What Every Security Executive Should Know about Power and Influence

How to speak the language, know your blindspots, and understand your level of influence


Imagine that a security executive with a military background joins a manufacturing company. He develops a plan to invest in a new technology that will transform the company's approach to security. This initiative will strengthen security and, within a few years the cost savings from the technology will pay for the investment. During his meeting with the CEO, he lays out the numbers and makes what he believes is an airtight case.

The project should have received immediate approval, but the executive is told the next week that the request was turned down. There were competing priorities. He discovers later that the funds went instead to the operations group. The operations case may not have been any better than the case for the security investment, but the operations manager had a much better understanding of how to exercise influence in the organization. She was a long-time veteran of the company. She was astute at understanding the campaign needed to build broad support for the project. Only after she had this support did she take the idea to the CEO.

What went wrong? This security executive failed to recognize that he was no longer in a military organization where a strong appeal to a general could lead to immediate results. The organization required coalition building. It had a different style. While security executives may come from a military or law enforcement background, they usually need to make their case to the CEO, COO, or other executives who come from very different backgrounds. Security executives need to understand their approach to influence and how it might be received in the organization.

Influence is more important than ever for security executives. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the work of security executives is much more important-and more visible. They have moved into a new role, but they do not always have formal authority that other key decision makers often have. Caught between new demands and a lack of formal power, skill in influence has become essential.

Increasing Your Influence

How can you make your case in a more persuasive manner? There are particular influence skills that can help, which we teach in the Wharton/ASIS Security Executive Program. Among the ways to increase your influence in your organization are:

Speaking the language of business: One of the first steps to being influential is to learn the language of the person you are trying to influence. At the C-level, that language is finance and strategy. If a security executive is speaking from a strictly functional focus on the pure security aspects of an initiative-protecting information, people, corporate secrets, etc.-other managers may not respond. If people are going to pay attention to you outside of the security silo, you must put the message into terms they understand. You need to translate it into bottom-line terms or strategy terms. Then other managers will listen. You cannot influence them unless you speak the language of business.

Understanding your influence style and the style of the organization: In my work with Professor Richard Shell, which is the subject of a forthcoming book, we identified six primary influence styles that managers tend to use. These are the Commander, Scientist, Visionary, Harmonizer, Dealmaker and Powerbroker. Effective Commanders are masters at using the power of position as well as authoritative rules; the Scientist appeals to logic and reason; the Visionary relies on inspiration and purpose; the Harmonizer emphasizes personal relationships; the Dealmaker crafts win-win trades based on needs and interests; and the Powerbroker formulates strategy by assessing politics, egos, winners, and losers.

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