The Power Continuum

Interpersonal and Communication Skills - © Performance Management Consultants

Power in the workplace is neither good nor bad in and of itself; it is neutral until wielded, operating on a continuum from positive to negative. Only once it’s wielded (and depending on how it is wielded) will it have either a positive or negative influence on a person, relationship, decision, project, or other aspect of work. Motivated professionals want to understand how to better wield power, whether from a position of authority or not, in order to influence outcomes at work. Where and how do they do this, and how can they advance an idea, position, or goal for the better?

To learn more about what sources of power we have and in what ways to use them, read on.

The Elements of Power

In his 2011 book, The Elements of Power, Terry Bacon points to 11 different sources of power that each of us can tap into in the moment and cultivate over the long term, in order to build our power and our ability to influence. Five of the sources are personal (communication, knowledge, history, character and attraction factor), five of them are organizational (role, resources, reputation, network, information), and a general one relates to will or motivation.

What do each of these mean? Let’s take a look, keeping in mind that to maximize any of these as a power source, you have to have the will (itself a source of power) to learn (about yourself and your workplace), and to develop and execute an influencing plan.

Personal Sources of Power

1) Expressiveness

In top spot is definitely how effectively you can communicate. This power source is based on your abilities around clarity, energy, conviction, and appropriateness in the areas of speech, body language and writing. Master this and you can go very far in your influencing.

2) Knowledge

This relates to your skills, talents, abilities, learning, wisdom, and past accomplishments and expertise, and where and how you bring them to bear on a situation you want to influence. Are you silent or are you sharing, contributing, and making connections to add value and influence discussion and decision-making?

3) History

This source of power is effected when you tap into the ‘past’ you share with a person or colleague. It’s based on familiarity, trust, liking, and similarities. For example, if you can first find similarities or common ground with someone, this will help influence their view of your idea.

4) Character

Your character is a source of power you can always tap into, and is based on your integrity, honesty, fairness, courage, modesty, and kindness. This is of course feeds your reputation at work. If you are in a new work context, of course, it takes a while for people to get to know your character, but there are ways to share examples of this quite quickly when building relationships.

5) Attraction

This is the power gained by causing people to like you, and it is based on everything from a friendly, open or charming personality and/or interactions all the way to physical attractiveness, including how well you present yourself in terms of dress and grooming. Introvert or extrovert, snappy dresser by nature or not, we must all be aware of the large and small influences this can have on others.

Organizational Sources of Power

1) Your Role

This is the authority you have vested in you based on your position at work. This can be a significant source of power, but can also lead to abuses of power if not used wisely.

2) Information

In any role you play at work, you have control or access to certain information. This power source has five elements which form the mnemonic RADIO: retrieval, access, dissemination, interpretation, and organization. How you choose to use this information is key: are you adding to and empowering (i.e., having a positive influence) or are you withholding (a negative influence)?

3) Network

Everyone has a power based on their connections with other people (involving reciprocal respect, admiration, favour granting, and collaboration). How big is your network (your lateral and vertical network, in and out of the organization), and how are you using it to gain support and access when needed?

4) Reputation

Based on your actions over time and your character, this is how people (your team, friends, organization, or society) hold you in esteem. It takes some time to build and thus to be able to draw on as a power source, so it is a good idea to focus on it heavily in a new work context.

5) Resources

In many roles you have access to resources; understanding what those are can help you leverage your control and use of them for influencing (financial, supplies, human, natural, or other).

Cultivate Positive Influence in the Workplace

What kinds of power sources do you see being used most in your workplace? Which are you using to influence your co-workers and supervisors?

Influence grows gradually, sometimes so gradually we barely notice it. Don’t be discouraged if you’re not wielding the level of influence you want in the workplace. Instead, be motivated to implement small changes over the long term, and know what to tap into in the moment when necessary.

Are you uncertain where you should begin? Enroll in PMC’s course, Using Positive Influencing Skills in the Workplace. Our training can teach you how to use different types of power, build influence, and maintain high integrity in the workplace. To jump-start your registration, email us today at or call us at (613) 234-2020.

“The instructor was the best instructor I’ve ever had. She was very enthusiastic and shows passion in what she does. Very well spoken. It was great.”
– Nadia D., NRCan

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