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Personal Power and Positional Power

Personal Power and Positional Power

Society portrays the use of power daily. In some cases, it portrays the misuse and, in other cases, the responsible uses of power. This power contributes to societal stratification, with people with the most power being ranked amongst the highest class. Obtaining power comes in different ways, pointing to personal and positional power. An individual’s power depends on the individual utilizing either one or both of these types of power. Accordingly, it is imperative to distinguish between personal power and positional power to understand how they are used.

On the one hand, personal power stems from individuals without the influence of professional positions (Henry, 2018). Personal power is based on referent power, expert power, and charisma. Referent power is the power from the admiration or attraction of other people to the leader, such as in a role model capacity. Expert power is the power from the knowledgeability of a leader from their skills and education; thus, expertise. According to Henry (2018), despite public administrators’ position, they must use personal power to lead effectively. For example, in public administration, personal power is illustrated in a governor’s leadership; a governor leads changes in a state based on the support obtained from their supporters and other people.

On the other hand, positional power stems from an individual’s position or rank in an organization (Johnson, 2019). Positional power is based on reward power, coercive power and legitimate power. Legitimate power is the power obtained from the rank in an organization, while reward power is the power obtained from the ability to gift others with rewards or gifts such as bonuses. Coercive power is the power obtained from the ability to punish others (Johnson, 2019). Positional power does not illustrate personal power as the two are distinct but can be used together by leaders. For instance, in public administration, city managers illustrate positional power in leading policy-making processes; however, for efficiency, they also utilize personal power to lead changes (Nelson & Svara, 2014), as is the case with those in gubernatorial positions.

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Henry, N. (2018). Public administration and public affairs (13th ed.). Routledge.

Johnson, C. (2019). Meeting the ethical challenges of leadership: Casting light or shadow (6th ed.). SAGE Publications, Inc.

Nelson, K., & Svara, J. (2014). The Roles of Local Government Managers in Theory and Practice: A Centennial Perspective. Public Administration Review, 75(1), 49-61.


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Explain the differences between personal power and positional power.

Personal Power and Positional Power

Personal Power and Positional Power

Provide examples of how both are used in public administration.

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