Developing your own expert power can be a great way to further your career
Whether you're in a leadership position at your company or simply a valued team member, it's important to understand the important role that power plays in an organization. Moreover, you need to understand the various ways that people use power. For example, some exercise power through coercion and fear, while others use rewards and positive encouragement. Some rely on traditional power structures for their authority, even as others earn spheres of influence based on their expertise, or expert power.
In this post, we'll explore the concept of expert power and examine its importance in any workplace environment. We'll also consider its potential benefits and limitations and offer some tips you can use to develop your own expert power.
What is expert power?
Unlike positional power, which is derived from job titles and hierarchical structures, expert power is a form of personal power that can be acquired by being the best at what you do. This type of power is entirely based on your knowledge and expertise and can be wielded by even low-level employees. The key is to have expertise that others lack, while possessing the ability and willingness to employ that knowledge in ways that benefit those around you.
When you have expert power, others will turn to you for advice or assistance on matters related to your area of expertise. They'll respect your knowledge and value your skills and insights. In addition, leaders in the company will be more likely to give you greater responsibility and seek out your help for any challenges that require your expertise.
It's also important to understand that true expert power comes from actual expertise rather than a position of authority. While many employees automatically assume that managers and leaders possess more expertise than their subordinates, that is not always true. Your manager may hold power by virtue of position and yet still need to rely on subordinates' expertise in various areas of the job.
Examples of expert power
Expert power can be found in a variety of work environments across virtually all industries. To see just how important this type of power can be, consider the examples of expertise-based power listed below.
Employees with technical expertise
As technology has advanced in recent decades, people with specific technological prowess are in greater demand than ever before. Employees who develop expertise with various software, hardware, and networking technology often accumulate expert power in settings where they are more knowledgeable than their peers. That expertise enables them to acquire influence and may ensure that others seek out their input for problem-solving, decision-making, and new tech-based projects.
Obviously, people with formal medical training are considered experts in their field. That expertise gives them the credibility they need to ensure that patients follow their medical guidance. Doctors with even more specialized training can amass even greater expert power, as general practitioners rely on them for advanced diagnosis and treatment options.
Lawyers and other legal professionals
Like doctors and nurses, legal professionals need to acquire a great deal of specialized knowledge and insight to practice their craft. This expertise is relied upon by other lawyers and judges, as well as individual and corporate clients. As they provide legal counsel to their clients, courts, and even political bodies, these attorneys can have a powerful influence on individuals, companies, and public policy.
Financial experts are another great example of this type of expertise-based power. Accountants, wealth management professionals, and Financial Advisors all provide specific, specialized counsel to their clients and employers. When non-experts need financial advice, they tend to defer to these professionals to ensure that they make the best possible decisions.
Leaders with specialized knowledge
Business owners, managers, and other leaders can also wield expert power when they have specialized knowledge about certain areas of business. For example, a business owner who developed a better way to build a mousetrap would clearly have expert power that would earn their employees' respect. A manager with specific and unique technology skills would be in a similar position of expert power.
Of course, these managers and leaders would also possess clear positional power, but that added expert power can offer another avenue of influence as they seek to lead and motivate their teams. Top leaders who can influence their employees through the sharing of knowledge, rather than through other forms of power, can often develop a more positive and collaborative work culture.
How can expert power benefit your team?
While expert power may be simple to understand from a conceptual standpoint, its importance in the workplace may be less clear. So, why is expertise-based power so invaluable? To answer that question, we need to consider several key benefits that you, your team, and your company can enjoy when this type of power dynamic is present.
Another path to career advancement
There is something to be said for making yourself an invaluable asset in your company. When you have specific skills and knowledge that no one else possesses, others will recognize your expertise and your sphere of influence can increase. Over time, that increase in influence translates into real perceived power that you can leverage for increased responsibility, promotions, and other benefits. If you continue to build your knowledge base or expand your in-demand skills, that power is likely to continue to increase.
Enhanced motivation at team level
Expertise has its own way of inspiring others on your team to achieve more than they otherwise might. When your colleagues believe that you're an expert that they can rely on to help the team overcome any challenge, that confidence can motivate them to push their own boundaries. Their trust in your abilities and your willingness to help them to overcome obstacles can be an empowering influence that elevates your team's productivity and performance to new heights.
Potential for others to gain expertise
Expert power can empower those around you by inspiring them to gain their own advanced skills sets and areas of expertise. This form of leading by example can motivate your colleagues to become experts in specific areas, as they model your behavior of personal and professional development. This can help to contribute to a culture of knowledge and expertise in your workplace, strengthen your entire team, and provide a host of benefits to the company.
Development of a leadership culture throughout your organization
People naturally turn to experts for advice and assistance, which can help to push those experts into informal leadership roles. As an expert, you will invariably develop and hone certain leadership skills as you assist others and use your knowledge to lead them to the right answers to their questions. On a company-wide level, the development of an expert culture can help to create a new and powerful leadership culture as well.
Limitations of expert power
Since expert power comes from you having knowledge and skills that no one else possesses, there are some obvious limitations that may present themselves over time. By recognizing these potential weaknesses in this type of power, you can work to counter their impact and prevent any loss in your expertise and effectiveness. Below are some of the most common downsides to this type of power.
