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    Influence and Authority

    Organizational behaviour includes the study of what motivates people to change their behaviour. For business managers, managing a subordinate's performance often involves influence, the ability to have a subordinate conform to expectations – to say “yes.” Power refers to this ability to influence others. Authority makes the use of power legitimate. Formal authority comes from a position or a title. Informal authority arises from a consensus by others that your power is legitimate – for example, you may have informal authority if you are the smartest or hardest working member of a team.

    In her book “Becoming a Manager”1 Harvard Business School Professor Linda A. Hill identifies the challenges new managers face as they learn to go from relying on formal authority to establishing credibility, building subordinate commitment and learning to lead the group. While formal authority is one source of power, there are other sources of power important for business managers.

    Sources of power are divided into two broad groups: positional and personal power. Positional power includes legitimacy (authority, especially formal authority), rewards (the ability to give rewards) and coercive power (the ability to threaten punishment). Personal Power includes expertise, referent power (engendering admiration), and connections or networking. Having reliable information also engenders a person with the ability to influence others, and this can be seen as either positional or personal depending on the circumstances.

    While sources of power enable people to wield influence, influence itself can be broken down into its own components. In the book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” psychology professor Robert Cialdini suggests six “Weapons of Influence.”2

    1. Reciprocity – I scratch your back, you scratch mine.
    2. Commitment and Consistency – Once people commit to an idea, especially if they commit ‘out loud’, they do not like to change their mind.
    3. Social Proof – The more people that act a certain way the more that behaviour is believed to be acceptable.
    4. Authority – People obey those with power.
    5. Liking – We tend to be influenced more by people we like, and we tend to like people more if they are similar to us or if we have a relationship with them.
    6. Scarcity – The more scare a resource appears, the more value we attach to it.

    Being able to exercise influence and authority is an important skill for business managers to be effective leaders. As such, influence and authority go hand in hand with leadership skills, communication skills, motivation, building relationships and trust, and building and managing teams.


    1. Hill, L. (2003). Becoming a Manager. Harvard Business Review Press: Boston.
    2. Cialdini, R. (2001). Influence: Science and Practice. Pearson: Needham Heights.  

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