Successful project ownership: How to use influence to gain buy-in

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12 November 2020
Written by Speak First Linked-in icon

successful project ownership

Things don’t just happen on their own. For any organisation, everything from meeting clients, keeping the website updated, hiring, firing and everything in between requires someone to actually do it. These tasks and projects need an owner – someone to take the lead and have responsibility for making sure they get done, and to be in charge of solving any issues.

Taking (or being given) ownership of a task or project at work is an exciting opportunity to show the world your abilities, have more control over your work and show your leadership qualities. Whether you have an idea and want to make it a reality, or you were given a task by your manager, taking ownership means making it your personal mission to see it through to its end.


The ownership mindset

To be successful in anything you need to start in the right frame of mind. When taking ownership of a task or project, you should start by having faith in yourself, that you know what you’re doing and that you’re going succeed. This isn’t just an arbitrary exercise in self-realisation, this confidence and belief will make you more powerful and influential when it comes to getting support and buy-in from those you need to persuade and get on side.

Acting and speaking with confidence will help your manager have more faith in you. This is especially crucial if this is the first time they’ve given you this level of responsibility. You don’t want them to doubt their decision and take it away from you!

Ownership also requires you to be proactive and take responsibility. This means pushing to get things started, overseeing the various stages and anticipating and fixing any issues or roadblocks along the way. Starting with a ‘can-do’ attitude will help you see it through, whereas doubting yourself and expecting failure means your first hurdle will feel like defeat. Even if things get difficult, try to stay positive and look at tougher moments as an opportunity to flex your problem-solving skills.


Know how to ask

Enthusiasm and sheer force of will aren’t enough to make a project succeed, so one of the main skills you’ll need for project ownership is the ability to influence others to get them on board. You may need to persuade people up the organisational hierarchy for permissions or resources, or you may need to recruit more team members to help you achieve your goals.

Often, the difference between someone saying yes or no to you is based on how you ask the question; there’s a lot of power in how you frame or phrase what you say. For example, there’s a difference between asking a colleague for their ‘opinion’ on what you should do next and asking their ‘advice.’ It’s a very subtle linguistic difference, but giving ‘advice’ puts people in a more favourable mood as it implies their views are being directly used. It also gets them more invested in the outcome, thus making them more open to helping you again.

Another simple way to influence the person you’re talking to takes inspiration from a famous fairy tale. Goldilocks found the three bears’ porridge to be too hot, then too cold and finally enjoyed the one that was “just right.” In sales, The Goldilocks Strategy means showing a customer three products: one that’s top of the range (too hot), one that’s not fit for purpose (too cold) and their preferred option (just right). While trying to influence someone to help you with a project, think about how you say it and whether you can give them other choices which frame the decision more favourably.


The power of lobbying

‘Lobbying’ is a term most often used in a political setting and conjures up images of charities and companies trying to persuade politicians to follow their agenda. In reality, lobbying just means trying to persuade someone with more decision-making power than you. This is particularly useful when you’re more informed than the decision makers, or when they have the power to turn your ideas into reality.

Talking to a manager or a C-Level executive is different from asking a co-worker for help. Being able to get high level commitment will often make or break a project you own. Therefore, you need to know the trick to being influential and getting their help.

The main trick is understanding that this could be your one and only shot, so make it count by being prepared. Do your research and have the necessary facts and data to back up your arguments, particularly if it involves financial decisions. What is the return on investment and how long will it take to be realised? Think about what their priorities are and what they’ll want to know about your suggestions. Give them an incentive to want to say yes, such as how it will help the organisation grow or how it raises efficiency. Once you get higher level buy-in, you’re likely to have much more success.


The right time to ask

Robert Cialdini, an expert in influence, has written about ‘pre-suasion’ – the act of making people more receptive to what you’re saying before even starting the conversation. One of the most important steps is knowing the best time to approach the person you want to speak to.

Research has found that judges give more lenient sentences after eating lunch. Other research has found that interviewers give more positive feedback if they’ve been holding a warm drink, rather than a cold one. These ‘priming’ effects show the impacts of finding the most opportune moment to begin a conversation. If someone has just had a long, drawn out meeting, they’re probably not going to be in the best mindset to give you their buy-in or commitment.

The main elements for successful ownership are confidence, forethought and careful planning. Starting with the right mindset will make you more proactive and persuasive. Thinking ahead about how to approach someone for their buy-in means considering the best language to use, the right way to frame the question and the right time to bring it up. Most importantly, the central tenant of ownership is understanding that the outcome of the project ultimately lies on your shoulders, so you should act in a way that reflects your desire to make it a success.


For more hints and tips for raising your impact and influence, take a look at our learning solutions.