By Fred Nickols

Students of organizations are familiar with the distinction drawn between what some call “positional power” (i.e., formal authority) and “personal power” (the kind of influence you exercise based on your style, personality, or charisma). To these two can be added a third: the power, authority, and influence that you exercise by virtue of your knowledge and expertise. This is your “professional power.” These three forms of power, authority, and influence form a pyramid (see Figure 1).


Figure 1. The Power Pyramid

The Power Pyramid shows personal power as the base because it is the most pervasive of the three; it is the foundation for the other two. Your personality and style carry over into the way you exercise the authority of your position and in the way you work or apply your knowledge and skills as a professional, especially in interactions with others. Your personality puts indelible marks on those interactions.  Positional power reflects your formal or official influence over matters like resource allocations, work assignments, and budget control. As mentioned above, professional power is the kind of influence that your knowledge and skills or expertise earns you in the eyes of others. In a very real sense, positional power is assigned, personal power is granted, and professional power is earned.

The three sides of the pyramid are shown as roughly equal in Figure 1 but that is not necessarily the case. Some people rely almost entirely on their positional authority or power; some rely mainly on their expertise or professional authority; and some rely mostly on their personal power as their chief means of influencing others. All of us exercise influence (with varying degrees of success) based on some mix of the three kinds of power. The mix of these three kinds of power defines your power profile.

With that in mind, here are a couple of interesting, fun, and, hopefully, informative exercises for you.

Using the diagram in Figure 2, take stock of the extent to which you rely on each of the three bases of power, influence, and authority. Rate each on the scale from 0 to 4. Place a dot on each scale where you rate yourself. Then connect the dots and see what your power profile looks like.

Again, using the diagram in Figure 2, ask others to rate you from their perspectives. See what kind of power profile they assign to your exercise of power, authority, and influence.


Figure 2. Rating Your Power, Influence, and Authority

To illustrate, consider Figure 3, which shows what I see as my power profile.


Figure 3. Author’s Power Profile

As you can see, my perception of myself is that I rely mainly on my professional expertise, secondarily on my personality, and least of all on my positional power or authority. However, that might not be what others see.

By way of further illustration consider the three stereotypes shown in Figure 4.


Figure 4. Personal Power Stereotypes

So think it over then take stock of your view of your Power Profile and, if you are so inclined, check with others to find out what they see when they look at ways you exercise the three kinds of power. You can use the diagram in Figure 2 to plot your power profile. Then ask yourself one simple question: How is that working for me? Think about it.

ToolsKWcoverAbout the Author
Fred Nickols is the managing partner of Distance Consulting, LLC. He maintains a website at, and he can be reached via email at The power profile is just one of the many tools he has created for use by knowledge workers. He recently published a Kindle book titled Tools for Knowledge Workers (Vol. 1). It can be accessed by clicking on the image (left) or at