by | Jul 25, 2018 | BCS Management, Project Management


Everyone can quickly name at least five people that they believe to be powerful.  Try it without looking at the header photo in this post.

Name Five Powerful People

Chances are you will list a US President or two, another politician, a CEO of a company, a well known and highly successful business person or maybe even your own boss or supervisor at your place of employment (some people might name a Hollywood celebrity ………..fine).

These people derive their perceived power from what are commonly referred to as positional power sources. Social Psychologists John French and Bertram Raven studied the basis of power in the 1950s and derived a list of power sources.  The result of their study is still the standard reference to power types used in leadership courses and seminars around the world.

Positional Power Sources:

  • Legitimate – also referred to as position power. This is the CEO, the supervisor, the President.  These people have power over others strictly due to the position they hold.
  • Reward – ability to give. Money, contracts, things…..
  • Coercive – ability to take away or punish.
  • Information (added to the list in the 1960s) – having control over information others need or want to accomplish something.


It’s fairly obvious how these types of power are derived and how they can be used (or abused) to influence others. What if you don’t have any of these “chips”? Does it mean you have no power and have no hope of obtaining it?  Absolutely not.


Fortunately for those who are not the CEO, not the President and not wealthy, it does not mean you cannot have power and influence over others.

Most people forget about the personal power sources.  Although not as obvious or easy to measure, personal power sources can be substantially more influential in achieving greater change and maintaining influence over longer periods of time than any of the positional power sources.

  • Expert – having knowledge and skills that enable you to provide solutions, subject matter experts, capability reputation.  People who know their stuff have power.
  • Referent – comes from a person liking or respecting another.  Celebrities and some politicians have referent power. People in the work place who make people feel good have referent power. You don’t really have to do or have anything to earn referent power, it can just happen to you and therefore be abused.

Power, whether real or perceived, is an intangible resource and subjective measure of influence over others.

Is there really any difference between “real” or perceived power?


No matter who you are, or what your position is in your workplace or society in general, you can have power and influence.  You can start by being a decent and likable person (referent power).

As a project manager or member of a project team it is important to understand these sources of power and how they can impact team dynamics and project progression or hinderance.