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Expert Power: 14 Tips to Harness Power in The Workplace

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Have you noticed that folks who have specific expertise in the workplace often get new opportunities, respect from their peers, and have more influence? This is expert power at play.

In this article, learn how to identify and leverage your expert power, cultivate it from scratch, and empower your team to find their expert power.

What is Expert Power?

Expert power is the power and influence of having unique skills or expertise in a particular area that others value. People possessing expert power are often highly respected and trusted for their knowledge and skills, and therefore, they can influence decisions, directions, and behaviors in a group or organization.

Your expertise gives you trust and power in all kinds of ways. For example, this study1 found that the key factor for salespeople to win over customers’ trust is the customer’s perception of their expertise.

Here are a few examples to help better understand the concept:

  • The social media savvy intern: In a traditional company unfamiliar with social media, a young intern with a deep understanding of the unwritten norms of TikTok and Instagram would, despite only being an intern, have expert power. They can influence the company’s marketing approach and potentially substantially change the brand’s online presence.
  • Communication and body language expert. Are you excellent at reading people? Do you have an innate sense of body language and facial expressions? Consider studying body language cues and communication frameworks and be the person people come to when they need advice on people. Read Cues. Join our communication master course: People School.
  • IT specialist with cybersecurity expertise: In a team of IT specialists, one member might have deep expertise in cybersecurity, a field not all IT professionals are trained in. This specialist could influence decisions related to the company’s data protection measures, network configurations, and responses to potential security threats, and this specialist might have more power than their peers.
  • Project manager with cross-cultural competence: A project manager can possess expert power in a multinational company. Their proficiency in multiple languages and understanding cultural norms can significantly influence team structuring, communication, and conflict-resolution methods in global projects. Their unique skills make them a valuable resource, granting them expert power.

How to Leverage The Expert Power You Already Have

You likely already have at least some expert power in your workplace, whether you know it or not. Let’s look at how to figure out where you have expert power and how to use it.

First, identify your expert power. This is a crucial first step. Get very clear on where you have expert power. Here are a few steps to follow:

  1. Assess your skills and knowledge directly related to your role: Look at what you bring to the table that is unique or highly specialized. It could be technical skills, industry knowledge, or soft skills such as negotiation or emotional intelligence. What about your role? Are you the best at it?

Action Step: List 10 types of skills and knowledge related to your job description that you are good at

  1. Assess your skills and knowledge not linked to your role: Now it’s time to get creative in discovering your expert power. What is something you are very good at (or even know how to do) that others in your company aren’t? You may be fluent in Dutch or are very tuned into activist issues. Not all your talents will translate into expert power in your job, but some might surprise you.

This study2 suggests that for managers, general knowledge of their professional core increases their power most. In contrast, salaried workers’ deep understanding of peripheral areas (such as an architect who knows a lot about engineering) increases their power.

Action Step: List 10 skills you have, not necessarily related to your job, that many of your coworkers might lack

  1. Reflect on feedback: Pay attention to the feedback you receive from others. If people often seek your advice on specific topics, it indicates an area where you might hold expert power. Do you constantly receive recognition for your negotiation skills? Or people may be impressed at how you approach problem-solving. You could ask your boss and teammates what they think you’re uniquely good at.

Action Step: Ask your boss and three colleagues for positive feedback. You could do this over email or in person. You could say, “I’m trying to get a better sense of what my strengths and expertise are. Can you tell me what you think I’m uniquely good at or what unique expertise I could better leverage?”

If you feel like your area of expertise is social skills, or if you want this to be your expert area, then you might love this free goodie:

Next, go over your list above. Look for overlap or any items that stick out to you. Once you land on one or two of your skills, then consider the following steps:

  1. Position yourself as a resource: Once you’ve identified your area of expertise, make it known. Offer assistance, provide advice, and share your insights when relevant.

Action Step: Challenge yourself to support your colleagues in your area of expertise three times this week. 

For example, let’s say your company just expanded into a Dutch market, and you are of Dutch heritage and fluent in Dutch. Maybe you can weave into your next conversation something like, “If you ever need help understanding how this would land with a Dutch consumer, let me know; I’d be happy to help.”

  1. Share your knowledge: My partner used to work at a marketing agency, and one of their coworkers recognized that he had expert power in productivity. So he asked the company if he could give free productivity coaching sessions to any interested colleagues. He essentially gave himself a new (unpaid) position to share his wisdom and solidify his position as someone with expert power in productivity. 

