

Steve: I agree. The lack of training on these types of skills is discouraging, but I’m doing my part to spread the word!


Keep up the good work Scott…would be interesting to think through the ways to train people in these skills.

For example, I think Project Management should have a key part of the training that is all about social skills….

Anthony Tormey

Hey guys, I stumbled upon you blog and comments and thought I’d share something. First, if you are not already familiar with his work, (and I apologize, I haven’t scanned your posts to know) you might check out Dr Robert Cialdini and all his work. Big fan.

Second is a philosophy I have and it addresses Andrews concerns with why many “shy away”. Please write this down and post it somewhere, “Extraordinary Leaders have Extraordinary Character . . . With Extraordinary Character they are not afraid.” With that I mean our character plays a significant role in not being afraid to do what we need to to get others to do what we want them to do. I submit to you the definition between the two(influence and manipulation) are not that different . . . . except for one thing. When we manipilate we do so through intimidation, being sneaky, underhanded, dishonest, etc – in other words lacking CHARACTER. On the other hand the leader who recognizes the needs of the mission, what it will take to accomplish it, the needs of the people who are going to accomplish it, and fullfill those needs based on trancparency, honesty, caring, openmindedness, appreciation and more, in other words, do so – WITH CHARACTER.

Lori Zipes

The idea of assessing our personal style of influence is interesting but reminds me of an experience I had with Meyers Briggs. When I took that assessment years ago I immediately realized as I was answering the questions that I would give a different answer in a work situation, than I would in a home/family situation. I’m much more “feely” (–SF not –TJ) at home! You may not be surprised to hear I am an engineer. I think the same would be likely with an Influence Style assessment and perhaps along the lines Scott lists in the blog: self to superior one style, self to peers another style, self to subordinates yet another.
Anthony – I love your comments regarding character. Spot on.

K. Scott Derrick

Anthony: Thanks for your comments. Nice touch with emphasis on character.

Lori: Yeah, your observation is probably true for quite a few folks. Thanks for your input into the discussion.