Claim Your Power
By Michelle LaBrosse, PMP®,
Chief Cheetah and Founder of Cheetah Learning, and Kristen Medina,
Have you ever looked at
someone in power and wondered—how did they get there? Is
there some special power gene that makes certain people rise to the
top of the power hierarchy, but not others?
In a popular study in 1959,
social psychologists John French and Bertram Raven identified five
types of power: Legitimate, Reward, Expert, Referent, and Coercive.
Throughout our careers as
project managers, we wear many hats, and therefore, we utilize
different types of power. Sometimes we come into a project as an
expert in a particular field (expert power). At other times,
we have the ability to give or deny resources for a project (reward
and coercive power). If you’re named the Project Manager on a
project, this very title brings you a form a power (legitimate
power). And when we have no formal sources of power, we have to
rely on our likeability factor and ability to influence others (referent
Let’s take a moment to delve
a little further into each source of power and how you can use each,
no matter where you are in your career.
Legitimate Power –
This type of power comes from the belief that a person has a formal
right to make demands. For example, a CFO has legitimate power over
an intern working for them, as they are higher in the organizational
While we can’t always choose
our titles and organizational hierarchy in our workplaces, we can
choose what kind of project management titles come after our name
(PMP®, PMI-ACP®, CAPM®, etc.).
We polled 70 Cheetah PMPs with various levels of
experience, and asked them—how has earning your PMP® (and gaining
legitimate power) changed your career? Here is what we found:
Enhanced reputation within PM community
Promoted within current organization (17%)
Obtained a new job (16%)
These letters behind your
name give you legitimate power translate to real career
Reward Power - This
type of power comes from the ability to reward/compensate another
person. Lets say you have the resources that a project team needs.
In the past, you typically provided the resources with no questions
asked, and when the project team says, “thank you,” and you say, “no
problem.” Now, what is the problem here?
According the Robert
Cialdini, author of Influence, the time when someone says
“thank you” as a reward for something you’ve done is the crucial
moment at which you have power. And here is how you can grab that
power – instead of saying, “no problem,” you can say, “of course, I
know that you would do the same for me.” This small change in
semantics enforces the rule of reciprocity, and gives you power in
future dealings with this party, as now they owe you one.
Expert Power – This
type of power is based on a person’s superior skill or knowledge in
a certain area of expertise. In what areas are you an expert? If
you can’t recognize it, think to what people ask you to help with
most often. Maybe it’s helping to negotiate a contract or to do a
Ask others what areas they
think you excel in, and if you also enjoy doing these activities,
you are well on your way to becoming an expert in that area. No
matter what skill/area you ultimately choose, deliberately practice
becoming better to develop the area(s) of expertise, and you will
experience more power.
Referent Power – This
type of power deals with your likeability factor. If you think going
out to lunch with your coworkers and attending company-sponsored
events is a waste of time, think again. The relationships and bonds
that you build with your work associates can result in real power.
People would rather work with people that they know and like then
those that they don’t know and don’t care for.
For this reason, networking
can bring you power as well. The more you network outside your
immediate circle of friends and coworkers, the more opportunities
(and power) you will find as a result of these connections. Take
inventory of your likeability factor and work to improve it by
having more meaningful connections with your close peers as well as
broader connections throughout your industry.
Coercive Power – This
type of power comes from the belief that one can punish another in
order to achieve compliance from them. This is usually tied to
legitimate power. For example, a boss has the authority to reprimand
an employee for not complying with a request. However, this type of
power can also be tied to reward/expert power if you have
information/skills that could help someone, but by withholding this
help, you are, in effect, punishing them. While you may want to use
this power sparingly (or else risk losing referent power), it can
only help you if you recognize when the opportunity exists to use
coercive power, and go from there.
The next time you feel
powerless, stop and think—what do I have control of in this
situation? Chances are, it is a lot more than you originally
May the power be with you!
About the Author:
Michelle LaBrosse, PMP, is an
entrepreneurial powerhouse with a penchant for making success easy,
fun, and fast. She is the founder of Cheetah
Learning, the author of
Cheetah Success Series,
and a prolific
blogger whose mission
is to bring Project Management to the masses.
Cheetah Learning is a virtual
company with 100 employees, contractors, and licensees worldwide. To
date, more than 50,000 people have become “Cheetahs” using Cheetah
Learning’s innovative Project Management and accelerated learning
Recently honored by the
Project Management Institute (PMI®), Cheetah Learning was
named Professional Development Provider of the Year at the 2008 PMI®
Global Congress. A dynamic keynote speaker and industry thought
leader, Michelle was previously recognized by PMI as one of the 25
Most Influential Women in Project Management in the world.
Michelle’s articles have
appeared in more than 100 publications and websites around the
world. Her monthly column, the
Know How Network,
is carried by over 400 publications.
She is a
graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management
(OPM) program and also holds engineering degrees from
Syracuse University and the University of Dayton.