Got Power?

HR roles vary from organization to organization. Some of us are administrative and take our cues from others and some are strategic players who wield power and authority with an iron fist. My guess is most of us are somewhere in between.

Power comes in all varieties. What kind of power do you have or do you see being excercised in your company?

1. Position - based on your position. This is probably the most common type. Your power comes with your title.

2. Knowledge or expertise - based on what you know. Another common area for HR pros. Our knowledge of arcane and complex employment law gives us an edge over others. Knowledge itself is not power but knowing how to use it is.

3. Reputation - based on your past history. Reputation can give you more power than you really have or take away power away from you depending on what you are known for.

4. Punishment and rewards - this power is based on what you are able to dole out. Are you in a position to offer positive and/or negative consequences for behavior? If so, thats power.

5. Gender - your gender can confer or take away power depending on the circumstances, group demographics, or company culture.

6. Apathy - simply not caring is a form of power. In negotiations, the person with the most to lose is at the mercy of the person who couldn't care less what the outcome is.

7. Charisma - power based on personality. As far as I can tell, you either have it (Bill Clinton) or you don't (Al Gore). Charisma draws people to an individual and gives that person immense control and power.

8. Anger - power based on an individual's explosive temper. Almost every organization has someone that people treat differently because no one wants to "upset" him or her. This individual's wrath has created a form of power that they can use to their advantage.

Ok, that's my list. See any you recognize or can you come up with any I have left off?


  • 18 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • Paul: Your 1, 2, 3, & 7 strike me as were I come from 95% of the time and then the remaining 5% is strictly luck.

  • I wonder if anyone would be willing to admit that they derive most of their power from simply being a ticking timebomb that no one wants to set off.

    I think my power is derived from position, reputation, reward/punishment, and a dash of charisma.
  • Ah... my boss is a #8 with a few others mixed in.
  • This is a very comprehensive list!

    I'm going to fess up to using -- whether intentionally or not -- all of these to at least a small degree at one time or another. In other words, I don't want to admit to using anger with conscious intent, but there's probably been a time or two when anger got the best of me and ended up having a "powerful" effect when it should have only been about me not being as emotionally controlled as I would like to be and, therefore, should not have been rewarded in any way.

    I find it very interesting to think of apathy as power. I guess I think of it as a form of personal power rather than the power to control others, because sometimes the only way to protect yourself is to limit the amount that you care. For example, I've had to divest myself of concern over certain things about my organization that -- after 24 years -- I can't change. I was burning a lot of emotional energy with no return.

    But all in all, I hope xpray that I mainly use knowledge and reputation more than anything else. (To say charisma sounds a little conceited but I think that my humor and personality help some too....or so I'm told by those who fear my anger, position, and punishment x:D.)
  • I said charisma for me because I know its not any of the others, especially knowledge.

    I think women are more emotionally advanced than men and probably can use more of these forms of power to their advantage.

    To some degree, men have enjoyed power historically simply for being men. That has changed and continues to change. This may give women a slight advantage if they have been socially conditioned to not rely on positional power to achieve their goals.

    I might also add another type of power:

    Percieved - similar to reputation. Percieved power is the authority that people think you have whehter you do or not.
  • Paul, of course I meant it would be conceited in MY case but entirely justified in yours. x0:)
  • I find that the source of my power will vary depending on whom I'm dealing with. We have one director who came from an organization where HR was not trusted and wielded a big club. I have had to build trust with him, but my power with him is positionally related. I have worked with many of the lower level leadership for years and some have even worked directly for me when I was in manufacturing, therefore my power with them is based more on reputation. With the average ee on the floor, my power tends toward punishment and reward depending on which end of the performance spectrum they fall. I'm not charismatic and I rarely lose my temper, so those don't really fit me. Perceived power is real, people often assume I have superhuman capabilities or at least expect me to have them.
  • Mine would be 1, 3, 4 & 7.

    There may be a better category for it or it may be covered in charisma - but I think another category of power might be the ability to move & communicate in all circles. I can talk to the employee on the floor as easily as I can speak with the Director of Finance, etc.
  • I give you one that is a combination of some of yours. Patterns of success. If in the past, you have been able to get difficult issues resolved, make changes, deal with problem employees, discipline or fire and not have it overturned, coach and mentor, or negotiate tough items, then you acquire a "reputation". Folks at the top then trust you and take you at your word to accomplish things or in some cases to facillitate change. They then must give you the power to do so (whether they realize the process or not, the results are the same). This kind of power does take some time to accumulate.
  • I have found that RESPECT is my largest tool. I had a very difficult time transitioning from Payroll to Human Resources. After being the Payroll Manager for my company and working with the same employees for 20 years to all of a sudden become their Human Resources Manager has been a hard transition for many of the employees I work with.

    I found that if I respected people and their views and ideas than they would in return respect me and mine.

