At work, at home and in your community, you probably have more ability to influence what’s going on around you than you think! If you ask someone to do something, and they do it, then clearly you had the ability to influence that person – you were using your personal power in that situation.
Organisational culture and the use of power, in themselves, are entirely neutral. They are the oil that lubricates the cogs of the organisation.
Your power takes several forms. Here are the 4 main ones that are found inside organisations. If you’re not currently working inside an organisation, think of any voluntary group, society, or club that you’re involved in.
this is the power invested in you by your job title. Anyone doing your job would have your formal authority. It manifests itself in the right to make decisions, and the right to insist (sometimes called ‘pulling rank’).
This is the power given to you by your specialist knowledge, skills, experience and qualifications. The more exclusive the expertise and the more useful in your social group or workplace, the more power it gives you.
someone may do what you ask them to do because you control their access to something that they want. This power is the control of physical, financial or informational resources. For example: allocation of car parking spaces, access to the stationery cupboard, access to people being treasurer of the playgroup, whether you tell everything that happened at the union meeting, etc. People in relatively lowly hierarchical positions often have a great deal of resource control power, but the most valued recourses are usually money and information.
This is the power you have in the way you get on with people, your ability to persuade and to build good quality relationships, your assertiveness. This is often considered to be the most potent form of power.
Most women’s power is based on using interpersonal skills, as women tend to have less formal authority, don’t always have their expertise properly acknowledged, and often won’t have the final say in resource control.
If you’ve found that you’re relying heavily on your interpersonal skills then you’re doing well. All the research on the skills needed in the workplace in the future points to the increased importance of good interpersonal skills and the devaluing of the use of authority. This could be good news for you as long as you keep your skills polished up and loo for opportunities to build up your other sources of power. It also means that if you are wishing to extend your paid work, you can identify ways of increasing your interpersonal and other power skills in your present circumstances.
The impression of power
Having the formal authority, expertise or resource control is not always enough. Being seen to have it is important. Other people’s willingness to be influenced hinges largely on their perception of you, or the impression you create. In other words – your credibility.
For example, at a meeting Anne may have the most expertise on a particular subject, be the most up-to-date and have the most relevant information on it. Also at the meeting is Tina who knows a great deal less about he subject, but creates the impression that she is a real expert. Tina’s ability to influence the meting may be as great, if not greater than Anne’s, because Tina has more credibility. Sadly, unless Anne does a better job on the image she creates, her group or organisation may not realise the value of her expertise until after she’s left.
So don’t assume that people remember your expertise, respect your formal authority, recognise your resource control and value your interpersonal skills.
It’s up to you to be aware and proud of what you’ve got going for you and use it positively.