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Change Management, Leadership, Project Management

7 sources of power and influence for Project Managers

PowerAt a recent workshop some fairly new and junior Project Managers were commenting that they didn’t really have much power and they were therefore struggling to influence people. We had a discussion where I shared a model I came across many years ago that identifies 7 potential sources of power that leaders and managers can draw on. Most Project Managers will be able to draw on several of these and you do, of course, have to recognise that they aren’t all necessarily appropriate in any given situation.

Power is the “influence potential” of the Project Manager (or any other leader).  It is the resource which enables people to gain compliance from, or to influence, followers and as such represents an important aspect of the organisational and project environment. The 7 sources of power are:

Coercive Power is based on fear.  A leader high in coercive power is seen as inducing compliance because failure to comply will lead to punishment, such as undesirable work assignments, reprimands, or dismissal.

Connection Power is based on the leader’s “connections” with influential or important people inside or outside the organisation. A leader high in connection power induces compliance from others because they aim at gaining the favour or avoiding the disfavour of the powerful connection.

Expert Power is based on the leader’s possession of expertise, skill and knowledge which, through respect, influence others.  A leader high in expert power is seen as possessing the expertise to facilitate the work behaviour of others.

Information Power is based on the leader’s possession of, or access to information that is perceived as valuable to others.  This power base influences others because they need this information, or want to be “in on things”.

Legitimate Power is based on the position held by the leader.  Normally the higher the position the higher, the legitimate power tends to be.  A leader high in legitimate power induces compliance or influences others because they feel that this person has the right, by virtue of position in the organisation, to expect that suggestions will be followed.

Referent Power is base on the leader’s personal traits.  A leader high in referent power is generally liked and admired by others because of personality.  This liking for, admiration for and identification with, the leader influences others.

Reward Power is based on the leader’s ability to provide rewards for other people.  They believe that their compliance will lead to gaining positive incentives such as pay, promotion or recognition.

When I ran interpersonal skills courses for managers, I had a useful self-assessment inventory where people could score themselves to identify their available and preferred sources of power. Knowing the various sources of power opens up all sorts of possibilities to help Project Managers be effective in their role of influencing others.

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