Traditionally, power in a company came from one’s title, or formal authority. But in a modern organization, power can come from many other sources. Harvard Business School Professor Linda Hill breaks down the sources of business power as follows (Linda Hill, Power Dynamics in Organizations (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing, 1994), 6-10.). First, you derive power from your position in the social network:
Formal authority. Your formal position in the hierarchy and job description impact your power. Relevance to the organization’s mission. People in functions that are closely aligned with the organization’s overall priorities are more powerful than those who are not. In a software company, the CTO has far more power than in a car company. Centrality. When you analyze the social network of a company, you often find that a mid-tier or even low-tier person may be very central. For example, Jake in engineering has a friend in sales. Jake may therefore be the only person who understands what sales thinks of the new products that engineering is developing. If Jake leaves the company, engineering will lose touch with the market. Autonomy. A CFO whose every move is double-checked by the CEO does not have much power. However, the senior bioinformatics engineer has a lot of autonomy if she is the only person in the company who understands bioinformatics. No one can double-check her decisions, because they will not understand what she is doing. Visibility. It is not enough to do a good job; the organization must know that you are doing a good job. This is one of the risks of expatriate assignments, which remove you from headquarters and senior management.
Second, you derive power from your personal attributes, your character and your competence:
Expertise. The more unusual and needed your expertise is, the more power you will have. Track record. Your past performance is usually considered a strong indicator of your potential future contribution. That said, all the brand names on your resume do not matter if you cannot prove that you can contribute to your organization. Attractiveness. For better or worse, attractive behavior (good table manners) and attractive appearance (height, health, physical fitness, good looks) both give you more power. This rule is one of the most consistent findings in research about what drives professional and personal success. Effort. People must see that you work hard to achieve your goals.