PR practitioners are expected to shape decisions, actions and communications in a way that positions an organization positively in the minds of its stakeholders. Quoting Henry Mintzberg in their work, Gaining Influence in Public Relations, Bruce Berger and Brian Heber describe organizations as political arenas where organizational politics unfold in a power game in which various players called influencers seek to control the organization’s decisions and actions.
The PR professional who will succeed in such environment must be one who has won the respect of these organizational influencers, one who has mastered the slippery terrain of power relations to become an influencer of influencers, one who can mobilize and employ crucial influence resources for the attainment of personal and corporate goals.
WHAT ARE INFLUENCE RESOURCES?
Influence has been defined as the ability to affect the perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, motivations and/or behaviours of others. Influence resources are therefore the strength or assets at the disposal of the PR professional that enable him or her to affect those perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, motivations and behaviours of others.
I first learnt of the term influence resources in Bruce Berger and Brian Heber’s book which they posit is of three categories, – individual, structural and relational.
Individual influence resources are found in the aptitudes and personality of a person. Structural influence resources are located within an organization in the form of official positions which confer formal authority on an individual, membership of committees and other decision making groups. Relational influence resources, on the other hand, refer to relationships an individual has with others, especially those in positions of authority.
WHY PR VOICES ARE NOT HEARD
Most PR practitioners seem to be at a loss as to how to make their voices heard, especially at the strategic level of an organization. They complain of not being invited to the decision-making roundtables, and worry about reporting structures that relegate them to the background in their organizations. Some others are confused about the limited perception and misunderstanding of PR by the top management, which prompts the devaluation of the profession in their organizations. Yet, others wonder why organizational politics and culture seem to have rendered them impotent and irrelevant in the scheme of things in their organizations.
At the back of these complaints and confusion lies a gross lack of influence resources with which to steer decisions and actions in the direction they consider to be in the best interest of an organization and its stakeholders. Perhaps the best place to start is to do some soul-searching because these problems are not insurmountable. Such an effort will naturally reveal some personal weaknesses that need to be strengthened, skills that need to be acquired and attitudes that need to be developed. Tapping into and using organizational and relational influence resources may be enticing, but the foundation of all influence resources lies within the individual.
THE FIVE INFLUENCE RESOURCES YOU MUST HAVE
The root of influence lies in your personal strengths as a PR professional, and I am convinced that developing the following influence resources is the key to your success as an influencer of influencers:
- Strategic Intelligence
Today, organizations operate in an environment where change is happening at the speed of thought. Those who have the latest political, economic, socio-cultural and technological intelligence are sought after. Information about what stakeholders are thinking is equally valued. By providing such strategic intelligence, the PR professional becomes a source of information that the top management goes to for strategic business decision; wielding a lot of influence thereof.
- Political Skills
In a white paper with the title, Using Political Skills to Maximize And Leverage Work Relationships, written for Centre for Creative Leadership, Michael Campbell and Phillip Braddy define political skill as ‘the ability to maximize and leverage relationships in order to achieve organizational, team and individual goals.’ They identify four political practices as:
- Social Awareness – the ability to astutely observe others to understand their behaviours and motives.
- Interpersonal influence – the ability to influence and engage others using a compelling and charismatic interpersonal style.
- Networking – the ability to build diverse networks across and outside of the organization.
- Sincerity – the ability to be forthright, open, honest and genuine with others.
A PR professional who has these abilities is sure to gain a lot of influence both within and outside his organization.
- Business Knowledge
PR professionals who understand the connection between business objectives and communication strategy can easily win the hearts of top management. Strategic thinking, the ability to synthesize relevant information to determine how best to position an organization in the minds of its stakeholders, is highly valued. A firm grasp of strategic planning and key performance indicators are also business smarts that endear PR professionals to organizational management, and confers on them a lot of influence.
- Professional Expertise
Expertise determines the role a PR professional plays in an organization as well as the level of influence he wields within his organization. In an article, Public Relations roles, intra-organizational power and encroachment, published in the Journal of Public Relations Research, Martha M. Lauzen notes that increased managerial role competence helps PR professionals win the intra-organizational power struggle and helps individual perception of the function. There is no better way to win a power struggle than through influence.
Several studies equally suggest that the strategic power and influence of the PR professional is enhanced when he plays the managerial role. Perhaps, this is because such a role grants him access to the top decision-makers; and, most times, gives him membership in the dominant coalition of his organization.
- Strong Persuasion Skills
Most of PR’s work involves what Frank Jefkins called the transfer process – changing hostility to sympathy, apathy to interest, prejudice to acceptance and ignorance to knowledge. Persuasion is at the heart of most of what we do.
The great philosopher, Aristotle, taught that one way of persuading others is through direct evidence where you produce physical or documentary evidence. Another way, he averred, was through the use of ethos, Logos and Pathos, often referred to as artistic persuasion.
Ethos means character or credibility. In his book, The Speed of Thought, Steven M.R. Covey identified the four cores of credibility as:
- Integrity – Walking your talk.
- Intent – motives, agenda. Motives that are based on mutual interest generate trust and builds influence.
- Capabilities – a mix of talents, skills, attitudes and knowledge. Capable people are always influential.
- Results – track record and performance. The PR professional who delivers consistent good performance and demonstrating how PR contributes to the bottom lines of their organizations will gain a lot of influence.
Logos simply means reasoning. The ability to reason is the basis of situational or environmental analysis. PR professionals, who can spot trends in the business environment, analyze them correctly and demonstrate how they can affect the plans and operations of an organization either positively or negatively will always wield a lot of influence in the organization.
Pathos means passion. Passion is an influence resource you can’t wish away. Passion unleashes creativity because it enables the PR professional to drink from the deep well of wisdom of his soul. Passion engenders achievement in the job, attracts a lot of positive attention and helps the PR professional gain influence.
Influence is the currency of success in PR practice. It is the reason for quick approval of PR budgets by management. It tells whether the support of crucial stakeholders of an organization will be won or not. In PR, the sphere of influence extends to infinite distance. But the influence resources to begin with should be the individual ones.