Robert Cialdini set out his ‘six principles of influence’ in his book ‘Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion’ 1.  He identified these by observing the behaviours of people in sales, advertising, fund raising etc. to see how these experienced professionals influenced their target audience.

Influencing is a key skill for both P3 managers and sponsors. The ‘assess’ step in the stakeholder management procedure will identify key stakeholders who have the potential to impact the work. The P3 manager and sponsor usually do not have authority over these stakeholders and must use influencing skills to gain support for the work.

Of course, influencing is not limited to stakeholders. Managers who aspire to McGregor theory Y will use influencing skills to develop their team, especially as it reaches the higher levels of models such as Tuckman and Katzenbach and Smith.

  • Reciprocity
  • To use a more colloquial term, ‘give and take’ is a powerful human motivator. We don’t like being in debt to others and generally treat others as they treat us. Someone is more likely to give you something you want if you have given them something they want.

  • At the most visible level, if a project or programme has a benefit to a stakeholder they are more likely to support it, so the stakeholder management plan must concentrate on explaining the benefits to the relevant stakeholders

  • Commitment
  • People like to be consistent. Once they have taken a position they will tend to stick with it, even if this means shortcutting new information as a previous decision is recalled. The moral for the P3 manager here is to seek support early.

  • Social proof
  • This could be negatively expressed as ‘peer pressure’. This doesn’t have to be explicit pressure since people are naturally influenced by those around them. This is another reason for positive stakeholder communication to start as early as possible in order to build momentum.

  • Liking
  • People are more likely to be influenced by people they know or like. This does not mean that a P3 manager has to be universally liked in order to influence stakeholders but it does mean that a manager can carefully select how messages are conveyed. Supportive stakeholders may be willing to help others – particularly where there is a good existing relationship.

  • Authority
  • This is not a reference to line authority, i.e. manager and team member. It is about the fact that we respect authority in others (e.g. Doctors or Police). The P3 manager’s route to authority is to have, for example, a very clear vision for the outputs and benefits of the work and how they will be achieved. The P3 manager who can speak authoritatively will find it easier to influence.

  • Scarcity
  • Things in short supply are often more attractive and this can apply to the scarcity of opportunity rather than objects. It may be that now is the right time to conduct a project and if it isn’t done now then the opportunity to real benefits will disappear.

One of the downsides of Cialdini’s universal truths is that they can sound manipulative, like the most aggressive salesperson you have ever met. While it is important to be able to influence it is also important to act professionally and ethically.

Many of Cialdini’s truths are embodied in Cohen and Bradford’s model.


Cialdini, R. B. ( 1995), Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion, Quill, New York



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25th July 2014Link to Italian translation added
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