The Positive Use of Positional Power


Power is the potential you have to get things done or to make them happen. In your organization, your power—your potential—derives from many sources: expertise, experience, knowledge, reputation, position, perhaps sometimes your personality. Some of these power sources are personal, some are positional and many are a mix of the two. The Positive Power and Influence Program helps you identify how to use your influence skills to implement many aspects of your personal power.

However, you may also be facing influence situations where positional power issues are present and important. Handling these well requires some careful consideration of the issues involved.

Positional power is neither positive nor negative. Its impact depends on how you use it.

Whether you have positional power, or not, you can use personal influence skills to neutralize, remove, or set aside positional power issues. However, even skillful influencers sometimes find themselves in situations requiring extra effort to resolve positional problems.

These situations include:

  • Influencing others who have more positional power than you do. Some people experience insecurity or blocks when dealing with their supervisors. In influence situations, these barriers can result in low impact or outright Avoiding. Even when you overcome your personal limitations, others may limit your effectiveness by “pulling rank” and using their positional power in negative ways.
  • Influencing others who have less positional power than you do. Building constructive relationships with your direct reports is fundamental to motivating and developing them. Their productivity and high-quality performance depend on being fully committed to carrying out their jobs. If you rely too heavily on positional power your direct reports may misinterpret your influence attempts as arbitrary, seeing use of position where there is none. If these conditions exist, both sides will experience an energy loss and an erosion of the working relationship.
  • Influencing others with equal positional power. Influencing peers can lead to boundary conflicts, authority questions, and resistance over territory or turf. People may get caught up in defending their position instead of focusing on the Influence Objective. Appeals to higher authority may result, diluting both parties’ power in the situation.

Positive influence requires that neither person lose total power or perceive they are losing it. Positive power and influence involves meeting personal objectives and building or maintaining productive relationships. Both influencer and target should be as powerful—or more so—at the end of the influence attempt as they were at the beginning.

Positive influence requires a power balance by definition. The primary cause of avoiding or resistance is the actual or anticipated loss of power.

  • Influencers lose power if they fail to achieve their influence objectives.
  • Influence targets lose power if the relationship is not maintained or strengthened.
  • Both parties lose power if they fail to achieve the objective or do not maintain a positive relationship.

The total power each person has in an influence situation is the sum of their positional power and personal power.

For positive results to occur, the total power each person has must be balanced, even when their positional and personal power vary. Balancing total power can be accomplished by exercising either positional or personal power according to the situation.

Positive influence requires a power balance.

  • When you have low positional power, you can maintain or expand your total power by exercising your personal power—by exerting personal influence.
  • When you have high positional power, you can step away from your positional power in the situation by exerting personal influence and/or you can enhance the target's personal power.
  • When you and the target have equal positional power, you can maintain or expand your positional power, work to balance both parties’ personal power, and/or agree that each party step away from their positions in any specific situation.

As an influencer, how might you maintain or expand positional power, especially when it has formal limits? How can personal influence skills help you use positional power more constructively? What role does planning play in creating a power balance?

To find out more about how you can increase your Positive Power and Influence skills read about the Positive Power and Influence® Program

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Client testimonial

    • "ability to more profoundly impact..."
    • We’ve used Positive Power and Influence, Creating Results, and Influencing Change with great success here at NASA Glenn. People come out of the workshops with the ability to more profoundly impact the organizations and people they work with in order to get the results that are necessary to move the organization forward. I’ve taken the courses myself and I strongly recommend them to everyone I advise.
    • by Jennifer Budd - NASA Glenn Research Center