How Leaders Build Workplace Power without Formal Authority

5 tips to gain workplace power

How Leaders Build Workplace Power without Formal Authority

This is a guest article by Denis Geoghegan. Denis is the founder of EPM, a site that helps people improve their leadership and management skills.

When you think of someone with workplace power you may automatically think of someone who is in charge. They have the formal authority to issue directives and orders to others to get them to do what they want.

But workplace power doesn’t necessarily require formal power. There is another type of power, personal power, which if anything is even more powerful than formal power. Why? With formal power people follow your instructions because they have to, whereas with personal power people follow your instructions and commands because they want to.

An aspiring leader should focus on growing their personal power well before they have any real formal power. So how can you going about building your personal power in the workplace? Here are some tips to get you started.

Tip 1: Build Your Emotional Intelligence

According to Warren Bennis, 85% of success in the workplace is about the level of your emotional intelligence, and 15% related to what you do and who you know. Great leaders know how to relate to others and increasing your emotional intelligence will help you improve this skill.

Improving your emotional intelligence isn’t just going to make you better equipped to handle issues that arise in the workplace, it will serve you in your personal life too, making you easier to talk to and better able to handle stress.

Tip 2: Learn How to Persuade

If you want people to listen to what you have to say, and approve your project proposals and ideas, then you’re going to need to learn how to persuade people effectively.

The key to doing this is to understand their motives – what are their fears and ambitions. Once you understand this you can construct your proposals and suggestions so that they appeal to the motives and fears of those you are trying to persuade.

We’re not suggesting you coerce people into doing what you want here, but rather calling out what is in it for them. As an example, if you want to get a project approved, then in your proposal, rather than go into detail about how long it will take, or how it will impact 10 different KPIs, maybe it’s better to call out how much money it will save or make the organization.

Tip 3: Build Your Reputation

You’ve got the skills. You’re working on your emotional intelligence. But for aspiring leaders it’s just as important to be perceived as someone who knows what they are talking about.

In a practical sense, this means doing the basics right. It means being punctual to meetings, it means dressing appropriately, and it means modelling professional behavior everyday. By modelling professionalism you build your referent power. Referent power is a type of power people bestow upon you because over a long period of time you have demonstrated exemplary behaviour, causing them to implicitly trust your judgement. You can learn more about referent power here.

Tip 3: Learn Continuously

Read the best leadership, business, and personal development books that you can. If you were to read one of these books per month for the next three years, that would mean you’d have read 36 business and leadership related books.

Just how much do you think that would move your professional thinking on? More than likely a lot. With this new found knowledge people will learn over time to turn to you for advice and guidance when workplace issues arise that they need to figure out.

As people turn to you more and more your power base will be increasing all of the time.

Tip 4: Build Informal Allies

This is about learning the unspoken rules of the place where you work. You already know that power exists outside of formal job titles and hierarchy, so this tip is about learning who holds this power where you work and then forming alliances.

Find out who those in authority consult before any key decisions are made. Your ideas and proposals will be looked on far more favorably if you already have these key people on your side.

Tip 5: Fix Your Weaknesses

We all have weaknesses. They are usually the things we avoid doing or continually put off. Two of the most common areas of weakness people cite are disliking having to give presentations, and being poor with numbers and figures.

If left unaddressed these weaknesses will hold your leadership journey back, and prevent you from raising your hand to add value to what others are saying because you doubt yourself. This will prevent your power from growing as quickly as it could.

To fix your weakness investigate what groups or support networks exist in your community that might be able to help you. If you don’t like presentations there may be a Toastmasters near you. If you don’t like numbers maybe there’s a business math class for adult learners available locally.


True leaders know that power isn’t just about your job title. It’s about how you are perceived in the workplace. Are you someone whose advice is actively sought or are you someone who is ignored?

By following the tips in this article you can start to build your power base. It will take time, but eventually you will build a significant amount of personal power, and your colleagues will automatically seek to involve you in key workplace decisions.

Question: How do you build and increase your workplace power?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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