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How to use power (of your position and your person) in the workplace

January 17, 2022 - 12 min read


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What is positional power?

Examples of positional power

What is personal power in leadership?

What is the difference between positional power and personal power?

Why are positional power and personal power both important?

5 ways to increase your positional power

So much potential power comes from holding a position of leadership. 

But when you switch to a new organization — or if you lose the title that gave you this power — you lose all of the power that came with your title. 

However, personal power is a source of power that cannot be taken away from you. Together, positional power and personal power work to help you exert influence and meet organizational goals.

Let’s explore what positional power means, how it differs from personal power, and how you can cultivate positional power to grow your influence at your organization.

What is positional power?

When you have positional power, you may also gain reward power. This kind of power gives you the permission to use rewards to persuade employees to follow your instructions. On the flip side, coercive power is the ability to punish an employee for noncompliance. 

Depending on the type of positional power you hold, you may have both coercive and reward power along with your legitimate power.

However, positional power doesn’t automatically grant you expert power or referent power

Expert power instead comes from your personal experience or knowledge. And you have referent power when others respect and trust you. Someone with referent and expert power can wield both power and formal authority.

Examples of positional power 

There are several types of positional power you can hold in an organization. But not all positions grant you the same type of power.

For example, as an effective team leader, you may have positional, expert, and referent power, depending on your authority and skillset. But most team leaders don’t have reward or coercive power.

A department manager or HR manager, on the other hand, may have reward and coercive power, which grants them legitimate power

But even with these types of powers on their side, they won’t have expert power unless they have expert knowledge on a related topic or field. They also won’t automatically have referent power unless their team respects and trusts them as a leader.

Other examples of positions that grant positional power include:

  • Chief Operating Officer
  • Vice President of Marketing
  • Director of Operations

What is personal power in leadership? 

Personal power is the power you have based on your skills, competencies, characteristics, and other personal attributes. 

It’s not a formal form of power. But it does have the ability to inspire and motivate others.


What is the difference between positional power and personal power?

Both positional power and personal power can allow you to exert influence to impact other people’s behaviors.

Positional power gives you the authority to influence behaviors because of what your position allows you to do. But personal power comes from: 

  • Your character
  • Your skills
  • How people see you

With the former, it’s your title that holds the power, not you as a person. With the latter, you as a person can have influence and lead others.

Why are positional power and personal power both important? 

No one can take away your personal power. It comes from within you.

If your positional power changes or is completely taken away, you’ll still have your personal power to rely on.

This doesn’t mean that positional power doesn’t have its purpose. Positional and personal power work together to build your influence, inspire others, and have your team be fully involved in achieving your organization’s goals.

While personal power can help you inspire others, positional power gives you the legitimate power you need to veto and make decisions and move your team forward in unison.


5 ways to increase your positional power

Want to start building influence at work to increase your positional power? Here are five ways you can better yourself so that you move forward in your career path, which can lead to gaining more positional power.

1. Build your network

Networking is a key aspect of increasing your positional power. Sometimes knowing the right people can open the door to future opportunities.

Always be ready for an impromptu networking opportunity. One way to do this is to have an elevator pitch ready to present yourself in any situation. An elevator pitch is a 30-second speech that communicates your strengths.

You can use networking like an informal informational interview, enabling you to get an insight into what other jobs are like.

2. Find a sponsor

When you find someone willing to sponsor you, you’ll have a cheerleader who can vouch for you when opportunities for positional power open up.

That’s why a sponsor can make a huge difference in your career development.

A sponsor can also help you unlock your potential and drive your performance. They know what it takes to reach the position they’re currently in.

When looking for a sponsor, consider reaching out to someone who’s different from you. 71% of corporate sponsors are of the same gender or race as their primary sponsee. But partnering with someone of a different race or gender can help you both diversify your points of view and expand your knowledge.

3. Develop your communication skills 

Communication is key in the workplace, no matter your position. But improving your communication skills can go a long way to helping you attain positional power.

When you know how to communicate better, you can better articulate your personal goals in an organization. This can help you make your case to your higher-ups to get a promotion.

But communication will also help you perform better in a position that holds more power. Those skills are necessary to guide your team in the right direction and keep them motivated. 

4. Practice leadership skills and behaviors

Great leadership skills and characteristics don’t come on their own. Some people have innate leadership abilities, but it’s more likely that you’ll need to practice and develop those key leadership behaviors.

Some examples include:

One way to practice these skills is to become a mentor to someone else in your organization. You don’t need to have positional power to change someone else’s life right away.


5. Lead with more charisma

Charisma isn’t necessary to gain positional power. However, it does move the needle in your favor when you’re able to lead with more charisma.

Charismatic leadership is a blend of personal charm, communication skills, and persuasiveness that you can use to influence and motivate people.

In order to become charismatic, it’s important to cultivate self-confidence. It’s also key to practice self-awareness and humility. Charisma shouldn’t be confused with arrogance. 

A charismatic and effective leader is mature and optimistic, even when dealing with disappointment. They’re also passionate about the work they do and have a strongly defined personal vision.

Start to practice sharing your enthusiasm about your work with others. Not only will leading with charisma help open doors to gain positional power, but it will also help you develop your personal power too.

Cultivate personal and positional power, no matter your role

Positional power is an important aspect of building influence. But so is personal power. Both have a role to play in your career development. 

As you look for opportunities for promotion, consider finding ways to grow your personal power along with it.

Need help developing your personal and positional power? Our coaches love to help driven individuals achieve their full potential. Request your free custom demo to get started.

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Published January 17, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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