7 Types of Power in the Workplace

by Sharlyn Lauby on March 4, 2010

There’s a quote by Margaret Thatcher that says, “Power is like being a lady…if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”  Personally, I find the study of power fascinating.  Dictionary.com defines power as “a person or thing that possesses or exercises authority or influence”.  So in essence when we use power; we’re utilizing our authority to get something.

Everyone has powerEveryone.  And, I don’t believe that power is a bad thing.  The issue becomes what kind of power a person has and how someone uses that power.  Here are some of the common types of power found in the workplace.

  • Coercive power is associated with people who are in a position to punish others. People fear the consequences of not doing what has been asked of them.
  • Connection power is based upon who you know.  This person knows, and has the ear of, other powerful people within the organization.
  • Expert power comes from a person’s expertise (duh!).  This is commonly a person with an acclaimed skill or accomplishment.

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  • A person who has access to valuable or important information possesses informational power.
  • Legitimate power comes from the position a person holds.  This is related to a person’s title and job responsibilities.  You might also hear this referred to as positional power.
  • Reward power is based upon a person’s ability to bestow rewards.  Those rewards might come in the form of job assignments, schedules, pay or benefits.

Now, stop being modest and thinking to yourself…I don’t have any power.  As you can see, there are lots of different ways power can manifest itself.  And for that reason, it’s important to realize that power exists in all of us.  It’s also possible that you have different kinds of power with different groups or situations.

Now, the two biggest mistakes I see with people’s use of power revolve around (1) trying to use power they don’t have and (2) using the wrong kind of power to achieve results.

To help you identify your ‘power zone’, take a moment and think about how you try to influence action from others.  You could use the descriptions above as a pseudo self-assessment.  Rate yourself on a scale of 1-5 in each of the different kinds of power.  With 1 being not at all characteristic of you and 5 being quite characteristic.

This can be a (sorry for the pun) powerful exercise.  If you’re honest with yourself, I hope you’ll find the results helpful.  Not only for the way you tend to use power but in the way others use power with you.

Image courtesy of Ivan Walsh

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