4 Types of Power to Move to the Next Level in Your Career

When you start a new job, you most likely spend many hours trying to become an expert. Mastering every detail of your current job often serves as a useful strategy for keeping yourself in your current role.  Which is fine if that is what you want. But if your goal is to move to a higher level, your expertise alone is probably not going to get you there.

This might come as a shock if you’ve assumed expertise is the surest route to to the next level, and assured your work is perfect. It may feel proactive, but it can set you up to remain on an endless treadmill, constantly setting a higher bar for yourself as you seek to always go the extra mile. Not to mention that it can lead to burnout.

Meanwhile, your colleagues may be taking a different route, doing the job well enough while also focusing on building the relationships and visibility that will get them to the next level.

That’s because the top jobs are more often about managing and leading people who have expertise, not providing the expertise yourself.

This is true for several reasons. First, learning every detail to perfection uses up a lot of energy, leaving little time to develop the relationships you need to move ahead. Second, your efforts to do everything perfectly demonstrate that you’re perfect for the job you already have. Third, the expertise you develop makes you indispensable to your boss, who will logically want to keep you where you are.

So what can you do if you want to progress to the next level in your career?

There are four types of power that can help. 1

A simple definition of power is “influence potential.” If you want to influence the world in a positive way, you have to have power.

The first kind of power is the power of expertise. Companies are reliant on human talent to create, prototype, and distribute products whose value lies in the specialized knowledge vested in their processes and design. But cultivating expertise at the expense of other kinds of power will not position you as a leader.

The second kind of power is the power of connections, or the power of whom you know. Connections serve as a kind of currency you can use to get resources moving and assure your contributions get noticed. Your relationships comprise an ever-greater part of your value as you rise.

The third kind of power is the power of personal authorityPositional authority may get results in the short run, but only personal authority will create trust, loyalty, and a deep connection to your vision and values. Expertise and connections can help establish personal authority, but there’s always another element: a strong presence, a way of speaking and listening that inspires loyalty and trust, or some people call it the “IT” factor. This can also be a part of your personal branding. Personal authority is what sets the most successful leaders apart, whether or not their authority is tied to position.

The fourth kind of power is the power of position, or where you stand in the organization. The person who holds positional power gets to make the key decisions. Positional power is most effective when supported by the power of personal authority. Without it, others may not trust their leader’s decisions.

Expertise, connections, and personal authority are all non-positional kinds of power you can nurture and practice throughout your career. The trick is to excel at the first three types of power so that you will be ready when the fourth one comes your way.

[1] How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back from Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith, Ch 7