One of the key things for new hires to learn is who has power beyond those with the official titles. In my Organizational Behavior class students study French and Raven’s five sources of power: Legitimate (positional), Reward, Coercive, Expert and Referent (charisma). They easily grasp four types, but they struggle with providing examples of expert power – unless, of course, they have professional work experience. Then it is easy to identify who has expert power and many times it’s the administrative assistant!
Expert power comes from the individual’s knowledge or skill, irrespective of their position, that is valuable to others. At times, a person may gain expert power from credentials or experience, but often the organizational experts are those in the support positions that are truly the experts on how the operation runs. Experts may play a role as basic as being the “go-to” person for unjamming the copy machine or possess information as nuanced as knowing how to snag five minutes with the boss. Expert power comes from being the one that others turn to when they get stuck or the one who is the person who can navigate the system like no other. Expert power can also be information power – the one who understands the pieces of the whole and knows what is really happening, not just what is supposed to occur.
Experts play invaluable roles in organizations, yet their contributions are not always recognized or legitimized – until, of source, something goes wrong and no one else knows how to resolve it! Today, celebrate the experts that are your administrative assistants. Acknowledge that their knowledge is often the power that keeps the enterprise humming.