A Manager’s Dilemma – Should I Use Authority or Influence? Am I even in Control Here??

The Manager’s Tool Box

As Manager, you have access to more approaches to get things done than your direct reports have:

  • You have power or Authority to make decisions and to act for the group.
  • Due to your base of power as a Manager, you have Influence.
  • You might have some Control – a greater level of authority or influence over people, projects and outcomes.

Consider these different approaches as types of tools that you work with as a Manager. In this article you will learn to recognize and choose the most effective tool to achieve the best outcome in common activities.


As a Manager you might have authority over others to implement rules, determine processes, set performance targets, assign projects, hire, promote and fire. You might have the authority to determine your team members’ pay and bonuses, as well as what tools they use, when and where they work.

Depending on your organization and your level, you will have authority over other people in some of these or other areas. There will likely be constraints to your authority, so that you do not have ‘absolute authority’ in any area.

How much authority you have in any area might not be immediately clear to you or to your team. However the general perception from your team members will be, “My manager has some power over me.” This truth is not in question – and therefore your authority is not something that needs to be proven or wielded with blunt force.

Your authority is a tool in your tool box to achieve your organization’s goals.

Authority, Influence, Control – Defined

Authority is power granted to you that your direct reports do not have. Influence can be developed by any individual through virtue of their character or competencies. Influence does not require having authority, however as Manager you have the potential to develop very effective, positive influence with your team.

The definitions of Authority, Influence and Control (per Oxford Dictionaries):


“Authority is a power or right, usually because of rank or office, to issue commands and to punish for violations: to have authority over subordinates.


“Influence is a personal and unofficial power derived from deference of others to one’s character, ability, or station; it may be exerted unconsciously or may operate through persuasion: to have influence over one’s friends.


“Control is either power or influence applied to the complete and successful direction or manipulation of persons or things: to be in control of a project.

As a Manager, you have limited authority and even less control. There are times when acting with authority is required – however for day-to-day successful management of your team, INFLUENCE is your primary tool.

In Action

Which approach you are using at any given time is revealed in what you are doing and how you are doing it. Below are common actions that Managers take and which approach they demonstrate:


  • Hiring.
  • Setting performance requirements.
  • Acting on consequences for policy violations and poor performance.
  • Making decisions for the group.
  • Distributing bonuses, pay raises, other benefits from an assigned pool.


  • Consistent work ethic (work hours, follow-through, thoughtful commitments).
  • Modelling how to treat each other (response speed, tone, trust, respect).
  • Listening to and encouraging others to contribute ideas.
  • Supporting others to develop new skills and insights.
  • Consistently doing what you said you would do.


  • Establishing all rules of employment.
  • Making all decisions.
  • Ultimate say over who participates and how much they are compensated.
  • Final say over which projects are pursued and total costs.

Effective Daily Influence

As Manager you start with a certain level of influence over your team – consider it your baseline influence. If you are a new hire coming into manage a team that has been together for a while, your baseline influence might be low while your team assesses you to determine if you are someone they can trust and follow.

Throughout every day, in every interaction big and small, you will be building influence with individuals who report to you and who you work with.

Building influence with your team and coworkers in a thoughtful, positive way is important to your success, the success of every individual involved, and to your organization.

The result of your consistent, positive influence is genuine commitment to excellence from each individual. This is the way to best outcomes.

What Kind of Influence are You Right Now?

If your team were asked right now how confident they are in you, what would they say? Do they trust your commitment to their success? Do they feel positive about your decision-making, even when they don’t agree with your decisions? Are you someone they will follow when the outcome is unknown?

It takes courage to look at these questions and answer truthfully. If you are willing to see the truth about your current level of influence, you will be able to more easily see what to do next to build genuine, positive influence with your team.

3 Ways I Will Build Influence

Now that you’ve seen some examples of when you are using authority or influence, and are starting to see the importance of influence, here is how you can move forward to become a more confident, successful Manager: Refer to the Influence In Action bullet points above and choose three specific ways that you are willing to focus on building consistent, positive influence with your team or coworkers.

Are you willing to refrain from promising things that you are not confident you can deliver? Are you willing to pause in a meeting and ask your quieter team members what thoughts they have? Are you willing to acknowledge each team member for their contribution, before asking your questions about their work? Are you willing to have conversations with your direct reports rather than setting new rules to solve issues?

Review the Influence in Action bullet points and identify three actions you are willing to take this week. After you complete those, do it again! Effective, positive influence is built each day, and will become your most valuable asset as a Manager and Leader.

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