It can stifle decision-making if used improperly
When others are consistently turning to you for advice and decision-making, there is always the potential for you to lose sight of other perspectives. While it's important to recognize the value of your own knowledge, skills, and opinions, it's also vital that you continue to be open to other points of view. This potential downside is less of a risk when your power is exclusively tied to your expertise and the ultimate decisions are made by managers or other higher-ups. However, when you're in a position of authority and also wield expert power, there's an increased risk that you'll lose sight of other potential solutions and points of view.
Expertise needs to be maintained
No matter your area of expertise, it will diminish over time if you fail to continue to learn and increase your knowledge base and skills. The problem is that human knowledge is constantly increasing and you need to keep pace with those advancements if you want to maintain your expert power. In addition, there's always the potential that others in your company may gain their own expertise and thus reduce your power, or that new employees with similar expertise may be hired.
Shared knowledge can cause a loss of expert power
As an expert, your colleagues and superiors will naturally expect you to share at least some of your expertise with the team. As you do so, you will be directly enhancing others' level of expertise. For example, if you're the only one on your team who understands how to perform a certain set of tasks, your expert power will diminish as you teach others what you know. If your role requires you to share your expertise, you will need to continue to expand your field of knowledge if you want to maintain the same levels of expertise-based power and influence.
Some coworkers may be resistant to relying on experts
Ego can also present challenges in any expert-driven work environment. Unfortunately, some people who lack expertise of their own may feel resentment when they are forced to rely on an expert to get things done. That resentment can disrupt team harmony, and even impact productivity, due to unaddressed personality conflicts. Anyone wielding expert power needs to be aware of this potential problem, so that they can focus on presenting their expertise in a non-threatening and humble way.
How to boost your own expert power
Whether you're a leader or an entry-level employee, it's possible to boost your own expert power. However, that won't happen overnight or by accident. Instead, you'll need to ensure that you work on increasing your knowledge base while cultivating an array of critical interpersonal skills. The following tips can help:
1. Select your area of interest
Before you can gain expertise and develop expert power, you first need to identify the area of interest that you want to study. Obviously, no one can become an expert on all things, so you'll need to be selective about which aspect of your job and industry you want to focus on. If possible, try to select an area of expertise that meets an existing need in your company or industry.
2. Start to build expertise
Once you've identified your area of interest, you'll need to devote both time and effort to gaining knowledge and building skills that will create real expertise. There are a number of options you can use to learn this information and become the expert you want to be, including:
Continuing education classes, either in-person or online
Participating in workshops related to your field of interest
Getting hands-on training from another expert
Staying up to date on trends and advancements in your industry
3. Work on your communication skills
Expert power is useless if you don't know how to convey your expertise to others or use your knowledge to assist them. You will need to build effective communication skills to ensure that you're able to express yourself and pass on ideas and information to those who need it. Practice both verbal and written communications, as well as the key active listening skills you'll need to engage in effective interpersonal exchanges of information.
4. Become a problem-solver
Of course, your expertise will only be truly valuable if it can be used to overcome challenges and solve problems. When someone comes to you for expert advice or assistance, you need to be able to help them solve their issues. To learn more about critical problem-solving skills, check out our post, How to List Problem-Solving Skills on a Resume.
5. Be willing to share knowledge
You also need to know how to share your expertise with others. While you might be tempted to hoard your knowledge and force others to rely on your expertise, that path almost always leads to resentment and other interpersonal conflicts. You should be eager to share your insights, technical expertise, and guidance with your coworkers, managers, and subordinates.
6. Remain humble
Never use your expertise as a weapon. Instead, remain humble and open to others' ideas and opinions. This is an important part of the expertise-building process, since it can help you to build trust with everyone on your team and ensure that others feel comfortable relying on you. If you're arrogant or manipulative, you'll end up with diminished power since no one will turn to you for help.
7. Learn how to lead by example
As you develop your expertise, you need to also focus on being reliable, supportive, and accountable to others. This flexible and collaborative approach will help to ensure that you're leading others by setting a positive example that encourages them to become more knowledgeable. They may be so inspired by your commitment to learning that they adopt the same mindset.
8. Commit to lifelong learning
As you might have guessed, commitment to learning needs to be ongoing. Since shared expertise can mean a loss in expert power, you'll need to continually focus on learning new things and advancing your skills. This can help to ensure that you remain on the cutting edge of knowledge in your field, while simultaneously maintaining your expertise and expert power. If you fail to continually learn and improve your skills, you'll see that power diminish over time.
One way to maintain your competitive edge is to focus on expanding and deepening your professional network. There's always someone who knows more about your field of expertise than you do and you should be eager to connect and learn from them. Take time to identify the experts in your industry and connect with influential people who can help to guide you and offer new insights and direction. Building up your network can also be an important way to boost your own credibility and make you more visible as an expert in your own right.
Develop your expert power to advance your career!
Power that is based on expertise is one of the few types of power available to workers at every level of an organization. Even entry-level employees can enjoy this type of expert power if they have specific knowledge and skills that others lack. By learning how to develop your own expertise, you too can begin to enjoy this kind of expanded influence and expedite your career advancement.
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