Increase your influence at work

September 7, 2021

If you're earning stellar reviews at work but not feeling noticed by others, you may need to become more influential.

At work, influence is a state of being powerful and impactful enough to have an effect on the choices the organization makes and the courses of action it takes, said Sai Blackbyrn, chief executive of CoachFoundation.com, which helps develop professional coaches worldwide. "Having influence at work means your ideas are taken seriously and your guidance, advice, and feedback is sought when it comes to decision-making," he said.

Gaining influence takes time, though. The key is to be proactive and show you can see beyond your role and understand the bigger picture for your entire organization. "If you simply perform your job duties within the four corners of your designated responsibilities, you'll never get the respect or influence you desire," said John Ross, CPA (inactive), J.D., chief executive of Test Prep Insight, a company that rates test preparation materials for examinations, including the CPA Exam.

Here are some strategies that can increase your influence at work:

Understand your organization. The first step is to build your knowledge of other divisions and departments within your organization, such as sales, human resources, distribution, and marketing, said James Ice, Ed.D., a certified executive coach with jim ice & associates in Murrysville, Pa. When you have this knowledge, the examples and language you use will start to "reflect a broader understanding of the business," he said.

Build your internal network. One way to learn more about other areas within your organization is getting to know many of your colleagues. "Too many people think networking is only for finding jobs at other companies. Creating a strong internal network at your organization across multiple departments creates a strong foundation," said New York City-based Mark Herschberg, author of The Career Toolkit: Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You.

Don't let having a lower title prevent you from building lasting relationships with leadership. "Take the time to get to know [leaders] personally, which will in turn allow them to get to know you," said Mike Jesowshek, CPA, founder and host of the Small Business Tax Savings Podcast. "Change and progress will naturally come out of those relationships."

Attend key meetings. Ask to get invited to management meetings (virtual or in person) as a learning opportunity, even if they are not directly related to anything you are working on, said Tim Yoder, CPA, Ph.D., a tax and accounting analyst with Fit Small Business, based in New York City. "By listening to managers discuss operational issues, you can become familiar with their lingo and discover issues they are facing," he explained.

Be sure to ask about what kind of information will be useful to others and how you can help them make better decisions, said Justin Aquino, founder and head coach of Cool Communicator LLC. Take notes on interesting insights you've had or trends you've spotted, and mention these discoveries in meetings or while chatting with colleagues. "These small moments accumulate over time and help others to see [you] as a source of useful ideas and insights," he said.

Showcase your smarts. Ask questions to show that you're curious and eager to know more. Learn about different aspects of your work — perhaps about your clients, the industries you work with, or the technology you use — and share your ideas when appropriate. "Do your research and spend time giving thoughtful ideas and suggestions with examples to support them," Jesowshek said.

Be understandable. When speaking up, be sure to present information in a way that is useful and understandable to your colleagues. That's especially important if you're talking to nonaccountants. "So many of us accountants get stuck in the details of what we are doing that we can forget that, while accounting is called the language of business, not everyone speaks it as fluently as we do," said Jason Cherubini, CPA, CGMA, founder of Seraphim Associates International, a finance and accounting consultancy firm located in Baltimore.

By taking the time to understand what is useful and offering data in a form that is easily digestible, "we are moving beyond the roles of financial recording and reporting, and becoming a valuable part of the data analysis and decision-making process," he said.

Remember that "the power is never in the numbers, it's in the strategic insights that we glean from those numbers," said Aquino, who is based in Austin, Texas.

Know what to avoid. As you work on being more influential, there are plenty of things not to do. Don't get frazzled if things don't go your way, Blackbyrn said. Also, think about how you treat others. "Avoid at all costs being patronizing or condescending," he advised. "Avoid trying to bring others down or proving that you are superior to them."

Overall, if you want to be more influential, think of yourself as the internal public relations arm for yourself — and your department. "Nonaccountants often overlook the central role that accounting plays in the business," Aquino said. "To be more influential, you need to convey the positive impact it has."

This article originally appeared in Journal of Accountancy 

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