Projecting Authority

An associate gavelrecently lamented that too many of her co-workers did not take her seriously. “What can I do to project more authority?” she asked. I promised her I’d noodle around with that question and post the results in my blog. Here is the result of my cogitation on how people go about projecting authority to others.

Clearly, some methods for projecting authority depend on one’s values. So, not every suggestion on this list will fall equally on everyone’s ears. But, if you, or someone dear to you, is desirous of being taken more seriously, perhaps one or more of these many possibilities will work for you.

  • Dress. Check book and other resources on “dressing for success.” I was once told that, to be taken most seriously, I should wear a navy suit, starched long-sleeved white (or light blue) shirt with silk regimental stripe tie (with red in it), black shoes, and navy socks. That has become my uniform when the stakes are high. Fortunately I do not have to wear it often! Another clothing suggestion—if appropriate, dress for the job or position that you want rather than the one you have.
  • Title. Promote your title—on calling card, door, stationery, email signature—and perhaps find a way to reword your title to sound more impressive. But remember we are stupid—I always chuckle when I see someone who works totally alone (as being a solo consultant) and who arrogates to themself the title of President!
  • Experience. Find ways of promoting your experience—in your resume, for example.
  • Grooming. Some grow a beard to project authority, some shave their head, some use body art, others makeup, earrings, and so forth.
  • Degree. Obtain an appropriate university degree or a trade license and display your diploma or certificate prominently.
  • Possessions. Some like to project authority by displaying expensive, rare, or high quality possessions, such as a big television, fine car, technical gadgets, and so forth.
  • Interior Decorating. Decorate your work area with the material or content that projects the kind of image or authority that is important to you—family photos, trophies, fine desk, sofa, book shelves (but books may not be your thing—perhaps sports or other memorabilia).
  • Work Out. Buff says tough, flab says drab!
  • Memberships. Display memberships in professional associations, civic clubs, social clubs, and the like.
  • Positions of Responsibility. Take on a position of responsibility in an organization or in your community by volunteering or getting elected. Your community posts openings from time to time for various committees and study groups.
  • Publications. Get into print—this could be anything from a letter to the editor to a book. Also consider non-print media, as in getting photos published online, sculpture displayed, or songs and other music recorded.
  • Hobbies. Active pursuit of one or more hobbies typically pursuits admiration and respect—crafts, horses, acting (as in Little Theatre), music group (band, chorus, chamber group), scrapbooking, and so on.
  • Postures and Gestures. Nonverbal behavior can help establish greater authority, as in maintaining appropriate eye contact, erect posture (chest out, not sunken), appropriate touch, projecting calmness (i.e., being in control of yourself), and so forth.
  • Firm Handshake. More like a grasp, less like a limp noodle.
  • Goal-Setting. It is not enough to have goals—share them with others, and also share with them periodically your progress towards achieving your goal(s).
  • Service. Volunteer your time and talent in ways that set an example for good citizenship.
  • Publicity-Seeking. Self-promotion comes more naturally for some folks that for others. I am amazed how some folks promote themselves (i.e., their achievements, especially) on Facebook and other social media.
  • Conversation. The ability to make conversation—telling stories, relaying jokes, discussing current events, making puns—is a gift. Use it, but not to extremes.
  • Delegate. Effective delegation in front of one’s peers helps to establish one’s authority. However, there is an art to delegating, such that it comes across as more collaborative and not so bossy.
  • Skill Display. If you can, exhibit your talents and skills in appropriate ways. If you are an accomplished pianist, do sit and play that piano in the lobby, or in the airport concourse. Or sketch, or whittle, or whistle, or tap dance.
  • Attention to Kids. To show kindness towards children—to entertain them, converse with them—is heartwarming and admirable. Just don’t overdo it—watch their parents’ facial expression to determine if they’re in it with your, or if they are getting uncomfortable.
  • Accent/dialect/voice Management. When I was in basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, I wanted others to think I was not local, so I attempted to ape what I thought was a Midwestern accent—neutral, radio-like. Consider how your language can work better for you—engage with a speech therapist to make sure you are using the optimal part of your voice range, and learn how to project.
  • Physical Display. For some, showing evidence of physical strength works, or showing appropriate skin, or showing spiritual mastery, as in yoga positions.
  • Office Location. Attempt to gain optimal an optimal office location, as in a corner, room with a window, etc.
  • Real Estate. If you have control of where you work or live, try to select a location and design style that projects an image that will appeal to your desired constituents.
  • Tools. Carry around with you the tool(s) of your trade (stethoscope, legal pad, technical gadget, book).
  • Role Models. Study persons in your field who project the authority you would like to strive for. Read their biography or autobiography and see if you can learn how they do it. Observe them and find appropriate things to emulate.
  • Web Presence. Have your own website or blog, and be present on social media such Linked In and Facebook. Get someone to help you establish your own domain name, as in TomSmith@SmithHandyman.com.
  • Free Consulting. Ask your web search tool for advice! Be specific—ask about the particular context, the kind of people you want credibility around. I just Googled “how to establish one’s authority around salespeople.” My first hit was entitled “The Ten Biggest Goofs that Salespeople Make.” Perfect!

 Do keep in mind that these strategies are not universal in their effectiveness. What works in one context may not work in another. Perhaps you could evaluate a strategy by running it by a friend or associate before trying it.

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  1. terri bolotin
    May 16, 2014 at 11:05 pm

    Very helpful….I hear the comments about dressing for success in a different way than I might in another context. If the venue demands power-dressing, than that is a tool to be used. thanks for the “cogitation”!

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