Influencing skills for Project Management – lessons from the military

By Elisabeth Goodman, 27th April 2019

Photograph of Emma Dutton MBE by Louise Haywood-Schiefer for “How to win wars and influence people” in Project, Spring 2019 pp.22-27

Project is the APM’s (Association for Project Managment) regular publication for its members.  This spring’s issue carries a fascinating article by Ben Hargreaves, editor of Project, featuring Emma Dutton MBE.  The article describes how she has founded a consultancy, the Applied Influence Group, to apply what she has learnt from gathering intelligence for the British Armed forces in Afghanistan, to the world of Project Management.

Parallels between military influencing and influencing projects

The article highlights some of the points made by Emma Dutton in her talk to the APM’s recent National Conference for Women in Project Management.  The parallels between the two worlds of influence include:

Multiple, complex stakeholder relationships

Shifting loyalties and volatile environments

A [or some] very demanding client[s]

The first and last points are certainly ones that the Project Leaders / Managers in the Life Science companies that we work with at RiverRhee would echo:

  • They often have to work with a range of stakeholders within and outside their companies, with different cultural backgrounds and communication styles, and with high expectations of the project team.
  • Although the loyalties are perhaps more stable, and the environment not as volatile as those which Emma Dutton experienced, there is often a high degree of uncertainty as to the possible outcomes of the scientific work

Emotional intelligence at the heart of good influencing skills

Emma Dutton makes an interesting observation from her experience of working in Afghanistan that is quoted in the article:

Afghanistan is a country built on relationships.  Afghans’ interpersonal skills are much more developed than the average Western person’s.  That’s how they survive.


The mission was to influence hearts and minds as much as it was to collect information.  You had to be genuinely empathetic.  We are all humans, and we know when people are being real.

Emotional intelligence is a strong component of RiverRhee’s training, workshops and coaching for project and operational leaders, managers and team members.  See for details of our various courses, including those on influencing and communication skills.

This, together with what Emma Dutton describes as “emotional management” or regulation of ones emotions, is also described by Daniel Goleman* and others as emotional and social intelligence:

  • being aware of our own emotions, attitudes, behaviours and those of the people we are interacting with
  • making conscious choices about how we express or adapt these emotions, attitudes and behaviours in order to get positive outcomes for all parties

These are the qualities that will enable project managers and leaders to influence the diverse and challenging stakeholders that they interact with.

Emma Dutton’s advice seems very wise indeed:

[do] your work  before you get in the room. Understand the people you are talking to.

As Ben Hargreaves concludes in his article:

Understanding drivers, likes and dislikes, motivations, anxieties, interests, attitudes and beliefs is all-important for the influencer.


*Daniel Goleman et al are authors of a very helpful series of booklets “Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence” that Elisabeth Goodman has reviewed in earlier blogs as listed here:

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

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