Influence as Currency Exchange

Published Categorized as Project Manager

To successfully manage a project, a manager must build a cooperative network among divergent allies and make use of their influence. Networks are mutually beneficial alliances that are generally governed by the law of reciprocity. The basic principle is that “one good deed deserves another, and likewise, one bad deed deserves another.”

The primary way to gain cooperation is to provide resources and services for others in exchange for future resources and services. This is the age-old maxim: “Quid pro quo (something for something).” Or in today’s vernacular: “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. ” Cohen and Bradford described the exchange view of influence as “currencies. ”

Influence as Exchange

If you want to do business in a given country, you have to be prepared to use the appropriate currency, and the exchange rates can change over time as conditions change. In the same way, what is valued by a marketing manager may be different from what is valued by a veteran project engineer, and you are likely to need to use different influence currency to obtain the cooperation of each individual.

Although this analogy is a bit of an oversimplification, the key premise holds true that in the long run, “debit” and “credit” accounts must be balanced for cooperative relationships to work. The table below presents the commonly traded organizational currencies identified by Cohen and Bradford; and I will go over one by one in the sections below to discover more about these forms of influence.

Commonly Traded Organizational Currencies Image

Different types of currencies

Task-Related Currencies

This form of influence comes directly from the project manager’s ability to contribute to others’ accomplishing their work. Probably the most significant form of this currency is the ability to respond to subordinates’ requests for additional manpower, money, or time to complete a segment of a project.

This kind of currency is also evident in sharing resources with another project manager who is in need. At a more personal level, it may simply mean providing direct assistance to a colleague in solving a technical problem.

Providing a good word for a colleague’s proposal or recommendation is another form of this currency. Because most work of significance is likely to generate some form of opposition, the person who is trying to gain approval for a plan or proposal can be greatly aided by having a “friend in court.”

Another form of this currency includes extraordinary effort.

For example, fulfilling an emergency request to complete a design document in two days instead of the normal four days is likely to engender gratitude.

Finally, sharing valuable information that would be useful to other managers is another form of this currency.

Position-Related Currencies

This form of influence stems from the manager’s ability to enhance others’ positions within their organization. A project manager can do this by giving someone a challenging assignment that can aid their advancement by developing their skills and abilities.

Being given a chance to prove yourself naturally generates a strong sense of gratitude. Sharing the glory and bringing to the attention of higher-ups the efforts and accomplishments of others generate goodwill.

Project managers confide that a useful strategy for gaining the cooperation of professionals in other departments/organizations is figuring out how to make these people look good to their bosses.

For example, a project manager worked with a subcontractor whose organization was heavily committed to total quality management (TQM). The project manager made it a point in top-level briefing meetings to point out how quality improvement processes initiated by the contractor contributed to cost control and problem prevention.

Another variation of recognition is enhancing the reputation of others within the firm. “Good press” can pave the way for lots of opportunities, while “bad press” can quickly shut a person off and make it difficult to perform. This currency is also evident in helping to preserve someone’s reputation by coming to the defense of someone unjustly blamed for project setbacks.

Finally, one of the strongest forms of this currency is sharing contacts with other people. Helping individuals expand their own networks by introducing them to key people naturally engenders gratitude, thus creating ways for you to apply some influence on how people interact and develop.

For example, suggesting to a functional manager that he should contact Sally X if he wants to find out what is really going on in that department or to get a request expedited is likely to engender a sense of indebtedness.

Inspiration-Related Currencies

Perhaps the most powerful form of influence is based on inspiration. Most sources of inspiration derive from people’s burning desire to make a difference and add meaning to their lives. Creating an exciting, bold vision for a project can elicit extraordinary commitment.

For example, many of the technological breakthroughs associated with the introduction of the original Macintosh computer were attributed to the feeling that the project members had a chance to change the way people approached computers.

A variant form of vision is providing an opportunity to do something really well. Being able to take pride in your work often drives many people. Often the very nature of the project provides a source of inspiration.

For example, discovering a cure for a devastating disease, introducing a new social program that will help those in need, or simply building a bridge that will reduce a major traffic bottleneck can provide opportunities for people to feel good about what they are doing and that they are making a difference.

Inspiration operates as a magnet—pulling people as opposed to pushing people toward doing something.

Relationship-Related Currencies

These currencies have more to do with strengthening the relationship with someone than directly accomplishing the project tasks. The essence of this form of influence is forming a relationship that transcends normal professional boundaries and extends into the realm of friendship.

  • Such relationships develop by giving personal and emotional backing. Picking people up when they are feeling down, boosting their confidence. and providing encouragement naturally breed goodwill.
  • Sharing a sense of humor and making difficult times fun is another form of this currency. Similarly, engaging in non-work-related activities such as sports and family outings is another way relationships are naturally enhanced.
  • Perhaps the most basic form of this currency is simply listening to other people. Psychologists suggest that most people have a strong desire to be understood and that relationships break down because the parties stop listening to each other.
  • Sharing personal secrets/ambitions and being a wise confidant also creates a special bond between individuals opening up some influence opportunities.

Personal-Related Currencies

This last form of currency deals with individual needs and an overriding sense of self-esteem. Some argue that self-esteem is a primary psychological need; the extent to which you can help others feel a sense of importance and personal worth will naturally generate goodwill, but at the same time it will allow you as a project manager to influence them to some degree.

A project manager can enhance a colleagues sense of worth by sharing tasks that increase skills and abilities, delegating authority over work so that others experience ownership, and allowing individuals to feel comfortable stretching their abilities. This form of currency can also be seen in sincere expressions of gratitude for the contributions of others.

Care, though. must be exercised in expressing gratitude since it is easily devalued when overused. That is, the first thank you is likely to be more valued than the twentieth.


The bottom line is that a project manager will be influential only insofar as she can offer something that others value. Furthermore, given the diverse cast of people a project manager depends on, it is important that she be able to acquire and exercise different influence currencies.

The ability to influence will be constrained in part by the nature of the project and how it is organized.

For example, a project manager is in charge of a dedicated team has considerably more to offer team members than a manager who is given the responsibility of coordinating the activities of different professionals across different departments and organizations.

In such cases, that manager will probably have to rely more heavily on personal and relational bases of influence to gain the cooperation of others .

Image courtesy of Freepik.

By Alex Puscasu

I am a Project Management practitioner with more than 5 years experience in hardware and software implementation projects. Also a bit of a geek and a great WordPress enthusiast. I hope you enjoy the content, and I encourage you to share your knowledge with the world.