Expert Power in Leadership: Definition, Examples & Quiz
In this lesson, you will find out what expert power is, learn some of its important concepts, and be provided examples illustrating its use. You'll have an opportunity to take a short quiz after the lesson.
Expert power is power based upon employees' perception that a manager or some other member of an organization has a high level of knowledge or a specialized set of skills that other employees or members of the organization do not possess.
Expert power can actually turn power dynamics upside down because its use is not limited to the formal leaders of an organization. Any member of an organization who has a high level of knowledge or a set of specialized skills that others in the organization do not posses may exert expert power. For example, let's say you're a high-paid lawyer at a Wall Street law firm. You must have a case filed with the court by the end of the day or your client loses the right to file the lawsuit, which happens to be worth millions of dollars. Your word processing program crashes, and you think you may have lost the legal complaint. The court clerk's office closes in less than one hour--not nearly enough time to redraft. You approach your secretary to see if she can do anything. All of a sudden, you find yourself at the mercy of a secretary who tells you that the file can be recovered if you follow her directions. For that brief moment, who had the power? Who follows whose order?
There's a catch-22 when power is based upon expert authority, which can be a huge disadvantage to both the manager and the organization. The power a person is able to exert because of her expertise will diminish if she shares her knowledge. Why? As others learn the knowledge and skills from the leader sharing her expertise, the respect for her superiority based on such knowledge and skills diminish because they are no longer unique or specialized. A manager has two choices: share the knowledge or withhold the knowledge. If the knowledge is shared, the manager's authority will decrease overtime. However, if the knowledge is withheld, the organization will not be as effective as it could be over time.
Let's say that you are a software engineer recently hired to lead the development of a new interactive 3-D action video game. You have a great deal of experience and have developed some new techniques that will bring gaming up a notch. Your team, and even your direct supervisor, is in awe of your skills. They come to you for help in writing the programming code they have been assigned to compose. You teach them some of your techniques, and you become the go-to guy on the team and in the department. However, after about six months, almost all of your team members, and quite a view of the department members, have learned your tricks, and you are no longer sought out or listened to as much as you were before you shared your knowledge. You once were able to exert expert power, but that power has been severely diminished as you shared the knowledge.
Expert power is power based upon the perceived superior knowledge or specialized skills of any member of an organization. Sometimes the expert exerting power is not even technically the formal superior in the organizational relationship, like a lawyer relying upon a secretary for help with a computer program. A significant disadvantage to expert power is that if the expert's knowledge is shared, his power will probably diminish over time; however, if the expert does not share his knowledge, then the organization will not be as effective.
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