Managing a project comes with the unique challenge of leading, without being the boss.
How do you lead without holding authority?
The answer is persuasion. Mastering this skill can be hard, but here are a few of the best books to read in order to make the most of your power.
Read on to unlock your most convincing self:
FOR: The PM who has to justify every decision to their team.
Based on Sinek’s TED Talk (a.k.a. the third most popular TED Talk of all time), Start With Why lays out the basics of its assertion in the title: “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
This book is a great foundation for understanding how to build your persuasive argument.
Pressed for time? Focus on part IV. Want to dive deeper? Sinek has an interactive WHY discovery course available for those wanting a step-by-step guide.
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell
FOR: The PM who has too much on their plate already.
It is difficult to have a list of social psychology books and *not* include one by Malcolm Gladwell. A New York Times best-seller for over a decade, Blink is one of his most relevant books for mastering persuasion.
Learn how to take advantage of the split-second of attention your audience may give you, and take away insights such as, “but in the end it comes down to a matter of respect, and the simplest way that respect is communicated is through tone of voice” and, “the key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding.”
Have an extra hour? Watch this video of Gladwell sharing his strategies.
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath, Dan Heath
FOR: The PM who gets shushed in meetings.
Speaking of Malcolm Gladwell, these Stanford grads’ take on The Tipping Point outlines how to make your ideas “stick” with six basic principles: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and stories.
If you know you will only have a few key seconds to state your case, this read will teach you how to make your ideas unforgettable.
Watch Chip Heath’s keynote for the full hour breakdown, or hop to the end of this book for useful advice and an in-depth reference guide.
FOR: The science-minded PM.
This neuroscientist’s take on persuasion aims to “reveal the systematic mistakes we make when we attempt to change minds.”
While keeping the content accessible and engaging, Sharot weaves in the science behind how influence works in even the smallest, emotionally-driven ways.
Read this book if you want to sharpen the nuances in your communication skills—and feel free to borrow some of her techniques for use beyond the workplace.
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
FOR: PMs preparing for that talk with the Executives.
I’m not saying being a project manager is as high-stakes as being a CIA agent, but both do strive to “understand and exploit the human cognitive processes” in their day-to-day jobs.
That’s right, this book by Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman is on the CIA’s “must-read” list, and it is now on yours, too. Thinking Fast and Slow teaches you how to understand the environment of your argument, in order to better communicate your wants and needs.
For the purposes of learning to be a more convincing arguer, focus on part IV, “Choices,” which discusses how to frame arguments, and how best to anticipate risks. Knowing tidbits like, “when faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution” can help you ensure you have the conversation you are meaning to.
Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as If Your Life Depended on It by Chris Voss, Tahl Raz
FOR: The PM who feels like they’re negotiating with a brick wall.
From the mind of the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator, Chris Voss, Never Split the Difference prepares readers to combat any argument. Focus on the first few chapters (“Be a Mirror,” “Beware Yes, Master No”); the end of the book takes a more extreme turn that (I hope) would not be necessary for the workplace.
Maximize your influence with these five books, and see that you don’t need the same level of authority as the executive team—just a finely tuned ability to persuade.