Power in the Workplace

I really like this quote from Lord Acton ~ “Power tends to corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Power is a unique thing, especially in a workplace environment. Power in the workplace exists even when a business owner sets out to establish a system without any formal hierarchy. Each employee can display expertise in a particular area that will lead to other workers prizing her skills and opinion in that area over others. Essentially when we use power; we’re utilizing our authority to get something.

I don’t believe that power its necessarily 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.  Everyone has power.  Everyone.  There’s value in understanding what kind of power and the best way to use it to accomplish the task that is need.

Power in the Workplace:

Coercive Power

This is where a person leads with threats and force. It is unlikely to win respect and loyalty from employees over a long time. Also it’s associated with people who are in a position to punish others. People fear the consequences of not doing what has been asked of them. There isn’t an appropriate time to use this type of power as a leader you can’t build credibility with your direct reports by leading this way.

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. It’s where a person in a higher position and has control over people in a lower position in an organization.

Connection Power

This type of power is based on who you know. This person knows and has the ear of other powerful people within the organization. This power is all about networking. This can be positive and negative, if you have an opportunity to really help someone who has never gotten a fair shake and you know some key influencers in the organization, that’s great. Conversely if you have a connection with someone that you want to get to, that’s going to give me power over you,  that can make this type of  connection very political.

Informational Power

A person who has access to valuable or important information possesses informational power is where a person possesses needed or wanted information. This is a short-term power that doesn’t necessarily influence or build credibility. Essentially it’s the person who has all the power because they know all the information for a particular project. However as the project moves forward the information will be disseminated to the appropriate parties and then in turn the person withe the informational power will no longer have the power.  Although there are people in the work force who try to maintain this type of power its fleeting and useless.

Expert Power

This is pretty basic it comes from a person’s expertise. This is the perception that one possesses a superior skill or knowledge. This is commonly a person with an acclaimed skill or accomplishment. In order to keep their status and influence the experts need to continue learning and improving.

Reward Power 

It’s where a person motivates others by offering raises, promotions, and awards. It’s essentially based upon a person’s ability to bestow rewards.  Those rewards might come in the form of job assignments, schedules, pay or benefits.

Referent Power

It’s the individuals ability to convey a sense of personal acceptance or approval. It is held by people with charisma, integrity, and other positive qualities. It is the most valuable type of power. Typically a person with high referent power can highly influence anyone who admires and respects them.


Power comes in many different forms, and leaders need to learn how to handle each type…

Power tends to get to people’s heads. We’ve seen it before in the workplace with our co-workers, power can make people go a little crazy sometimes. We’re not really trained to handle power well, ergo it behooves us to handle it in an appropriate manner as leaders to make the work environment hospitable for all.


One thought on “Power in the Workplace

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