Action Step: Pick one of these formats to offer your knowledge:

  • Write an article for the company
  • Give free training to your colleagues
  • Offer free coaching sessions to your colleagues
  1. Keep learning: Expert power can fade if your knowledge becomes outdated. Keep learning, stay up-to-date with industry trends, and continuously broaden your expertise.

For example, consider an IT manager with expert power in traditional data management. This manager must adapt their knowledge base as cloud computing and AI dominate. 

Action Step: Pick a book or course on your area of expertise and go one level deeper.

How to Gain Expert Power From Scratch

If you went through the previous section on how to identify your expert power and felt like there was nothing you could grasp onto, then worry not. You can start from scratch and cultivate expert power in your chosen topic. Here are the simple steps.

  1. Identify your niche: Choose a field, subject, or skill set that aligns with your interests and your organization’s needs. Make sure it’s something you’d enjoy; otherwise, the motivation to learn it will be more difficult. And make sure it’s something your company or industry would benefit from. Learning to build a website will translate better than mastering Fortnite. Lastly, look for skills that will become more valuable in the future.

Action Step: List 5 skills you’d love to learn if you had infinite time. Then, list five skills you think would make you more valuable at work. Then, list five skills you feel would make you more valuable for most jobs ten years later. Then, either pick one of these skills or keep brainstorming until you find one that feels like a “yes.” 

If you need help, enlist your manager for their support and guidance.

  1. Invest in education and training: Now comes the fun part: you get to learn! Pursue relevant courses, certifications, or degrees. Attend workshops, seminars, and conferences. 

Gaining expert knowledge also isn’t as intimidating as you might think. Business guru Seth Godin3 puts forth a compelling point:

If you invest 100 hours in a rare skill, you will likely acquire it. Suppose you could learn to sharpen a tool better than your peers, organize a high-performance database, see the nuances in some sector of cryptography, know how to build a pretty-good WordPress site or understand the arc of a particular writer’s career. In that case, you’d have something of value. Something that anyone who was focused enough to invest 100 hours could have, but only some will choose to commit to.

Action Step: Once you’ve determined your skill, pick your first learning direction. Whether a book, a course, or a workshop. Take the first step.

  1. Build a learning plan: It will take 100 hours to set yourself apart from your peers and open your path to expert knowledge. One hundred hours is very manageable. And it’s a big enough number to scare many off the path. 

Action Step: Set up a learning plan for your skill. Do you want to put in 2 hours a week for the next year? Or would you make it a part-time job and slam 25 hours a week for the next month? 

  1. Prepare yourself for the dip: Seth Godin also talks about a phenomenon called “the dip4,” when we want to quit our endeavor because it’s too tough. This is why picking something you enjoy is helpful because your natural enjoyment is one of the best motivators to get you through any dip. Recognize the dip is coming, and plan for it.

Action Step: Write out your “why.” Why do you want to learn this skill? What will it give you? Why will it be worth it? When you inevitably encounter the dip, pull out your “why” statement to return to your motivation.

How a Leader Can Help Others Find Their Expert Power

If you’re a team leader, then you are in a unique position where you can help others cultivate more expert power. It will require you to take on an encouraging attitude and follow some of these tips.

  1. Identify their strengths and interests: First, get clear on the expertise you see in your team members. Where do their talents lie? What are they passionate about? Where can they excel? Many people have incredible skills and knowledge but lack the belief in themself to see it.
  1. You could help a copywriter identify their knack for storytelling and encourage them to specialize in brand narrative development. Or a project coordinator’s passion for data might be channeled into becoming an analytics and performance tracking expert. Or you may notice one of your programmer’s interest in UI/UX design.

Action Step: Take a few minutes to contemplate the following questions for each of your team members:

  • What is this person uniquely good at?
  • What skillset or knowledge base is this person uniquely tapped into?
  • If I wanted to attend a workshop, this person led, which topic would be most fitting?
  1. Help them clarify their area of expertise: The best way for someone to leverage their expert knowledge is if they know what it is. You can be a huge force in their self-knowledge and empowerment. As a bonus, strengths-based feedback5 increases employee engagement, motivation, and job satisfaction.

Action Step: In your next 1-on-1 with one of your team members, discuss expert power. 

  • Let them know what you think their strengths and skills are from the brainstorming above.
  • Ask them what they think they have expertise in, and
  • Brainstorm ways to help them excel even further
  1. Sponsor trainings: Make room in your budget to promote learning. Or propose to whoever is in charge of the budget to sponsor extended education for team members. The more they learn, the more expert power they’ll cultivate and the more effective they will be at work.

According to a massive survey by Linkedin6, 94% of employees would stay longer at a company that invests in their professional development.

