Power and Influence

What role does power and influence have on leadership styles? What impact does it have on follower/staff behaviour and performance? This is a question that all leaders, whether they be organisational leaders, business leaders, team leaders or project leaders need to address. Power is the capacity of others to exert their will over others. It is the ability to make things happen, overcoming potential resistance in order to achieve desired results. The person, group or team seeks to influence thoughts, attitudes, behaviours of another individual, group or team.

Power may be used positively or negatively. When used negatively it may well cause conflict. Used positively it can be used to overcome conflict and even avert it.
Different sources of power have been identified and can be described based on power Sources (a) Positional Power and (b) Personal Power:

Positional Power Sources

  • Legitimate Power
  • Reward Power
  • Coercive Power

Personal Power Sources

  • Referent Power
  • Expert Power
  • Information Power

Legitimate Power

Legitimate Power is related to the position or status of the person in the organisation. The person believes that they have the right to make demands on others and expect them to be complient. Legitimate power gives the leader/manager power over their direct reports. The more senior a person is and/or the more people they may have in their team the more positional power the person perceives that they have. All managers have some degree of positional power.

Warnings:

  • People are influenced by the position and not by you
  • Your ability to influence through legitimate power is restricted by those situations in which people believe you have the right or power to influence their actions or behaviours
  • Do not rely on legitimate power to influence others. Doing so may result in you abusing your power. This will lead to poor working relationships (see motivational theory) and potential conflict.

I have worked with managers who have abused this power. The result has led to demotivated individuals or teams, conflict and loss of respect for the manager from team members. All leaders need to assess how they are using legitimate power. Develop other sources of power to increase your influencing skills and achieve results through your people.

Reward Power

Reward power is the ability to give rewards. Examples of these rewards are promotions, pay increases, working on special projects, training and developmental opportunities and compliments. Reward power is the result of positional power. and is limited to your position in the organisation. You may not always have complete control over the rewards. However, due to your position you may be able to have some influence in the rewards. Look at what rewards you can use to influence other's behaviours and actions.

Coercive Power

Coercive Power is the opposite of Reward Power. It is the ability to use threats and punishments. Many managers and leaders abuse this source of power leading to greater problems. Extensive use of coercive power should be avoided. Leadership styles may tend to be very autocratic. Be careful that you are not exerting power over others inappropriately.

Referent Power

Referent power is the ability of others to identify with those who have desirable resources or personal traits. You may also hear of charismatic power. This comes from the personal characteristics of the person. For example: Their energy, endurance, empathy, toughness, humour, charm. People with this source of power can influence people. However, again be careful that you do not abuse it.

Expert Power

Expert power refers to the power that people have who have specialist knowledge, who are experts in their field or have knowledge or skills that are in short supply. People tend to listen more to those who demonstrate expertise. Expert power does not require positional power. Leaders and managers should also be aware of expert power where it exists in their teams. To ignore it is potentially abusing their positional power.

How can you use and develop expert power as a leader? Here are some ideas:

  • Use it to offer guidance and support to your team and to motivate them
  • Use it to gain respect for your position, skills and knowledge from your peers, those above you in the organisation, from your team, from customers, suppliers and those with whom you interact
  • Develop expertise, both knowledge and skills, that are required for your position and future positions. Keep yourself informed of new developments in your area
  • Maintain your credibility by participating in discussions that you are well informed on. Beware of trying to give the impression that you are an expert in all areas. You are not. Use the appropriate expertise from your team and other departments or functions
  • Be open to discuss concerns that your team or others may have. By listening to their concerns you can use your expertise to allay them. Thus creating credibility and respect. This is a very important skill in leading change and managing resistance
  • Acknowledge the expertise that is in your team. You do not need to have more expertise than them in every area


If you have examples of where different forms of power and influence have been used well or misused we would be delighted to hear them. If you would like to share them please tell us about them here.

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