6 Tactics That Project Authority

“Authority is 20 percent given, 80 percent taken.”

~ Peter Ueberroth
former commissioner of Major League Baseball

Words to live by if you are, or are planning to be, a leader.

But how precisely do we ‘take’ or acquire authority when it’s not given or assumed? Jeffrey Pfeffer, Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University, offers some suggestions for us in his book Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t.

1. Be aware of your audience

Because you may not see those you hope to influence every day, make sure you’re ‘on’ whenever you are with them. Even in momentary interactions you want to convey energy, competence and trustworthiness. To signal that you care about and respect those around you, put away technological gadgets during meetings and be fully attentive – this rare action will have a powerful effect.

2. Watch your posture and gestures

You can do a lot with what you have. You can dress up, an act that conveys power and status – to look like you belong in the position to which you aspire. Wear colors that enhance your appearance and stand up straight rather than slouching. Moving forward and toward someone is a gesture that connotes power, as does standing closer to others. Gestures should be short and forceful, and look people in the eye, which connotes power, honesty and directness. Looking down or away causes others to think you’re dissembling.

3. Use memory to access desired emotions

Sometimes you’ll be called upon to display emotions you don’t feel – confidence when you’re uncertain, anger when you’re fearful, and compassion or empathy when you may be feeling disappointment. Go within yourself to a time or event when you did feel the emotion needed. Recalling that event will bring back the associated feelings so you can tap into authentic feelings from a different place and time.

4. Set the stage

Settings can convey power and status, and the settings you create for yourself have a lot to do with your ability to command respect. Too often we’re inattentive to how our physical settings can help or hinder our aims, although we may not always have control of our physical environment. When you do, take advantage of the opportunity.

5. Take your time in responding

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One reason we don’t come across as effectively or forcefully as we might is that we begin to speak while we’re flustered or unsure of the situation. Don’t feel the pressure to fill dead air – collect your thoughts (and yourself) before beginning to speak. When you find yourself in a situation for which you’re unprepared or blindsided, breathe and get your nerves under control – you’ll be much more effective than if you rush into a response.

6. Display anger instead of sadness or remorse

While controversial, when you work with colleagues of equal rank whom you want to influence, displaying anger is useful. Research by social psychologist Larissa Tiedens shows that people who express anger are seen “as dominant, strong, competent and smart,” although too much anger may make you appear less nice. People rated coworkers who expressed anger as better potential role models, and in negative situations, high-status individuals were expected to feel more angry than sad or guilty – the emotions attributed to low-status.

About the Author

A highly accomplished international speaker, strategist, and author on performance improvement; Michelle is a respected authority on leadership, workplace culture, employee engagement and talent. She’s published and presented more than 1,100 articles and lectures and is a trusted advisor to many of the world’s most successful organizations and governments.

Named as one of the Ten Best and Brightest Women in the incentive industry, a Change Maker, Top Idea Maven, and President’s Award winner, Michelle is a highly accomplished industry leader who has worked in every facet of recognition and incentives, both domestically and internationally.

She has appeared on Fox Television and the BBC, and been featured in magazines like Fortune, Business Week, Inc., and Return on Performance; as well as national radio programs, and contributions to the books “Bull Market” by Seth Godin, “Contented Cows Still Give Better Milk,” and “Social Media Isn’t Social.”

Michelle is President Emeritus of the Incentive Marketing Association and Past President of the FORUM for People Performance at Northwestern University. She’s Vice President, Research for the Business Marketing Association and serves on the Boards of the Incentive Federation and the Incentive & Engagement Solutions Council. She was also the Founder and Chair of the Editorial Board of Return on Performance Magazine.


LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/michelle-m-smith-cpim-crp/5/b00/368


  • Cecilia Monsalve-Jones

    This article had such great potential and yet I was disappointed as I read on. I’m seeing more and more of these basic almost useless advice and it’s so frustrating. It’s fluff and I’m annoyed it even got posted. You want to command authority?

    – Yes, be ‘on.’ But be more than on. Be ready to not only offer analytical insights based on the metrics you’ve gathered but follow it up with a conclusion. Example:

    I’d like to bring up the turnover challenges we’re experiencing at our Denver faculty. [pass out report that is easy and clear for everyone to understand]. We’re expericing a 20% turnover rate at our labor level positions. This is an issue bc it is costing us so far $27,578. That amount was calculated with the equation below. We’re on track to potentially lose a total of $182,765. If we stay on this course.

    I’ve identified the FTE’s leaving mostly out of the sowing department in under 3 months. I’ve done some market research and found that they are going to competitors who are paying $2 more an hour.

    This was previously rejected in our budget meeting at the start of the fiscal year. The cost of fully staffing the department with an increase of $2 would amount to an additional $57, 873 a year. A large number I know. However, it’s costing us $183,765. Productively loses are setting in, we’re not hitting our order dates, we’re over working the staff that is there and we’re tying up our local HR by having them constantly refilling, onboarding and training them.

    – That is how you command authority. That is how you get your CEO’s attention, buy in and respect.

    I’m like, what are you talking about posture for? If you have to tell an HR professional to sit up straight and make eye contact, then you got bigger problems people.

    What’s this nonsense about consentrating on the physical stage? What? Like I have a choice to hold the meeting in the parking lot and have a picnic or focus on a more suitable area like the conference room.

    People, when your leaders role up on you in the middle of the day and ask you XYZ, you need to know. Not because they asked you to gather the data and said they’ll be by at 3? Dream on. You need to always know certain things so when they pop up, you can give them what they want. That is authority. I’m LOST as to what the setting the stage is all about.

    I really loved the bit about “taking time to respond.” Really? Is that your wisdom mike drop? Come on people. TLNT/ERE have been my go to for YEARS. Just looooove reading all the interesting things they post, but I’ve been really kinda sad when I read stuff like this, I mean who do you think is reading? This isn’t a freshman communications class at the local community college.

    Come back to me TLNT. Tell me something I don’t know, and furthermore, someone please review the quality of this content. This is a saaaad day.

  • https://discriminatory.me DL Stickler

    Proposing that a person become disingenuous in order to influence others is preposterous. There are much better ways to persuade people. Rather then asking people to be deceptive, perhaps ask them to learn more about how to be persuasive by becoming more genuine. Here is a good place to start. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonnazar/2013/03/26/the-21-principles-of-persuasion/#32785d7ea4c9

    • centrust

      Nice comment! I wholly agree with your statement.

  • centrust

    I realize that it is hard to draft an article where you can propose specific guidelines that addresses each situation; however, I tend to agree with the person who posted below (DL Stickler) that the tone of what the author is recommending tends to sound disingenuous at best. I would further add that some of these proposed approaches can come off as manipulative.

    I have worked with and for some very wealthy, knowledgeable and powerful people in my career and I can state that most of those people can detect BS in about 2 minutes.

    While good posture, physical settings, etc. can provide a favorable first impression, here are the attributes that will typically win over a person in a position of authority or power: 1) Listening more than talking 2) Humility or being humble 3) Honesty 4) Hard work and diligence 5) Not hiding mistakes or errors (transparency).

    I have a friend that worked with two different U.S. Presidents and he stated the strongest attributes of any leader is 1) Humility 2) giving credit to other people.

    The Armani suits and perfectly positioned art—mmmeehhh, not so much.