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Expert Power in Leadership: Examples | What is Expert Power?

Jennifer Carnevale, Shawn Grimsley
  • Author
    Jennifer Carnevale

    Jennifer taught 9th grade ELA and AP Literature for over 8 years. She has a dual master's in English Literature and Teaching Secondary Ed from Simmons University and a BS in Psychology. She is a full-time senior content writer and certified AP Test Reader.

  • Instructor
    Shawn Grimsley

    Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

Learn the expert power definition and see why it is valuable in business. See an expert power example and learn tips on building an expert power in leadership. Updated: 04/29/2021

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Expert Power Definition

When a person holds power, they possess control or authority over others and have the ability to influence. The concept of power can exist in myriad forms and environments and can range from something as simple as telling a child when to go to bed to deciding a national law. The expert power definition encompasses the same authority but exists within organizations.

An expert is defined as someone with a special skill or superior knowledge. Expert power is perceived power held by a leader or authority figure based on a specific topic with information or a skill that no one else possesses. Those without the skill or knowledge are beholden to this expert to guide them in various ways. This perception is based on the expert's perceived and or actual level of knowledge and unique skill sets.

The expert power definition is not limited to organizational leaders, as power structures exist in many different forms and places. Anyone within an organization that has expert knowledge or a skill set others don't possess can hold this form of power. From team captains in sports to the directors of Homeland Security in the White House, expert power exists to maintain order, inform, inspire, and create efficiency.

Expert power is important because it does the following:

  • Impacts the confidence of those working under the leader/expert
  • Gives businesses and organizations notoriety
  • Helps businesses and organizations run efficiently
  • Evokes growth, change, and a positive work environment

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Expert Power Example

Expert power can manifest in myriad ways and there are various intersections of expert knowledge that people can hold. Here is one expert power example to showcase the definition and intersections of power.

Lawyers are highly skilled professionals who possess knowledge bases that vary. They can be experts in different fields including intellectual property, real estate law, and criminal law to name a few. A lawyer will most likely be an expert in one field as opposed to many because of the knowledge needed for each type of practice.

Take criminal law for example. Criminal lawyers are experts in this field, but within this group, there will be those who are deemed expert powers. If someone has tried and won more cases, or they work for a big-name firm that many know to be successful, these few may be looked at as superior to those who also practice the same kind of law. Here, the perception of power is just as important as the actual skill sets and knowledge when defining and perceiving expert power.

Lawyers use their expert power in court cases to help their clients.
Lawyers use expert power in court.

However, computer processing and spreadsheets might not be a lawyer's forte. Therefore, in a situation where data is needed, they may turn to an administrative assistant or intern who understands a database system such as Microsoft Access. In this case, the assistant or intern holds the expert power as the lawyer cannot complete their job without the data. While we may have a perceived bias that lawyers are more knowledgeable or powerful than administrative assistants or interns, in this situation, the lawyer's assistant holds expert power and the dynamic is flipped.

If the intern or assistant takes the time to teach the lawyer how to use the database, the lawyer will be less reliant on the assistant for that task, removing the expert power structure from the assistant. In this case, it puts the lawyer and the assistant on a level playing field for this particular function because the assistant's power has been diminished or removed. However, if the lawyer and the assistant both share their knowledge and push each other to learn and grow, they can create an efficient team that can help them both succeed at their respective duties and boost their confidence based on shared knowledge and trust.

A lawyer who is an expert in their field might also turn to an expert witness in a case, such as a medical professional, to help prove their argument. The lawyer uses their expert power to find another which will ultimately help their overall authority look good.

Expert Power: Advantages and Disadvantages

Like most things, expert power can have its advantages and disadvantages. When it comes to expert power in management styles, there are various ways in which experts in their respective fields can help and hurt an organization. Check out the lists below to learn how expert power can help and hinder.

Advantages of Expert Power

  • Confidence and Motivation: When an expert power is in a leadership position, they can motivate and inspire others to work hard based on the knowledge and skill sets they possess. When workers see a leader working hard and supporting the mission of the organization, it can ignite their own internal fires to work hard, too.
  • Efficiency: The perception of power in an organization is important to help a workplace run efficiently. The presence of an authority figure keeps people working on deadlines and working at a high level, as the subordinates will have to answer to this expert power if work is not completed.
  • Order: Without some type of authority in the workplace, day-to-day tasks and overall production can suffer. Expert powers help to maintain order and reduce ineffective employees by using their respective power to keep subordinates on track with deadlines and evaluations.
  • Respect: If a person in a position of leadership is knowledgeable, good at their job, and has proven they can perform their leadership skills and daily tasks, it can create a positive working environment through gained respect. The more the employees respect their leader, the more likely they are to be productive and foster a positive work environment.
  • Positive Growth: When an expert power knows their stuff, they can share their knowledge and skill sets with their organization which will allow everyone to learn and grow. In turn, this will create a group of highly skilled and motivated workers.

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