Why You need Expert Power + Reward Power in a 2021 Workplace

Power Dynamics in the workplace can be tricky grounds to navigate especially if you are lacking expert power as a project manager. The authority you will have as a project manager will be determined by the organization structure you are working within. The power you have will be determined by the characteristics you have as a project manager.

Relying solely on expert power as a having experience in the area or being a subject matter expert can be a cortical mistake. We outline the other types of power a project manager can use to successfully deliver a project. Specifically reward power can be used so easily and effectively its silly not to use it.

A great project manager can utilize different types of power depending on the situation regardless if they work in functional or weak matrix organizations. They will look at their skills of building relationships in the workplace to achieve the desired results.

Having expert power is always a bonus to come across as an authority in the subject and avoids relying on other expert opinions but this can be hard to be avoided depending on how technical the project can be.

In some organizations they will choose a project manager based on their knowledge of the area already. Then the project manager will be able to utilize their exert power to influence the project. They are a source of knowledge which others in the workplace are then coming to them for help which provides leverage and good working relationships.

Power Dynamics per Type of Organization for Project Managers

There have 5 types of organizations that a project manager will find themselves working in. The different organizations provide formal authority which is legitimate power from French and Ravens 6 basis of power. With expert power in any organization it will give you an advantage.

Power and authority are both methods of influencing other people. Power is a personal trait derived from knowledge and expertise, while authority is a formal title or position given by an organization or another personal. Authority is legitimate and formal, while power is neither.

Difference Between Power and Authority (with Comparison Chart) – Key Differences
Type of OrganizationImplications for Project Manger
Functional MatrixAll project team members report to a functional manager with little to no authority.
Weak MatrixedProject managers do have some authority; but not over the resources on a project. 
Balanced MatrixProject managers share authority with the functional managers.
Strong MatrixProject managers have more authority than the functional managers as focus is on the delivery of the project
Projectized OrganizationProject manager makes all of the decisions about a project’s schedule, quality, and resources.
Project Management Organizational Structures

Understanding the type of organization gives you a better a footing on what actually authority you have over the project tram and management. This said you don’t need to just use your authority to deliver a project.

A project manager should have a charisma to influence managers decisions in their favor, motivate team members to work harder, gather information for their team members and proactively get in front of issues. These are all examples of power.

6 Types of Power by French & Raven

R.P French and Bertam Raven studied the subject of power and determined 5 basis of power. Dividing it up in 5 separate categories. They identified those five bases of power as coercive, reward, legitimate, referent, and expert power. Informational power was added after.

Basis of PowerFurther DifferentiationProject Managers
Coercive PowerUsing threats or force to get stakeholders. Very similar to bullying in workplace. Project managers usually avoids using coercion as it is unlikely to win respect and loyalty from employees for long.
Reward PowerMotivate colleagues by offering raises, promotions, and awards.Project managers lack the power to use monetary incentives but can report performance to line managers
Legitimate PowerFormal Legitimacy (position power), Legitimacy of Reciprocity, Equity and Dependence (Powerlessness)Project managers, especially in a matrix environment, lack this power. In a strong matrix though they will have legitimate power to command stakeholders.
Expert PowerPositive and Negative Expert. Experts need to continue learning and improving.Project managers are often chosen for these characteristics and they gain considerable power in this regard
Referent PowerReferent Power is the ability to convey a sense of personal acceptance or approval. It is held by people with charisma, integrity, and other positive qualitiesProject managers have certain characteristics that make people want to follow them.
Informational PowerInformational Power is where a person possesses needed or wanted information. This is a short-term power that doesn’t necessarily influence or build credibility.Project manager may have all the information for a specific project, and that will give her “informational power.”
Basis of Power for Project Managers

Important Power for Project Managers

Referent Power

A project manager should have the ability to lead people regardless of authority. The ability to build relationships with team members by having humility, caring, approachable, friendly personality helps project manager get people to like them. People are more inclined to follow people they like. People also will follow decisive leaders who aren’t afraid to make decisions.

Reward Power

Team embers who perform well should be rewarded and recognized. It doesn’t have to be a bonus or monetary terms which will not be available to the project manager.

HBR share new research on the power of symbolic awards such as thank you notes, public recognition, and certificates. They find that these simple interventions can significantly improve employee motivation, but clarify that to maximize their effect, it’s essential to customize these rewards to your unique context.

Saying thank you doesn’t cost anything. It will make the person feel appreciated. You don’t need to think too outside the box to utilize reward power.

Every project manager should look at incorporating reward power into delivery strategy. From calling people out in lessons or daily standups just thank people.

Maslow’s Laws for Recognition

Expert Power

One of the most powerful of the 7 types of power is expert power. It will give you give instant rapport with team members and organizational leaders. You will instamtly understand what the project team are speaking about and be able to provide valuable insights based on your experience.

When reporting to leadership team you will easily instill confidence in your ability by having an in depth knowledge of the subject matter. This will ease any concerns the leadership team might have about certain aspects of the project. That said just expert power without project management training will not ensure a successful delivered project.

Expert Power Pros and Cons

  • Seen as an authority on the project by default as team members will look to you for guidance either technically or based on past experience
  • Don’t need to rely on others for advice or to help remove blockers from the team.
  • It takes experience to build up expert power which means some project managers might struggle attain this if they switch between industries
  • Can require outside of work time to keep up skill level within an area or subject.

Gaining Expert Power

Coercive Power

Project managers should avoid coercive power as much as possible. The use of threats is not a practice that should be used in a healthy project management environment.

Conclusion of Expert Power Dynamics in Workplace

Relying on just expert power can be a critical mistake for a new project manger. Not only will they will still need to utilize project management skills such as project planning, managing risks, communicating changes, managing updates, informing stakeholders but they should look at improving their reward and referent power too.

As in modern project management a project manager will utilize various types of power. They should not be held back based on the organization they are working within. It is good to recognize the type of organization you as a project manager are working within. From weak matrix to fully projectized environment. It helps to understand power dynamics between you and functional managers within an organization to determine who has authority and not.

Having the skillset to deliver projects regardless of organization is the test of a true project manager. Having the ability to leverage expert power requires lots of time but can be critical to building confidence in your ability. A quick win that every project manager should look at utilizing is reward power.

Recognizing team members or stakeholders efforts with a simple thank you can be instrumental to build up a relationship and happy team member. It cost nothing to say thank you. You can go above an beyond by having printed certificates or simple thank you notes. It all makes a difference.

Project Management Templates

To help you become a better project manager we have gathered some useful templates you ca use in your day to day.

Scroll to Top

beware

WE HAVE A WEEKLY Newsletter
That Will Help You Deliver Better Projects & PRODUCTS