How technical writers can build personal influence (stc14)
This week I’m attending STC Summit 2014, the annual conference of the Society for Technical Communication. Where feasible, I’ll take notes from the sessions I attend, and share them on this blog. All credit goes to the presenters, and any mistakes are mine.
Bright and early on Monday morning, Kevin Lim presented a session titled “Influence Strategies and Tactics for Technical Writers”.
Kevin started by saying that the title of her project was really just a fancy-pants way of saying “office politics 101”. This prompted a big laugh.
She mentioned the triple constraints of a project: Time, scope and cost. In the ideal world, your success depends on your ability to manage these three constraints. But the world isn’t ideal: what if you have people who are difficult to work with? What tools does a technical writer have to manage such a project?
Influence! This is the dark matter of project management. You don’t see it or put it into your plan, but it has a large effect. Even if you have no formal authority, you can have influence. We as writers may not have positional authority, we can have personal authority. To gain such authority, you need to build up a large network of contacts. Another way of gaining authority is to establish yourself as an expert.
Kevin’s session focused on the four main things you need to do, to become influential:
- Figure out your company culture and strategy. Find out what matters to your company. Common goals can bind all of you together. Kevin walked us through some methods we can use to analyse the strategies and culture that drive our organisations.
- Identify the key people. They are part of a network of circles: experts, supporters (people you trust), and associates (people you work with). Kevin talked about knowing your own circles, the circles involved in an issue, and the circles of key people. This helps you know who you should approach when you encounter an issue, or need an answer, or want to know who or what is influencing key people. Be engaged and aware of the environmental influences that are affecting your project, whether you like it or not.
- Apply the principles of influence to get people to cooperate with you. People help you when they feel like it. Kevin talked about the principals of influence, as outlined by social psychologists, and gave amusing and useful examples of how we can apply them to a technical writing project.
- Pick the right communication style. Learn how to ask. People have different communication styles. Kevin spoke about the four personality types (analytical, amiable, driver, and expressive) and the preferred communication style of each.
Thanks to Kevin for an authoritative and interesting presentation. This was a very in-depth presentation, and my notes can in no way do justice to it.