Power is the ability of one person to influence the behavior of another. In project management, understanding power and the use of power can have a great effect on the outcome of the project.
Forms of Power
Power is not simply the brute force necessary to bend someone to your will. There are several ways that people can be influenced.
Coercive power is based on the idea in the mind of the person being influenced that the person having the influence has the ability to inflict punishment or pain. This pain will be unpleasant, and it will be more unpleasant than doing the task.
Reward power is based on the idea in the mind of the person being influenced that the person having the influence has the ability to administer some sort of reward. This reward will be pleasant, and it will be more pleasant than any unpleasantness associated with doing the task.
Coercive and reward power depend on the person being influenced believing that the thing being requested can actually be done, that the reward or punishment can actually be given by the influencer, and that the reward or punishment is sufficient to motivate the person being influenced to do the work.
For example, if parents want to influence the grades of their child, they might try to influence the child by offering to buy him or her a car if the child gets straight A's next year in high school. The child may feel that there is no possible way of achieving this goal. In this case, the influence will not take place. The child may feel that the parents will not be able to deliver the reward if the goal is achieved, and again the influence will not take place. Finally, the child may not care about getting the reward offered, in which case the influence will not take place.
Legitimate power is based on the idea in the mind of the person being influenced that the person having the influence has this influence because of the values of the person being influenced. In other words, the influenced person believes that the person influencing has the right to do this through formal authority in the organization.
For example, in medieval societies, the king was obeyed because everyone believed he had that authority from God. Although response to this sort of power may have once been motivated by fear, over time the power is changed into a tradition. The person who is the influencer has power over others even if he or she lacks the power to punish and reward any longer.
When new employees start to work in a firm, the authority and chain of command in the company are clearly explained them. As long as people wish to work for this company they agree to respect the legitimate authority of those in positions above them.
Referent power is based on the idea in the mind of the person being influenced that the person having the influence has this influence based on the person being influenced having a strong desire to identify with the person influencing. A person who leads others by virtue of his or her charisma has this type of power.
This is the kind of power exercised by some charismatic religious leaders. In this type of power people tend to admire certain characteristics of the influencers and follow them blindly in other areas. These kinds of charismatic leaders influence people by the force of their personality. People with this kind of influence can cause individuals under their influence to perform unusual acts. Throughout history there have been many leaders like this. It generally requires a special personality as well as a special set of circumstances to create someone with this kind of power.
Expert power is based on the idea in the mind of the person being influenced that the person having the influence has this influence based on special knowledge or ability. This special knowledge or ability is believed to help the influenced achieve their goals.
In most business situations people are influenced by expert power. This is the belief that someone can influence others because that person knows more about what he or she is doing and what everyone else should be doing. This influence is based on evidence of the person's expertise.
Representative power is based on the idea of one or more persons being chosen by the group from the group and having the power to lead delegated to them voluntarily. Representative power depends on the group's willingness to delegate this power to one or more individuals. People's willingness to give representative power to one of their members may be influenced by all of the other types of power as well.
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