    I always try to:
    #1. Keep an open mind without losing sight of my own goals
    #2. Really truly listen to what the other person is saying and take some time to think about it.(even if I dont' like it and don't want to hear it)
    #3. Try to find a solution to any challenge or situation that pleases the most people.(knowing that I must keep a balance between what is good for both the company and the employee)

    I have worked so closely with the employees that I sometimes have a tendency to see their views over those of Management. I am doing better with that, at the same time I have also swung Management around to some of the employee views.

    I am proud of going back to College and proud of all I have accomplished in 3 short years as HR.

  • Paul,

    Although I've been away a while, I'm glad to see that you are still asking the types of big picture questions we should be thinking about. Kudos for always pushing to make us smarter and better!

    Tony Kessler from M. Lee Smith forwarded this to me because one of the most popular things I'm doing right now is a seminar called "Power,, Politics & Influence - What They Don't Teach in Business School." I would suggest adding to Paul's list two things - Political power and Relationship power.

    Political power is the difference between being right and being effective. We, as HR Professionals, are very often right, but not effective. We have the right answers and can get people to do what they should, but they resent us for it. Politics is the ability to plug into the unspoken, to understand what is going on behind the scenes and using it to move your agenda forward, many times without people even recognizing what the agenda is. An example of this is what I call "the meeting after the meeting." That's the one you want to be included in because that's where what's actually going to happen is decided.

    Relationship power has to do with who you are affiliated with and how powerful they are. For example in one of my previous companies, the CEO's Administrative Assistant had great power. She was a terrible human being - very mean! If she hated you, she whispered in his ear what an idiot you were and pretty soon he began to believe it. She could delay your getting in to see him or speed it up depending upon how she felt about you. While he knew she was difficult, she kept his life on track, fended off people he didn't want to talk to, etc. She was the highest paid Administrative Assistant I've ever seen. That's power.

    Okay, Paul and Tony sucked me back into the ever addictive Forum. Thanks for sending this to me and letting me learn and participte at the same time!

    Margaret Morford
  • If we're being brutally honest, I think one item that's missing is the ability to to become a trusted and valued confidante to the top dog. In some situations you end being covered by the top dog's umbrella of power simply being in that kind of position or having that kind of trusted relationship.
  • AJ makes a valid point. Warm-n-fuzzy psycho-babble aside, the most effective power-wielders with whom I've come into contact in my career were mentored (and protected) by the big kahuna. It may not be power in the "legitimate" sense, but it's power, nonetheless.
  • [font size="1" color="#FF0000"]LAST EDITED ON 03-08-06 AT 01:32PM (CST)[/font][br][br]Exactly the point of Relationship power. If you have that type of power, you should be aware that it only lasts as long as the relationship lasts. If your Big Kahuna and/or mentor moves on, you have to have built other types of power or the fall is swift and fast.

    My recommendation is that you should be building all the kinds of power Paul described, except for maybe the screaming kind, if you want to succeed.

    Margaret Morford
  • "Warm-n-fuzzy psycho-babble aside"

    Sorry, Beags, even though you are my rain soaked, caffeine powered, Oregon neighbor, I can't let you get away with that kind of throw-away comment.

    You'll have to back that up. How is discussing and understanding the various forms of power "warm-n-fuzzy psycho-babble"?

    My thinking is that power is power and it comes in various forms. Understanding these types of power is the first step in learning how to manage them in a way that serves your organizational goals.

    I have watched co-workers experience unnecessary frustration because they don't understand that having a title and having power are not synonymous.
  • I'd say my power is a combination of 1, 2 & a little bit of AJ's theory.

    For other managers in our organization, 3 & 8 play a pretty big role as well.
  • [font size="1" color="#FF0000"]LAST EDITED ON 03-08-06 AT 02:31PM (CST)[/font][br][br]Would say 1,2,3 along with add's that other posters have made about being respectful of people regardless of title, sharing information, inviting input from team members then acting on the recommendations received whenever possible.

    Having a good rapport (trust, communication, etc.) with the CEO is a big plus and critical to have if you have initiatives you want to get through.

    Would also say that an understanding of the business and how it works is critical to not just having a seat at the table but to be heard while you're there. Find out what the specialized skill sets are of those at the table so you can speak in terms they're most comfortable with. Our group is strong in Marketing and Finance. Luckily, I have a background in Finance so understand the #'s side of things and for Marketing, I read books in this area and ask questions to become more knowledgable.

    Keep learning so you make sure you're on top of the trends and decisions that affect your area and the business in general.

    One more point to add - may fall under charisma. We all make mistakes but it seems some folks are given more leeway than others to recover - we call it their "goodwill bank". Points are earned by being someone that has more of a servant leadership approach rather than "it's all about me."

    When you have a positive balance in your goodwill bank it gets you buy-in on changes easier and invokes less skepticism over why the change was done in the first place.
  • Mbeam raises an interesting point. There is a difference between "being liked" and "having power". Popularity can be a form of power or influence.

    However, being liked or popular is not necessarily power. I have seen HR folks who were well liked but had little power. I have also seen other managers who were roundly disliked but wielded great power.

    Being liked will get you a nice card on your birthday but having power makes things happen.
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