Last month, we considered resources that are outside our span of control, and we discussed setting up the environment in which we can influence or guide those resources in support of our job. This month, we will conclude this topic by considering what can be done to exert influence once the environment is set up.
The key skill in exerting influence to manage those outside the span of control is communication, both written and oral. We inform those who have something we need of what it is we need, why we need it and how they can meet that need. If it is not met, we follow up with additional requests. Making the unmet need visible to others is a way of involving others with more influence in satisfying the need. Finally, when the need has been met, we bring closure and establish the basis for future requests with an expression of appreciation.
Last month, we discussed creating opportunities to interact with those outside our span of control in job meetings and “chance” encounters on the job. We also talked about being prepared, so we know what to say and how to say it when we interact. When something is needed from a resource, be prepared to ask for it. Make sure the request is stated clearly and made on a timely basis. This gives the resource time to respond, rather than having to ask for urgent response because the request was not made on time.
Weekly project planning meetings have been established for the purpose of discussing needs and making commitments. Put your needs on the table, and seek commitments from those who can grant your request. Make sure such requests are appropriately noted in the meeting minutes. If the need is not met, be prepared to reference the previous request and ask again. The weekly planning meeting is a powerful resource to use to better manage your job. Learn how to use it effectively.
If you have developed “back channel” communication—that is, informal communication circumventing the established line of communication—use this resource wisely. Do not use it to try to get something you would not be allowed through the established line of communication. This type of communication should be used to expedite decisions and information transfer, not to hide questionable tactics. Make sure the formal lines of communication are respected by following up informal communication with a written summary through the established line.
Sometimes, resources outside the span of control will not be responsive to informal requests or discussion in meetings. It might be time to enlist the help of others. Superiors in your company often can help you. Ask a superintendent or a project manager to carry the request forward. One responsibility of company resources involved in the project is to see that needs are met in the field. Your fellow employees generally willl be glad to help, or they may be frustrated if you are not bringing unsatisfied needs to their attention.
Finally, you might need resources outside the company might to gain cooperation from those who are reluctant. An owner often can prod a designer who is not providing information, decisions or approvals on a timely basis if the owner is made aware that such delays could affect the outcomes of their project.
A general contractor can nudge another specialty contractor that is delaying progress on his job. A comment in a meeting about possible project delays due to decisions that are not being made by the owner might gently prod the owner into making more timely decisions.
Be cautious in using this approach to influence those above you. Enlisting help from an outside resource to move someone outside your span of control could cause significant rancor and set the stage for greater problems down the road. It also could backfire if the one you are using to prod another resource perceives that it is being manipulated. This could have disastrous results. Again, we must emphasize that using outside resources to move others can be effective, but it also can be very dangerous and should only be used after a great deal of consideration and after other approaches have not succeeded.
In the last few articles, we have considered how to influence resources who are outside our span of control. Learning these skills is very important to a supervisor and can be very rewarding. Over the next few weeks, look for opportunities to ask for what you need to better accomplish your work from resources not in your span of control. As you become proficient, you probably will find your job enjoyment increasing
Much of what we have discussed is accomplished through developing some of the softer skills in leadership and motivation. In the next few articles, we will go into greater detail about these skills. EC
ROUNDS is the AGC endowed chair and professor of civil engineering at the University of New Mexico. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. SEGNER is a professor of construction science at Texas A&M University. Contact him at email@example.com.