How to Create Influence in the Civilian Workplace

Rebecca Paddyms, 569th U.S. Forces Police Squadron unit program coordinator, speaks during a Women of Influence panel. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Tabatha Chapman)

Question: While I was active duty, my work was prescribed: I knew what to do, when to do it and what "acceptable" meant. Now, in my civilian job, I'm told that I'm not performing up to par, because I don't have influence on the job. What does that mean?

Answer: The U.S. military has more standards, systems and protocols than the civilian world. In the private sector, it's not unusual to see different rules, guidelines and benchmarks in different companies, industries and work cultures. On top of that, you need to establish your personal credibility and influence in order to succeed.

Credibility gives you the foundation for influence. When your boss, co-workers, vendors, allies and colleagues see you as credible, it means they'll believe you, trust you and will endorse and support you. You earn credibility, over time, by:

  • Delivering on your promises
  • Letting people know what you value and stand for
  • Acting consistently with your values

With credibility, others know what to refer to you for. If you're trusted and reliable, they can confidently send prime opportunities your way.

Influence, on the other hand, is one step further. When you have influence, then you can offer your opinion, view or belief and others will strongly consider it. You'll have an impact on people, processes and things, because you've established yourself as influential in their opinion. While you need to be credible to grow your career, not everyone attains influence. People who champion change, and who lead, have influence.

Consider this example: Bob is respected at his job for his technical acumen and experience driving projects to completion. He knows the software, has experience working on the systems and can carry a full load of tasks and deliverables. Bob is handed critical projects, because others know he will meet deadlines, collaborate with others on the team and will come in on time and on budget.

Scott, on the other hand, is also very capable and credible. He's also earned a reputation as someone technically savvy and responsible and gets handed equally important initiatives to deliver. But Scott has something else: influence. When Scott offers a recommendation to the team on a scope change, or suggests the deadlines need to shift, people in the room listen. They may not initially agree wholeheartedly, but they consider his ideas, challenge his assumptions less frequently and often move in his favor.

What is Scott doing differently? He's moved beyond competence and capability to key aspects of influence building. For instance, Scott has shown courage to speak up when others remained silent, even though they spotted the same risks. Scott also goes beyond being collaborative (getting along with others) and promotes himself as of service to others. He spends time explaining solutions or ideas in ways that empower his teammates to feel more confident in following his direction.

Scott makes himself real to his colleagues. He shares his own fears and hesitations about the project's impact, along with his excitement when they meet their goals. He has also built a brand around himself. Scott consistently shows up in the same way so others aren't surprised or nervous about how he might act or react.

To have influence is a gift and a power. It means you have impact. Some people can use this gift for self-serving goals (to increase their bank account or advance ahead of others), but many use this power to create change that makes the team, company, industry, etc., better.

You can learn influence. By establishing credibility, sharing who you are and behaving consistently, your voice begins to be noticed. Then, as you serve others, build your brand, lead with confidence and courageously communicate your vision, others take what you have to say with more meaning and impact.

The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty" (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputation risk management.

A contributing writer for, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.

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