The Three Types of Workplace Personal Power

Anyone can develop expert power in a workplace.
i Hemera Technologies/ Images

Powerful people influence others. They can spur action, gain followers and become leaders -- all without holding a title. Individual power is not like authority, which comes from the position a person holds in an organization. Power is personal. All people wield power, although some do it better than others. If you want to increase your power, first recognize that power comes in different varieties.

Expert Power

    People with expert power have knowledge and skills that other people might want to use or emulate. A veteran worker who knows all the quirks of the equipment has expert power. Newcomers grant the veteran respect and follow her lead. Those in authority might also rely on an expert, even asking advice. For instance, an expert on the company’s culture might be a valuable adviser to an upper-level manager who is too far removed to understand the ins and outs of office politics.

Referent Power

    Referent power is tied to a person’s likeability, charisma or character. People want to be associated with the individual who holds referent power. You watched this at work in high school -- not just with popular kids who drew followers but also inherent in that one mysterious kid who was too cool to be part of the "in" crowd. A person holding referent power can set the tone for behavior because people want to share in the power. Followers may dress like the power-holder and react the way they think the power-holder might. People holding referent power have status that translates to influence.

Connection Power

    Connection power belongs to those who know important people. These connections may include experts, managers within or outside the company, or important members of the community. People with connections can influence events by tapping into their network of personal and professional acquaintances and friends. They may be influential in connecting other people or be trusted enough to weigh in on decisions.

Coercive and Reward Powers

    Reward and coercive powers are the carrot and stick of clout: Reward power gives rewards or removes something negative. Coercive power promises negative consequences for those running afoul of the power-holder. Both these powers are typically classified as functions of authority in a workplace -- the boss exercises these powers -- although others can use them as personal power, too. Peer pressure, for instance, is coercive power. The boss’s secretary or assistant wields coercive and reward powers by denying or granting access to the manager.

Increasing Power

    Power involves dependency: Someone has something another person wants. Knowing this can help you manage your own power resources at work. Consider this as you work to increase your power holdings. For example, to increase expert power, don’t become the best only at your own job role; learn skills needed by your company or that can set you apart from peers. Increasing expert power may enhance your referent power, too, since expertise builds confidence -- a factor in likeability and charisma.

the nest