What Is Expert Power? Types & Importance in Leadership
Power in business can be fickle.
If you use your power too much, you can disenfranchise the people around you. If you use it too little you lose respect and be walked over.
The perfect business leader is someone who not only understands their power but understands how and when to use it.
There are typically five bases of power, as identified by John French and Bertram Raven in the early 1960s. Their study showed how the different types of power affected a leader’s ability and success in a leadership role.
The 5 types of power were defined as coercive, reward, legitimate, referent and expert.
We’ll briefly visit each of the 5 types of power in leadership and take a closer look at the importance of using expert power.
Here’s What We’ll Cover:
The 5 Types of Power In Leadership
1. Coercive Power
Coercive power tends to be attained through fear. Whether that be the fear of losing your job, being given a pay cut or having projects or power taken away.
A good example of coercive power is a boss threatening the manager to either improve their team’s sales records or be replaced.
2. Reward Power
As the name suggests, reward power is attained through rewarding individuals. This could be done through giving a raise, a promotion or some extra time off of work.
It is a type of power that is about positive reinforcement. It can help with team morale and can even help foster creativity.
For example, a manager could reward their employees with an extra day off when they meet their sales objectives for the month.
3. Legitimate Power
Legitimate power is obtained from having a position of power in an organization or business. This could be by being the CEO or a key member of a team.
This power comes when an organization recognizes the authority of an individual.
4. Referent Power
Referent power is attained through being trusted and respected. Referent power tends to be built over time and can be precarious and easily lost. It’s gained by how we handle situations and other people.
For example, a manager can have great referent power by being known as a fair boss who respects their employees and by quickly righting wrongs.
5. Expert Power
Finally, we come to expert power.
What Is Expert Power?
Expert power comes from your experience, skills and knowledge. As you gain experience and climb the ladder of success, you can begin to gather expert knowledge. This knowledge leads to expert power that others can use.
Expert power doesn’t necessarily come from a powerful person.
For example, there may be a particular employee who is an expert in app design. If the business is working with an app developer then that employee’s power will rise. This is because their peers and even their superiors may come to them for expert advice.
Expertise breeds respect. People are far more likely to trust your insights and follow what you say if you have a huge wealth of knowledge in a particular field.
To use a medical example, two surgeons could have equal general skills. But if one surgeon happens to be an expert in a particular surgery and the hospital receives a patient that needs that surgery, then there will be a shift in power towards the expert surgeon.
This goes to show that expert power isn’t a formal type of power, but more a per-basis type of power based on expert knowledge.
Expert power is particularly important because it transcends the traditional pyramid of power.
For expert power to be retained, it needs to be constantly worked on to keep your skills up to date.
Expert power is important when it comes to leadership.
People will be far more open to being led by somebody who is an expert in the field and they will trust what you say.
This can help reduce conflict and friction within a team. This is because there is a clear and easily defined leader who is performing at a higher level than the rest of the team.
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