Authority vs. Influence

The other day, a friend of mine talked about a situation that I can imagine is quite common: he told us a story about how at work he needed certain documentation and input from other coworkers for a project he was on but he was finding it difficult to get through to the coworkers and convey that what he needed was a priority and that it needed to be done.

It immediately made me think of the difference between authority and influence.

The first time I came across this concept, I was applying to Google for their Associate Product Manager role. I thought the role sounded amazing – working on products, talking to customers to get their feedback and tweaking it slowly in order to improve it. It sounded like a customer service representative but with much more say and ability. I was lucky enough to be referred by a Googler (another UBC alumni) and got an interview. As I was preparing for the interview, I came across this concept of authority and influence.

The Associate Product Manager role does not have authority per se, but the way you get things done is through influence.

What does that mean? I think it means a dramatic shift in the way you work with others. Would you rather be the boss and order people to do what you want them to do or would you rather be the boss who tells people what to do and they do it because they believe in the benefits / goal that you can achieve through their actions?

That isn’t to say that being authoritative is a bad thing but I believe influence can go a lot further to getting people to help you.

Key questions: What is your style of motivating others? Is it from a position of authority or a position of influence? How do they respond? Which do you think can achieve a better outcome? How does your relationship with others change based on either position?


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