Action Step: Determine how much money you’d want to invest in each of your team member’s education, and make a pitch to the budget manager.

  1. Promote knowledge sharing: Foster a culture of knowledge sharing within the team. Encourage team members to conduct presentations, lead workshops, or mentor their colleagues in their areas of expertise. The more you can build a strengths-based team, the more expert power you can promote. 

Action Step: Create a 15-minute weekly meeting where each team member can give a talk on a topic where they have expertise.

Where the Term “Expert Power” Came From

“Expert power” is one of the types of social power identified in the 1959 study by social psychologists John French and Bertram Raven7,both%20the%20influencee%20and%20influencer.

French and Raven’s original study defined five forms of power, though a sixth was added later. Here are the other types of power:

Reward power: This form of power involves the control of resources that others want. Imagine a supervisor who offers either a promotion or a flexible work schedule to an employee who consistently completes their tasks efficiently and ahead of time.

Coercive power: The opposite of reward power, coercive power refers to the ability to punish or impose negative consequences. This manager threatens to demote employees if they don’t improve their performance by a certain deadline.

Legitimate power: This is the formal power that comes from being elected to office, appointed as a boss, or given some other type of authority.

Referent power: This type of power comes from being admired or respected. It is often linked with charismatic leadership; people are influenced because they like or identify with the person.

Informational power: This form of power refers to control over valuable or critical information. Think of a data analyst with unique access to company performance metrics and use this data to help inform strategic decisions.

These types of power are not mutually exclusive, and an individual can hold multiple types of power simultaneously.  

Frequently Asked Questions About Expert Power

Why is expert power important?

Expert power is important because it allows individuals to influence decisions and behaviors in an organization based on their unique skills and specialized knowledge.

What is expert power in the workplace?

Expert power in the workplace refers to the influence a person gains from their unique or highly specialized skills and knowledge valued in the organization.

What is expert power in leadership?

Expert power in a leadership role refers to the influence a leader has over their team or organization due to their unique knowledge, skills, or expertise in a specific area. Expert power is one of the many leadership skills you can cultivate.

What are some examples of expert power?

Some examples of expert power include a social media-savvy intern influencing a company’s online marketing strategy or a bilingual employee guiding a company’s expansion into new international markets.

How to increase expert power?

​​To increase expert power, one can continually update their knowledge and skills, position themselves as a resource, share their expertise with others, and actively identify and nurture their unique strengths and interests.

What is the advantage of expert power?

The advantage of expert power is that it establishes a person as a valued resource within a group or organization, often leading to increased influence, trust, and credibility among peers and superiors. Expert power’s benefits apply to the person with the expertise and the company.

When to use expert power?

Expert power should be used whenever a person’s unique skills, knowledge, or expertise can contribute to better decision-making, problem-solving, or strategy in a group or organization.

Takeaways on Expert Power

Expert power is the influence you gain when you have deep knowledge of a particular skill set.

Some folks have expert power but haven’t leveraged it. To help identify where you might have untapped expert power, it could be useful to:

  • Assess your job-related skills by making a list of 10 skills and strengths you have
  • Assess skills you have not directly related to your job by making another list of 10 skills you have outside of work
  • Use feedback to understand your skills by asking your boss and colleagues what they perceive as your unique skills and knowledge.

Once you know your area of expertise, you can leverage it by:

  • Positioning yourself as a resource and offering your skills to help others whenever you can
  • Sharing your knowledge by writing an article, hosting a training, or offering free coaching around your skillset
  • Continue your learning to make sure your skill set only gets stronger.

If you need more expert skills, picking one up is easy! Just do the following:

  • Identify your niche by brainstorming skills you want to learn, skills that’d benefit your company, and skills that will become more relevant as time goes on
  • Invest in education. Have fun with it! Pick a book or training that excites you
  • Build a learning plan by deciding how quickly you want to pick up your new skill
  • Prepare yourself for the dip by writing why you want to learn this skill and returning to that manifesto when you want to quit.

If you are a leader and want to empower your team members to develop their expert power, consider these steps:

  • Brainstorm the strengths and interests of your team members
  • Help them clarify their area of expertise in your next 1-on-1 by providing what you see as their unique skills and asking what they think they are good at
  • Sponsor trainings for your employees to develop their skills and knowledge base to become more proficient
  • Build a work culture of knowledge sharing by giving different employees space to present their expertise.

There you have it! Best of luck on your journey towards developing your expert power or helping others develop theirs.

If you are interested in learning more about power and how to attain different kinds of power, then you may enjoy this article.

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