Business Analysis - Leading with Influence


When I deliver Business Analysis training, one of the first questions that I ask the group is to identify challenges that affect their ability to deliver requirement services and deliverables. On a consistent basis, someone in the group shouts out the phrase “difficult stakeholders.” When you dig further, it is evident that there is a common mindset that life as a Business Analyst would be so much easier if project stakeholders and project management cooperated as requested. There is also an underlying implication that as Business Analysts, we do not have the authority or ability to compel needed contributions. To get to the finish line, we resort to prodding and nagging people. When that fails, we escalate to individuals who have the organizational power to get the results we want. (I will talk to your boss!)


I have a different perspective. I take the approach that as Business Analysts, we need to adopt a mindset that we are leaders. We are not going to get authority based on positional power, based on a RACI chart. We will need to empower ourselves. We need to lead with influence.


What is Leading with Influence?

It is about the ability to affect the actions, decisions, and thinking of others to accomplish key goals or tasks that you consider to be important. Simply put, leading with influence is about getting people to willingly follow the direction that you provide when you lack organizational authority. It is about leading when you are not in charge. As a Business Analyst, I want delivery partners on a project to follow the guidance I provide without having to demand their compliance.


How do I Lead with Influence as a Business Analyst?

There are several ways to lead with influence as a Business Analyst. The following practices are items that I have found to be effective in my experience.  


1.   Connect with Emotion

The ability of a Business Analyst to influence behavior is tied to having meaningful relationships with and recognizing individuals as individuals on a project. It is about having a rapport that transcends immediate tasks. Likeability matters. Connecting with emotion involves paying attention to a person’s interests and helping them out even though the action may not seem to directly relate to a project task.


On a recent project, I was working with a Technical Architect who felt a level of discomfort in using a newly introduced requirements management tool. I took the time to demonstrate and illustrate how to use the tool and earned his gratitude. In a subsequent meeting when I needed assistance in the interpretation of mapping requirements to the solution, he stepped up and made my job immeasurably easier.   


       2.   Relate with Professionalism

Illustrate the behavior that you seek from others by your conduct. Be a role model and exemplify professionalism in everything you do. Do not grumble and complain about tasks that you do not enjoy; others will notice the attitude and may replicate it. Illustrate integrity and ethics in all that you do. Demonstrate selflessness. Adopt an approach to having others succeed in their given tasks even when a RACI chart indicates you have no correspondent responsibility. Demonstrate a viewpoint that the project succeeds when we all succeed in our given tasks. Relating with professionalism is about building meaningful relationships not for networking but for giving to others.


I have had the good fortune to work on projects that succeeded despite overwhelming odds. I have had the experience of working on projects that failed where success should have been a given. Teams that adopt a professional attitude succeed.


3.   Lead with Trust

Individuals cooperate primarily based on trust. Often when we try to persuade people to follow our direction, it comes to people wondering, “Can I trust this person’s viewpoint and direction?” Build trust by doing things the “right way” without consideration to politics. Build trust by saying what you mean and meaning what you say. As a Business Analyst, your actions and deliverables directly reflect your integrity. Strengthen trust by practicing transparency. Do not treat information as something to be shared on a “need to know basis.” Do not complain or look for someone to blame when things do not go according to plan. 


       4.  Direct with Clarity

As Business Analysts, we all know about the importance of clarity in how we write requirements. We do not necessarily apply that same concept it comes giving direction to others on tasks where they need our assistance. Quite often, we rely on an implicit definition of roles and responsibilities provided by the SDLC or the project plan. We assume that all individuals share the same understanding of expected behavior. Directing with clarity means a Business Analyst has to provide project stakeholders with a precise description of the contribution that you are seeking from them and get their confirmation that they understand the expectations. 


When I am assigned as a Lead Business Analyst on a project, I make it a point to sharing a plan for Business Analysis that communicates the participation expectations I have of project stakeholders. I provide clarity on the time commitment that I seek from them. As a Business Analyst, I direct with clarity at the end of the requirements process when I seek approval of requirements. I do not just ask for approval. I indicate the purpose of approval and what approval means in their context.


No matter your background, age, or experience, we all share a desire to be successful. As noted in the beginning, being a Business Analyst without organizational authority can be frustrating for many. Leading with Influence can be a remedy to alleviate that frustration. The practices I described are based on my experiences but are certainly not conclusive. What has your experience been? What advice would you provide? Cheers to your success and future learnings.


Author: Michael Roy, Business Analysis Professional / Requirements Leader

Michael is a solutions-focused Business Analysis professional with extensive experience leading change initiatives at a tactical and strategic level.


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