Building Influence, Leadership

Learning Better Communication Skills Is Paramount For Matrix Leaders

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The other day, I met up with an old friend of mine.

She’s the General Manager of a “think tank”. I hadn’t seen her for a few years and we got to talking about work. In fact, she asked me for some advice.

“Things are very different now,” she said. “We’ve shifted to a matrix structure and we’re experiencing some teething problems. People are struggling to achieve results and to work effectively with each other now.”

I wasn’t surprised. I hear this same complaint more and more, year on year. As organisations continue to move away from traditional hierarchies and adopt a more grid-like managerial structure, it’s becoming more difficult to give clear direction and have the power to enforce it.

That’s why they’re coming to me. Because learning better communication skills can help them to become more influential, which in turn will enable them to be better matrix leaders.   

The modern matrix structure

The modern business world is going through big changes. With more companies switching to matrix structures, many leaders are now expected to work across various teams and drive outcomes without formal positional authority.

Matrix structures are mainly found when there are big projects or product development processes. However, today’s organisations are working more across disciplines, without silos, regardless of the size and nature of the initiative.

As a result, leaders are required to make up an assignment team drawing on employees from a wide range of functional disciplines. Those employees remain in their respective positions but are required to take direction from different managers. So, effective communication skills in those leaders become vital.

Let’s look at an example of this in action.

Project A is being driven by the head of HR; maybe it’s the build and delivery of a new intranet. This HR leader creates a team of people from Marketing, IT, Finance, Operations, and so on, to input and deliver the assignment.

None of these individuals are used to taking direction from HR. There might be resistance. There might be confusion. Even conflict with existing work and direction from a line manager they ‘technically’ report to. To lead effectively and get results in these cross-functional models, you must learn to communicate with influence.

The importance of learning good communication skills

European CEO lists the top 5 skills for modern matrix leaders as:

  1. Learning from others
  2. Communicating [effectively] through technology
  3. Engaging and listening to others
  4. Empowering others
  5. Connectedness to the broader issues

How many of those can we count as sub-skills of influential and effective communication skills? At least three, I’d say, if not more.

Harvard Business Review found that when leaders were successful in matrix roles, they consistently used the following four competencies:

Empathy, conflict management, influence and self-awareness.

Influence helps leaders to build consensus around a common purpose. Conflict management aids in the delivery of collaborative solutions. Empathy enables leaders to develop a better understanding of their team’s perspectives. Self-awareness brings patience and a greater capacity to manage the complexities of a matrix structure.

These four things are also key components of effective communication. So yes, in the modern business world, strong communicators will go far.

Learning better communication skills and powerful influence with CJM

It’s for this reason that CJM runs programs and workshops. Leaders can learn how to improve verbal communication skills to influence desired outcomes in non-traditional team structures.

In a matrix, having influence means you can get support for and commitment to your ideas and proposals, even when you don’t have direct authority.

The CJM methodology equips current and aspiring leaders with the skills they need to motivate and inspire teams, whether they’ve worked with them before or have direct authority, or not. Participants learn how to present with confidence, get their point across quickly and influence any situation.

These are the essential building blocks for anyone who wants to learn to communicate effectively in matrix situations. In any industry, senior executives, managers, business owners and professionals wanting to climb the success ladder can all benefit from learning better communication skills like these.

Teresa Le, Senior Project Scheduler at Telstra, found the course to be “truly profound”, saying, “[it] will forever improve my presence and impact within the workplace.” She encourages anyone wanting to learn to communicate “with confidence persuasion, clarity and authority” to attend.

The Colin James Method® is a practical, clear approach that is instantly actionable and works simply through practice. Keith Peel, Director at Intrinsia, is proof that our model works. He says, “Using a replicable method really does improve communication impact and influence. The CJM is the ‘go-to’ program for every business communicator”.

So, if you’re looking to get ahead in the matrix environment, learning better communication skills is the way to do it. And now’s the time. Find out more about our Communication Influence Workshop today and you’ll be communicating with influence and confidence in no time at all.


The Colin James Method® Facilitators train corporate executives to improve their professional communication skills with a proven methodology. Our highly trained Facilitators and Coaches are recognised for their experience in their fields and have worked with many individuals and organisations around the world to master the art of communication.

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