To be an effective change agent, you must have some power within your organization. In general, power is the energy to make something happen. In the context of an organization, your personal power directly impacts your ability to influence change. Without it, you’re just spinning your wheels.
Having power provides benefits that help you implement change. For example, the more power you have, the more freedom you are given to take action without permission. Power enables you to make decisions, especially those that affect other people. Since people tend to pay more attention to those who have power, with it you can be more effective at modeling behavior and having your message and ideas heard.
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So then, where does power come from? In an organization, your ability to make things happen depends on others’ willingness to let you. They choose – consciously or not – to pay attention to you, to allow you to influence them, to accept your decisions, and to move in the direction you suggest. Power is not, then, something you can create independently for yourself. Power is given to you by other people.
It may seem pointless to try to increase your personal power if you have to rely on other people to give it to you. Fortunately, there are sources of power you can draw upon that are within your control. As you grow in these four areas, you will be given more power in your organization.
When we think of who has power in organizations, we automatically think of those whose positions give them authority. Based on tradition, management titles – officers, vice presidents, directors, managers, supervisors – indicate a hierarchy so we know who has more or less power than we do. Titles are shortcuts to communicating status. They tell us who is in charge of something, and who is the boss.
But, authority is more than just a title. Having authority means you are responsible and accountable for achieving something, with the freedom to accomplish it. Authority comes with resources (even if it’s your own time) and the ability to decide how they will be used. Authority can be delegated by others who already have some. In fact, when you are truly given authority, we say you are “empowered.”
Knowledge, Skills and Expertise
You have probably heard the saying, “Knowledge is power.” There are a number of ways in which this statement is true in organizations. When you have knowledge, people seek you out for your opinion. They listen to you, and often defer to you as the expert. Applying your knowledge and skills also helps you succeed, which increases your chances of gaining authority. And, sharing your expertise elicits feelings of respect and reciprocity in your relationships.
For your knowledge to translate to power, it must be relevant to the success of the organization, and you need to know at least as much as the people around you, and probably more. As a change agent, you should be knowledgeable about the change you are delivering, and you must also be the subject matter expert about change itself.
You also gain power in organizations through your relationships. You have greater power from the people you frequently interact with, due in part to proximity – you are around certain people more, so you have more opportunities to influence them. More importantly, your closest relationships benefit from greater trust. The more people trust you, the more power they are willing to give you.
Your span of power within your organization depends on who you know. Your relationships with those who have authority increase your own power, because they can now use their power on your behalf. Your relationships with the people who are going through the change are important, since people are influenced by people they like. As you expand your network of relationships, your power will grow, not just because there are more people to give you power, but also because there are more sources of knowledge and authority for you to draw upon when you need them.
Confidence and Courage
While power is ultimately something that is given to you by other people, you are the one who chooses to use the power you have been given. Yes, you already have power in the form of your existing authority, knowledge, and relationships – and you can earn more by exercising what you have and using it effectively. You need the confidence to know that you have power, and the courage to use it.
Your personal power does not exist unless you use it. Acknowledge the power that you have. Be willing to do and say what needs to be done and said. If you need something, then ask for it. No one else can use your personal power for you. If you don’t use it, it is a wasted resource.
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